Sick on a Rock

It’s midsummer with a heat index of 104°F, so I knew something must be wrong when I climbed into bed wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Even more so when I woke up still wearing them, since typically our A/C likes to reset itself at odd hours in the wee morning to whatever temperature it finds will best wake me up. I suspect that there is someone remotely controlling it, perhaps my landlord, just to test how perky I can be after the 3am, squinty-eyed battle with unresponsive buttons. At least it doesn’t make rude beeps when a particular button isn’t an option. That is, it doesn’t anymore.

*Side note: We are forced to use the unit at night, since the people who built our apartment didn’t take the trade winds into account. I suspect that the designers were statesiders in their comfortably air-conditioned offices, presumptuously supposing that the only windows we really need should face oceanside and gravel-pit side, rather than practical ones facing the side where the wind blows 99% of the year. Hence, when the windows are open, one side of the apartment is salt-encrusted, the other dust-encrusted. But that’s neither here nor there with regards to our persnickety A/C unit.

Backpedalling, let me explain that my boyfriend and I went to a wedding in Mexico and recently got back. While there, he caught some Mexican sinus contaminant and irresponsibly passed the more virulent strain on to me (thanks, boyfriend.). Unfortunately, it waited to express itself until I returned to my rock home and had to go back to work, which generally involves large amounts of pressure to my head.

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Overall, getting sick in the islands (or mine, at least) is oddly uncommon, given the islanders tendencies to share just about everything. Most divemasters are germophobes (if you didn’t start off as one, you quickly become one on a dive boat), and do everything to stay away from sick guests. As a result, illness is fairly rare. However, when one does pop up, it spreads like wildfire and creates a plague-like atmosphere: bars are populated only by the recovered and the crazies; shortages in workforces affect businesses; and an underground market for NyQuil and other over the counter meds quickly gains Wall Street status. If a zombie apocalypse ever occurs, I can’t decide if an island would be a good place to be or a terrible one.

I can, however, tell you that being sick on an island is NOT fun. For starters, it’s excruciatingly hot. To make it worse, the Caribbean light switch is on for way too long. I’m really not sure which is worse – knowing that I can’t go outside without a blindfold, or that even if I’m brave enough to go outside, the heat will force me to crawl around in submission until I give up and iguanas start eating my hair. It’s so blindingly bright that you wonder how you can normally stand it, so hot that you can actually feel the light molecules bombarding your sensitive skin, and even the light breeze, normally cajoling and refreshing, brings on chills. Ugh. At least I’m spending the day indoors, right?

Wrong. Whether or not to go outside isn’t really an option. There are tanks to be filled and boats to take out, people to watch out for, and tacky boat jokes to be cracked. Maintaining the carefree, happy islander image isn’t a façade we (as a collective) can afford, or want, to lose. We have sick days of course, but they don’t always align with the pre-existing schedule; so it’s crucial to put on a happy face and know that you’ll get a day off tomorrow or the next, when schedules can be rearranged, and you and your cold can mope in peace.

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Until then, I will admit that there are definite not-so-bad moments.

For one, people are far more considerate.

For example: the first day back, I took a student in the pool for some quick lessons about diving for the next day. Being only at Day 1 of my disease, I easily cleared the 6 feet of depth in the pool. Thinking this was a good sign, I hopped on the boat the next day with her, prepped her, got my student all psyched for the dive, jumped in the water, swam to the line, but then couldn’t get 1 inch below the surface. I finally gave up, apologized, and brought a semi-bummed out but understanding student back to the boat. It just so happened that my boss (the same one who told Customs I was growing “herb”) was on board. Knowing full well that the student had several more days on island, he decided to take her out. The problem? He didn’t have his gear. The solution? Use mine.

We often say at my company that something is “Martin-sized”. He is 6’7”, with a shoulder width probably the length of my arm; I’m 5’9” (respectably tall), and wear a children’s size large workshirt. My dive gear is not Martin-sized. But he did it (then went out and bought me 4 different sinus medications). My student had a fantastic time and everyone had a safe dive while I crawled around the boat in heat submission. The day ended well.

Being sick also gives you a new perspective on your island life. At one point, when I was searching for meds in my first aid kit, all I came across was gauze, Ibuprofen, hangover tablets, probiotic pills, and Imodium. This, I thought, is my first aid kit? This is what I consider essential in my life now? What happened to my box of Cold & Sinus? Where’s my package of Benadryl? I used to be so proud that I could solve anything with my medicine drawer and now it’s seemingly been reduced to a hangover cure and bandaids.

I also realized that, as expensive as tissues might be here, they are necessary. One of my recovery days was spent in the shop, which mostly involved walking in a few right-handed circles trying to remember what it was I got up to do, redundantly thanking my boss for having purchased the 4 different types of cold & sinus medications I was playing Russian roulette with, blaming the calculator for miscalculating, chugging water, visiting the bathroom, and forgetting that I already drank water and drinking some more. For good measure though, I embarrassingly blew snot bubbles when a guest made me laugh. What did they leave me as tip? A Kleenex box.

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People on the island also look out for you. I came home from my snot day to find that my loving (and guilty) boyfriend Phil had made me a pot of chicken soup. Nothing sounded better than a bowl, a glass of red wine, some NyQuil, and sleep. Woefully, Phil and the warning label on the NyQuil bottle ganged up on me, informing me that alcoholic drinks are not to be ingested conjunctly with medication. Which makes no sense to me. Here’s my logic:

Red Wine = good night’s sleep

NyQuil = great night’s sleep

Red Wine + NyQuil = best idea ever.

Apparently, this is wrong.

Fortunately, Phil went to have a drink at the bar next door, leaving me with the NyQuil AND the red wine, the latter of which I immediately stole a glass of. Warning labels be damned. I have a hangover cure kit in the bathroom.

(Don’t tell Phil, please.)

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Roxane Boonstra

About Roxane Boonstra

Approaching three years on the Sister Islands of the Cayman Islands (nearly two on Little Cayman and one on Cayman Brac), Roxane is rapidly approaching the point of no return to reality. While thankful to not be on Grand Cayman, where cruise ships spill out tidal waves of tourists and KFC’s get held up by machete-wielding locals demanding buckets of chicken, she has found that the Sister Islands function on a completely different level of quirky. Although she has a Master’s degree in marine biology (despite Murphy’s Law of power outages), she spends her working time doing SCUBA instruction or divemastering, chasing people and fish with her cameras, killing and cooking lionfish, and filling in as “dive shop girl”. When not working, she is likely still diving and chasing fish with cameras or spears, but, for good measure, has a few other hobbies such as: coming up with sarcastic answers to dumb tourist questions, creatively cursing her persistently failing internet service, denying that her red hair is getting blonder, desperately coveting her dwindling stash of chocolate croissants, and gathering inspiration from her longtime boyfriend, who is fond of delightfully hare-brained concepts like strapping SCUBA tanks to a tricycle to propel himself underwater (it failed, but bandaids were on hand, just in case).

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5 thoughts on “Sick on a Rock

  1. You did a great job of depicting the unique misery of being sick on a hot, humid rock. Interestingly, I found that I caught more viruses when we lived on an island than back in the US. I attributed that to the visitors from all over the world, bringing germs my immune system had never before encountered, to my little rock. In addition to Latin American versions of Benedryl, I found that a concoction of rum, lime juice, ginger, honey, and hot sauce helped with the cough and general malaise. Heavy on the rum!

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