Going Against Nature: Sick in NYC

Posted on
Oct 9, 2013

View out our porthole window, the Maritime Hotel.

Do you ever have those moments where you pull something off (a meal, an event, a project), and it comes together so beautifully, and was almost effortless, that you are tempted to think, “This is my calling. This is what I was put on this earth to do”?

I totally haven’t, unless you count cake eating, which I’ve been repeatedly told is not a calling.

Usually I have quite the opposite feeling: I’ll try something, and it will be such an epic disaster that I am able to say definitively that genetics and the universe clearly never intended for me to carry out these tasks.

Were I to write them all down, I’m fairly certain I could fill volumes. Here is an abbreviated list of things that I will never master:

  • the baking of custard-filled pies
  • The Electric Slide
  • recognizing that the GPS is inanimate, and not trying to mess with me
  • small talk
  • liquid eyeliner

As of late, I’ve been tempted to add one more thing to that list: travel.

Because as much as I do it, there are moments when it becomes clear to me that I was absolutely, under no circumstances, meant to. Given my stature, this is clear: I am endowed with a shape that can best be described as “ripe pear” (heavier on the bottom, squishy at parts, and TOTALLY FRIGGIN DELICIOUS, I might add). I’m clearly designed to be pulling a plow across a field somewhere in eastern Europe, and every now and then and I’d squat and unleash a child or two from my loins, swaddle them up, and go right back to tilling the soil or whatever.

This, obviously, was my calling in life, and I was just born in the wrong decade and hemisphere.

I was, under no circumstances, ever meant to travel. On our last trip to New York, the universe decided I needed a reminder of this fact.

We’d just landed in Newark after a slightly (but not unusually) turbulent flight from Seattle. My stomach felt queasy, despite the consumption of a half bag of ginger candies.

Rand was trying to think of the smoothest, fastest way into the city so as not to exacerbate my motion sickness. He suggested the subway, but I shook my head. I reasoned that a cab would be fastest, and if I needed to throw up, I could do so on the city streets, and not in the middle of the A train.

And so we ended up in a yellow cab, zipping onto the Jersey Turnpike, and then barreling down the Holland Tunnel, until we finally were swerving, sliding, and occasionally jerking to stops on the streets of Manhattan. I leaned my head back against seats that smelled like old coffee, exhaust, and cigarettes, and tried to look at the horizon.

The problem is that, from most parts of New York City, you can’t see the horizon.

I breathed in through my nose sharply, slowly releasing the air through my mouth. You will be fine, I told myself. You will not throw up. Soon you will be at the hotel, and you will lie on the bed, and the sheets will be crisp and cool and you will feel better.


And sure enough, after an excruciating ride we were at the hotel, and the bed did have sheets that were crisp and cool. But I was unable to keep my part of the deal.

An hour later, I was slumped on the floor of the bathroom, the seat of the toilet cool against my cheek. I had emptied the contents of my stomach in the bowl twice so far. There was nothing left inside of me, but my body, in a vain attempt to rid itself of the poison that must have caused this, continued to lurch, violently, into dry heaves. The spasms clenched my abs until they hurt.

“Kill me now,” I whispered up to Rand, who stood in the doorway, nonchalantly.

“Oh, please,” was his reply to my melodrama. “You’ve been way worse.”

It’s not that he was unsympathetic. It’s just that this was very, very true.

He’d seen me in this state before, or worse, many times.

“It’s normal,” he said, in an attempt to comfort me. I am pleased to say that despite having a pallor the same color as the walls of a state penitentiary, I was able to give him a look of pure incredulity.

“It’s probably just food poisoning,” he said, refusing to admit that there was something fundamental about me that was prone to sickness. Something inherent in my being that leaves me unfit for travel, but totally fit for growing kohlrabi in eastern Siberia.

I shook my head. Rand had eaten nearly identical meals as I had that day. And it seemed odd that my food poisoning would coincide perfectly with a turbulent flight followed by a twisting cab ride into Manhattan.

No: this was the universe trying to tell me something. Mainly, that I was not born to be a traveler. As though my pitiful sense of direction wasn’t enough to clue me in on that.

I lay on the floor of the bathroom, soothed by the smell of bleach on the freshly laundered towel underneath me, and marveling at how pristine the toilet bowl was, even from this angle. My compliments to the housekeeping staff at the Maritime Hotel in Chelsea, who did a bang up job, and my apologies for fouling their immaculate work with my lunch.

I did not make it to the dinner that we had planned with friends that night. I tried. I really did. I even managed to put on some clothes and deodorant, and spent roughly 15 minutes with them in the hotel bar (with a brief interlude to the bathroom downstairs to throw up again) before realizing that perhaps I wasn’t going to be the best dinner date.

I shooed them off, delighted that I could be a selfless martyr.

“Go on without me,” I said, mercifully not subjecting them to goodbye hugs that would have likely smelled like barf.

Back in the room, I turned on the A/C as high as it went, lay on the bed without a blanket over me, my jeans in a rumpled pile on the floor. I hoped the cool air would kill whatever was inside of me.

I dozed, noting on the edge of my consciousness how the light in the porthole window was fading to deep blue and orange – the last few sunsets of the summer in Manhattan.

I awoke a while later, the sky outside now dark, the sounds of traffic below drifting up and into the room. The city outside didn’t care if I was sick. It was moving and bustling. Outside, life was happening. Tomorrow, I told myself, I would be a part of it. And just knowing it was there, just knowing that I wasn’t alone – not really, because how could you be in the city? – made me feel better.

I checked my phone. Rand texted me from the sushi restaurant where they were having dinner.

“Do you want me to bring you back something?” his message read. “How about some crab?”

And then, god help me, he texted me a photo of the crab roll they’d ordered.

I managed to laugh at gag at the same time – a first for me. He didn’t mean to traumatize me – he just had no idea how to soothe a churning stomach. Hell, this is a man who can read in the car. He doesn’t even know what it’s like to be motion sick.

“No, no!” I texted back, laughing so much that my overworked abs ached. “Saltines,” I wrote. “And Gatorade.” He returned with both (“I got you blue Gatorade, because blue is the best flavor.”)

I laid on the bed and listened to the story of his night, running to throw up two more times in between. I tried to get him to explain his logic in offering to bring me back sushi; he was unable to. I couldn’t help but smile.

Perhaps he wasn’t meant to have a sick wife. And perhaps I wasn’t meant to to travel. But sometimes the universe’s plan for you – the things that would come easily – aren’t what you want. And so, even though you are calm and not prone to illness, you marry the pukey, ill-tempered girl. Or you decide to spend all your free time traveling, when just the act of bending over to tie your shoes makes you queasy.

And at the end of the day, you lay down on cool, crisp sheets, and find you are perfectly okay with that decision.

Leave a Comment

  • Jen

    Ugh, I feel your pain. I get motion sick all the time, which sucks because I love to travel and ride amusement park rides….

    Next time you feel quesy and can’t see the horizon, try putting your hand flat on the window next to you. I close my eyes and do this and the feeling of a flat and stable surface helps. And it is usually cold, which also helps.

    I hope you felt better soon and ate lots of bagels.

  • Jen

    Does motion sickness usually last that long? I get it some times, but I don’t remember it taking all afternoon & evening to wear off. But I don’t tempt it very often either.

  • Kristina Cline

    OHHH You have VERTIGO?? And you travel the way you do? You are a saint, a full on lets name you now SAINT.

  • Dana

    Maybe I am wrong, but I gathered that you had some sort of stomach flu, not motion sickness…

  • Ruth

    At least you didn’t get sick on the plane. Last time I got sick on a plane I was tended to by some very nice RNs who were on the same flight, both of whom were overjoyed at the thought that I might be pregnant and not just regular sick. It was terrible.

    Also, blue is totally the best flavor of Gatorade.

  • Emily

    I was sick during a flight from Paris to Philadelphia. The flight attendant asked if I was pregnant. “No” I replied. “Are you sure?” I bet she too can read in the car!

