Backstage at Geneva Airport
This is the story of how Husband accidentally poisoned us both while on holiday in Switzerland, which led to one of the most eventful and awful journeys of our life together. This is not the story for you if you’re at all on the squeamish side. I won’t be unnecessarily graphic, but there’s no way to spin this yarn without mentioning being sick so consider yourself warned!
Additionally, I don’t have any photos to illustrate this anecdote and, if I did, you wouldn’t want to see them. I have therefore decided to break up the blocks of texts with photos of my dog, Amber, instead. This should provide a welcome bit of contrast to the tale of woe.
Gather round children, it’s story time.
In August 2017, Husband and I went on holiday with some friends who were kind enough to let us share their cabin in Switzerland. Please take a moment to roll your eyes at the obscenely middle-class nature of that sentence. We explored the local mountains, visited the CERN Large Hadron Collider, and ate a lot of Swiss cheese and chocolate. Overall, it was a very successful holiday.
Two days before we flew home, Husband and I went for a hike, just the two of us, and ran out of water along the way. We weren’t likely to succumb to dehydration but there was a tasty looking stream nearby and Husband declared the water safe enough to drink. Me being the trusting wife that I am, I took him at his word and gulped down some of the freshly foraged water.
A little further along the path, we sat down for a quick rest. Once again, Husband pulled out the water bottle and held it up to his lips, only this time he paused before taking a sip.
“Oh, there’s a shrimp or something in here”, he said in a slightly sheepish tone before he decided against drinking anymore and returned the water to the mountain it came from.
The next twelve or so hours were relatively uneventful. We returned to the cabin, changed out of our sweaty hiking clothes and into something more suitable for dinner in polite company. We enjoyed a meal with our friends and went to bed satisfyingly sore from the day's efforts and with bellies full of goodness. It turned out that our bellies were also full of something other than delicious Swiss cuisine.
My impressive sleeping ability has often been commented on by Husband. He has regularly been awakened by noises that haven’t even registered with my unconscious self. If there have been problems with the dog in the night, you can bet your by golly wow that he’s the one who had to deal with them, while I slumbered on in blissful ignorance. It has repeatedly proved exceptionally difficult to wake a sleeping JoJo between the hours of 11pm and 7am. As was the case on this fateful night.
I woke up feeling refreshed and ready for another day of holiday fun times. Husband, on the other hand, had been up half the night throwing up the contents of his stomach and ruing his decision to drink from that damned mountain stream. That day, as I ice skated with our friends and wandered around the picturesque village, Husband dragged himself between the bed and the bathroom and waited for the reserves of his digestive system to run out and the misery to end.
Aside from feeling sad for Husband and guilty that I hadn’t noticed his predicament during the night, I felt absolutely fine. Evidence has generally suggested that I sleep better than Husband and have a stronger constitution. We both assumed that my hearty innards had managed to fend off whatever nasty wee beastie had taken Husband down. While he couldn’t even keep water in his stomach, I ate my usual three square meals a day and felt fine when I went to bed that night.
Everything changed the next morning.
On the day we were due to fly back to the UK, I woke up around 7:30am and felt a little funny. Some gentle rumbling started in my tummy and I became aware of some subtle signs that all was not well. Half an hour later I started throwing my guts up and remained with my head consistently in contact with the toilet until around 9:30am, when we began the roughly hour and half drive to Geneva airport.
The route began with winding mountain roads and continued along the northern side of Lake Geneva. I lost count of the number of times I threw up along the way. How Husband managed to concentrate on driving while I was heaving, retching, and bawling my eyes out in the passenger seat mere inches from him I will never know. We made a brief stop about halfway along the journey to dispose of one bag of vomit, but I’d filled another by the time we parked up and returned the rental car. After the second bag was thrown away, I did one final puke over the edge of the carpark (luckily into a bush, not onto any passersby) before we entered the terminal.
By this point, I’d thrown up almost non-stop for roughly three hours and could barely stand up. Husband was loaded up like a pack horse with both our suitcases and carry-on bags, while I stumbled next to him clutching a stash of kitchen roll and a few plastic bags that had survived the car journey without being chundered in.
We asked a member of staff where we should go to drop off our bags. Unfortunately, they directed us to the queue for security. The thought of having to go back downstairs to drop off our luggage combined with the sight of the obscenely long queue for security finally pushed my ruined body over the edge.
I slumped into a crumpled mess on the floor, soaked in tears and splattered with bile, and begged Husband to get some help.
There was absolutely no way in hell I had the strength to go back downstairs to drop off our bags, get back upstairs and stand for a prolonged period of time in the queue for security, bend down to take my walking boots on and off, walk fuck knows how long to the gate, and eventually drag myself up the stairs to the plane. I simply didn’t have it (or anything else) left in me.
We managed to find a lift and get back downstairs. Husband dropped off the bags while I collapsed on a different bit of floor. He then scooped me up in his arms and presented my pathetic excuse for a human form to a nearby member of staff and asked if there was anything they could do to make this nightmare a little easier for us. I’m sure you get to see a lot of weird things working in customer service at a busy airport, but I imagine this was one of the more unusual and unpleasant things that member of staff saw on that particular workday.
What followed was a backstage tour of Geneva airport, which, had I not been feeling so utterly shit at the time, would have been quite a fun experience.
