Skip to content

How to NOT save money on vacation

September 10, 2013


Two months after getting out of the hospital I am finally ready to share my story. I’d like to say that this is a tale of overcoming fear, language barriers and taking on an illness that tried to get the best of me. But that it was not. This is mostly just a tale of tears, and how to NOT save money on vacation.

To set the stage: We haven’t taken more than four days off from work in three years, life has been beyond stressful (in ways I don’t care to divulge to the Interwebs) and I was misdiagnosed by two doctors in the United States before I boarded a plane to Europe for a 19 day trip; antibiotics stowed carefully under the seat in front of me.

Fast forward four days through the worst plane ride of my life (tears), a high fever causing hallucinations and black out periods (more tears), and the gargling feeling in my chest and throat every time I tried to take the tiniest of breaths (beyond tears). We were on our way high in to the Swiss Alps to participate in the family reunion for which we had traveled to Europe. Imagine this: tunnel vision, ringing in ears, switch back road, pouring rain, getting lost on said road, and the higher the altitude the less I could breath (tears, tears, tears).

And this is how I found myself in the Hôpital de Valais in Sion, Switzerland (1.5 hours away from my family) with a serious case of pneumonia that prompted the doctors to say “it would be dangerous for you to leave”. At least the hospital looked like a spaceship as imagined through the eyes of the 1970’s.


Some shots from the inside once I was feeling better.

For the record, I had my amazing cousin Roger by my side in the ER and through the admittance process. He lives in Montreux, Switzerland, is fluent in French, and happens to be a nurse and health advocate for diplomats visiting Switzerland. In other words, I wasn’t flying completely solo in a strange, remote hospital where no one spoke English, or at least, I wasn’t flying solo until visiting hours were over that evening…

What happened over the next 4 days, during my first ever hospital stay, are some of the most funny, awkward, sad, strange and difficult moments of my life. I don’t ever want to forget these, so I am documenting them here. In no particular order:

The X-Ray: “Put your breasts here.” For my close friends, if you haven’t seen me re-enact the most awkward moment of my life, ask me the next time you see me.
The Language Barrier: One can only imagine the hand gestures used to explain medical issues, so I share with you one of the least graphic examples – as I pull down my hospital gown that the nurse has just pulled up – “Um, hi, yes, what is that shot? what is that big needle? you don’t know how to say it English? well please find someone who does before you stick that in my leg. Merci.”
The Crying: Everything made me cry, including (but not limited to) – the pain, our ruined vacation, the fever, when visitors would arrive, when visitors would leave, every time I had to get up to use the restroom, every time they delivered the food, every time someone would call from home, every time I would wake up in the middle of the night, every time Madame Claire would spray perfume… and I swear, I’m not much of a crier.
The Lack of Entertainment: Did I mention there was no TV, no WiFi, and my iPhone, iPod and iPad mini had all died? First world problems, I know. But staring at the ceiling for 12 -15 hours a day will make a girl cry, a lot.
The Bruises: Back to the aforementioned shot. These deserve their own line item especially since it has been over 2 months since that first shot, and I still have all 4 bruises. So hot. One per day to help with circulation from all the lying around on my ass. Most painful shot ever. I cried each time.
The one and only, Madame Claire: This woman knew everyone, appeared to live in the hospital and was a special part of my experience, so this is for her – Thank you for handing me tissue when I was crying, and for asking the nurse for my own box of tissue when I couldn’t stop crying. And thank you for gossiping about me to your friends; don’t lie, I know you were, there is no way you were talking about another person you just met from San Francisco, and thanks for the fresh raspberries since you could see I was not eating any of the food. I do not thank you for spraying your YSL perfume 3 times a day (we both couldn’t breathe and this did NOT help), for watching bad French reality programs on your private TV all day and night long (sick people don’t need to sleep, right?), and I’ll never forget that cough, that horrible cough.
The Food: Thought process of hospital staff: “You look really ill and haven’t eaten for 4 days, I bet some duck smothered in gravy with a side of french fries will settle your stomach.” Husband goes to nurses station, draws a picture of a cow and a pig, draws an X through his cartoons; nurses nod and understand “vegetarian”. For dinner I am served a smorgasbord of charcuterie. More crying.
The Fever: There was a lot of talking in my sleep; and I still feel bad for those who had to hear it – my mister, people on the plane, people on the night train, and poor Madame Claire, who got the worst of it. One night I woke myself up because I was waving, in my sleep, and there was Madame Claire, watching her reality TV and staring at me, frightened. And then there was the other night when I asked for something to help me sleep (still suffering from jet lag), and the herbal drink they gave me made me CRAZY! I passed out within minutes only to wake myself up because I had kicked Madame Claire’s rolling TV stand (about 2 feet way from my bed). Thankfully it was off, and she was asleep, but that woke her and now I was awake, scared to go back to sleep. No idea what that s**t was, but I will stick to Benadryl. Thank. you. very. much.
The Smoking: I knew smoking was much more prevalent in Europe; I did not know this included hospitals. Nurses were climbing out windows, patients were outside with their IV carts… seriously, WHERE AM I?
The Hospital Bed: Most comfortable thing on the planet, I can’t wait to be old enough to get me one of these without seeming like an old lady. I folded myself in there every night like a taco.
The Age Gap: I was easily 30 years younger than everyone on the floor, and the only mobile one. So I would walk in circles around the nurses station all day with my IV cart, and everyone would stare at me. And then grandma in the room next door passed. One day all of her family and friends were visiting, the next morning her room was empty. More tears.
The View: It could have been worse – the green rolling hills of Switzerland out of one window and a castle on a cliff out the bathroom window. But for some reason, more tears.