  • Meg B

    You have my sympathy. Being sick blows…chunks. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    I had the same thing happen to me. Of course, because I’m a woman people kept asking me if I was pregnant. “No, I am not pregnant I am throwing up because of a stomach virus you asshole!” may or may not have been my reply.

  • Oh… I totally get your situation…every once in a while specially after airline food I have fallen so sick that I wished I stopped traveling forever..

  • Laura

    In your defense, sitting in the back of a NYC taxi is like spinning around in a high-speed, brake-happy merry-go-round from hell. They regularly make me sick.

    I guess now wouldn’t be the best time to ask you about favorite cupcakes in NYC, but I’d love to know!

  • Was eating Pringles while reading this, and realized how my hands are genetically engineered to enter Pringles Tubes. I think that’s my calling.

  • Laura

    I feel your pain. There are unfortunately way too many photos of me on family road trips as a kid, standing with my sisters in front of a landmark and clutching my stomach and grimacing, rather than smiling.

    I’ve also lost my lunch at many of those landmarks.

    For those wondering whether motion sickness lasts that long, just recently I was stuck in stop and go traffic for 20 minutes and when I got home, I was so sick I couldn’t move off of the couch for the next 6 hours. It can be brutal for some people.

  • Maureen

    I totally understand the feeling of not being fit for travel even if you love it. I am positively terrified of flying, even though I love it and have chosen a job that required lots of international travel. I am constantly grabbing the hands of the strangers sitting next to me during turbulence-y flights!

  • Jaclyn

    I feel your pain! After an 8 hour ride in a rear-facing seat on a lurching Soviet-era train in Romania, followed by a Transporter-esque cab ride back to the hotel, I had motion sickness that lasted about 6 hours.

    Your comment about being built for eastern European farm life just cracked me up! I feel like that, too!

  • Christine

    Hmmm… seems that Emily’s flight attendant and I have the same thought.

  • You know what’s the best thing about being sick though? When you realise you’re better and get to eat something delicious. Because holy crap does that meal taste good.

    Also, Rand is correct. Blue is definitely the best flavour. Thank god he’s looking out for you on that front.

  • MZ

    Ugh…sounds awful but glad you got through it ok.

    Me, I have emetophobia….one of the worst phobias to have. I think it’s an “I hate losing control” thing, and as someone who will do almost anything to avoid being sick here are some tips in case it’s helpful:

    – Keep a folded up plastic bag in your purse just in case there are no bathrooms nearby

    – Chew gum (preferably mint kinds) when you start feeling motion sick

    – Peppermint tea and crackers to soothe the tummy


  • Talk about overcoming obstacles for your dreams! I couldn’t imagine having a sickness induced via travel, AND still pursuing traveling. There are many herbal products out there to help with this type of vertigo. Perhaps visiting a health food store would be nice.

  • Amy

    I get super motion sick on planes too 🙁 Screw ginger candies though! I found this stuff at Whole Foods that the lady said chemo patients used for nausea–Ginger Force. I religiously pack it in my carry on and it works great!

  • Darren

    I’ve found this post from your 70 blogging tips post.

    I too was ill in New York a couple of years back, we’d travelled from the city out to New Jersey to see friends.

    Our return journey back into NYC was by train.

    I spent almost the entire trip sat in one of the worst restrooms ever.

    Seems there was only 1 toilet with one bog roll on the whole train.

    I thought America did things far better than that?

    I pinched the only loo roll. Sorry.

    I walked back to our hotel wretching into the kerb.

    Cops gave me some really funny looks.

    Back to hotel and a Doctor was called.

    Almost hospitalized due to dehydration concerns.

    That was probably alcohol from the night before. 😉

    Ordered a cab against doctors advice to get us to JFK that night.

    Couldn’t leave room and missed flight back to UK.

    Had to change from nice hotel to their “sister” hotel. It was awful.

    To cap it off my wife caught the bug off me and pretty much spent the flight back to the UK in an airplane restroom.

    We went to France this year instead (and drove). 😉

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