The kind member of staff sent someone with a wheelchair over to my latest collapsing location. I heaved myself into my new favourite inanimate object and was whisked off to a quiet little room in some remote corner of the airport where we were told to wait for someone else to take us through security.
Things at this end of the journey were finally starting to look up but we still had the matter of getting back to Cambridge from Heathrow airport when we landed on British tarmac. Our original plan involved taking a trip on the underground through London, then a train to Cambridge, and finishing off the journey with a taxi to our flat. Considering the amount of luggage we had and the fact that I was barely able to stand never mind about walk, this was clearly out of the question.
So, Husband used this time to make some international phone calls to our friends who lived in Cambridge, had cars, and might be willing to come and rescue us from Heathrow airport. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I overheard him use the phrase “Hey, how you doing? I need to ask for an obnoxiously large favour” several times. Luckily, our good friend Andrew was available to play the role of noble hero. Husband gave him our flight details and returned to my side with the joyous news that I wouldn’t be adding the London Underground and Great Northern Rail to the modes of transport that I’d be throwing up on that day.
An exceedingly sweet Swiss gentleman appeared after a brief wait and walked/wheeled Husband and I down a couple of corridors and through the more exclusively version of airport security. Rather than standing in a queue for an hour like the common as muck members of the public we were, we passed swiftly through the same security area that the pilots and the cabin crew go through. This took significantly less time and I don’t recall having to stand up at any point. Although, I felt like a bit of a schmuck when I had to put my trusty kitchen roll and plastic bag into the security tray for scanning. Sort of ruined whatever behind the scenes glamour I was trying to cling onto.
Another short trip along another few corners and curves of the backstage area brought us to a vehicle that looked very much like the vans the police use to transport criminals from court to prison after they’ve been handed down a lengthy sentence. It was very white, very boxy, had little windows along the sides, and the seats were lined up around the edges rather than in rows across the width of the van.
This white box on wheels trundled its way around the airport and eventually arrived at the foot of the plane. It then rose straight up in the air like a scissor lift until it reached the same height as the plane door, which allowed me to be wheeled onto the plane and deposited into my seat.
By this point, I was feeling a little better and I hadn’t been sick for an hour or so. I wasn’t up to moving around very much but I could hold a simple conversation. This came in handy when one of the cabin crew came over to politely check on my well-being and tactfully let me know that I wouldn’t be able to use the bathroom during takeoff or landing. I told her not to worry and showed her the extensive collection of sick bags I’d acquired on our journey through the airport. She didn’t look convinced. I was a little confused about why she kept pushing the fact that I wouldn’t be able to leave my seat at the drop of a hat despite my repeated efforts to tell her I was too exhausted to move and had all I needed within reach of my seat.
After she left, Husband kindly explained that it she was probably worried about me potentially shitting myself during takeoff. As all my problems that morning had revolved around what was coming up, not going down, this hadn’t even occurred to me.
The flight passed uneventfully by the standards of the day. I threw up a couple more times but there was precious little left in my stomach to make it worth the effort.
We didn’t get another ride in the prison-van-come-scissor-lift upon arrival as the plane door led directly onto a tunnel and into Heathrow airport. We did, however, get to ride on one of those little buggies that go BEEP BEEP BEEP while shuffling along carrying its human cargo and alarming those who may stumble into its wake. I was probably able to walk the leg of journey that brought us to passport control, but I didn’t complain about the beepy taxi. I still felt pretty rotten.
Husband then steered us, on foot, through passport control and baggage reclaim. We finally wandered under the “Nothing to Declare” sign into the arrivals area and spotted Andrew, our knight in shining armour, who was holding up a sign saying Lewis-Parker like an airport taxi pro.
What a hero.
Luckily his car wasn’t parked too far away. He opened the boot so we could load our luggage into it and revealed the bucket he’d purchased on the way to airport in order to protect his car upholstery from being splashed by the dwindling contents of my stomach. I sat in the back of the car, with my new bucket friend, drifting in and out of sleep while Husband regaled Andrew with the dramatic tale of our day. Andrew also decided this was the perfect opportunity to tell us that he and his wife, Meg, were expecting their first child. That was a swell end to an otherwise hateful journey.
The next time I saw Andrew and Meg I presented them with seven bags of Haribo as a thank you/congratulations present. That went down pretty well.
Andrew deposited us on our doorstep in the late afternoon/early evening and I crawled straight into bed. As my insides were all but empty, I had no reason and absolutely no inclination to move for the next twelve to fourteen hours. There I stayed for a good long while as I attempted to sleep off the worst bout of food/water poisoning I had ever experienced.
So, what did I learn from this experience?
After all, it’s important to learn from your mistakes in order to avoid repeating them in the future.
Even though Husband has lots of certificates and letters after his name that prove how smart he is, I will never drink whatever liquid he scoops off a mountain side without questioning its purity again. He’s an astrophysicist. Not Bear-Fucking-Grylls.
Food poisoning can kick in after a surprisingly long amount of time. Don’t think you’re safe. It can sneak up on you when you’re not expecting it!
Swiss people are lovely. I had this impression before this experience but it has only been confirmed by the very kind members of staff at Geneva airport.
A real friend will not only drive three hours out of his way to rescue you from Heathrow airport but will also buy you a bucket to puke in on the way. That’s true friendship.