So all that said, here are some tips on how to NOT save money on vacation:

– Get sick; I mean, really sick
– Buy non-refundable train tickets twice
– Make international calls from your non-international smartphone
– Pay last-minute rates for hotels

Please tell me I am not alone here. What sort of mishaps or “adventures” have gotten you off track while on vacation?



The bruises relaxing on a beach in Hvar, Croatia.

The bruises relaxing on a beach in Hvar, Croatia.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2013 10:34 am

    This makes *me* cry – so sorry this happened to you, Angela!

    • Angela permalink*
      September 10, 2013 10:42 am

      Aww. Thanks. Don’t cry, enough tears have been shed about this. I’m only accepting tears of laughter at this point. 🙂

  2. Debbie Menendez permalink
    September 10, 2013 12:44 pm

    So sorry Angela….what an ordeal. Many years ago my dad was traveling in Europe and after leaving France went to Germany and ended up in the hospital with this horrible lung disease. Pigeon’s disease sp.. He was in the hospital 3 weeks, last rites 3 times and was told he could not fly home for 3 months because of his lungs. If he had a doctor with him he could fly home. There was a news story about my dad on the local Reno television story and a doctor watching the news volunteered to come get him. My dad got a check from his insurance company for $10,000 to reimburse him for the medical costs (I think there was a misunderstanding about the exchange rate
    ). My stepmother ended up getting a car out of the deal. Maybe you’ll get a check. Seriously, so sorry about your illness and experience.

    • Angela permalink*
      September 10, 2013 7:49 pm

      Guess I’m not the only one who has a story to tell about healthcare abroad! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Alex McC. permalink
    September 10, 2013 7:14 pm

    Huge sympathies. As it happens, Switzerland was the first foreign country I visited (as a 15-year-old) and I returned home (England at the time) unscathed, despite a few climbing adventures in the Alps. My luck changed after that, though. with two injuries…but I must tell you that the hospital care was fantastic. First, a broken jaw in Brussels playing Rugby (1965), and many years later (2007) a broken left shoulder & arm in Istanbul, after crashing to the ground chasing a thief who had stolen Kate’s purse! My enduring memory of these incidents is the amazing response of family & friends…I will never forget my future son-in-law Baki and his family (mom. dad, brother, sisters et al) coming to the hospital, and staying with me (and Kate) into the night. All of a sudden, we were brought closer together, and I have been grateful ever since.

    • Angela permalink*
      September 10, 2013 7:50 pm

      Something like this will definitely make you think about family, friends and life. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: