Le­gions of ad­vice for un­wary trav­ellers

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - VI­JAY VERGHESE

There has al­ways been some­thing ro­man­ti­cally dash­ing about the French For­eign Le­gion and its ex­ploits in the Sa­hara. So when the doc­tors broke the news to me on De­cem­ber 11 that I had Le­gion­naires’ dis­ease, it seemed a ripe ex­cuse to party. And that’s ex­actly what I was do­ing — float­ing in the skies in a eu­phoric state, lis­ten­ing to Pur­ple Rain, Knock­ing on Heaven’s Door, and other picks from my school years.

In ac­tual fact, I was un­con­scious. A doc­tor friend, alerted by my anx­ious son, had vis­ited me at home, taken one look at my dis­ori­ented con­di­tion, and frog­marched me to a Hong Kong hos­pi­tal where it was dis­cov­ered my lungs were full of car­bon diox­ide sans oxy­gen. From there it was straight to the ICU where, some­how, I was brought back from my merry trip and jump-started back to life with mas­sive in­fu­sions of oxy­gen and nutri­ent drips.

I woke to find my­self wired from head to foot with tubes sprout­ing from ev­ery con­ceiv­able part of my body and ma­chines blink­ing and beep­ing as they mea­sured my blood pres­sure, heart rate and oxy­gen lev­els. It was an oddly re­as­sur­ing sym­phony and some­how I knew this was a lot bet­ter than the Volk­swa­gen emis­sions test, and a lot more hon­est. I was alive.

Le­gion­naires is an odd dis­ease to catch, and in its pre­sen­ta­tion. In my case it had been stealthy, with no ph­legm or cough­ing, just a grow­ing con­stric­tion around the chest as if I were in the coils of some in­vis­i­ble ana­conda. As any sea­soned road war­rior, I was equipped with an ar­se­nal of meds to deal with most sit­u­a­tions and, for the most part, the parac­eta­mols had worked their magic.

For­tu­nately this ill­ness does not op­er­ate through per­son-to-per­son trans­mis­sion and all the peo­ple I met with dur­ing my dis­ori­ented and un­di­ag­nosed state were bounc­ing around drink­ing mulled wine, ro­bustly oxy­genated and red-cheeked dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son. How did I catch this some­what rare and dan­ger­ous form of pneu­mo­nia? Con­ven­tional wis­dom says Le­gion­naires tends to prowl old ho­tels and build­ings with large wa­ter tower cooling sys­tems for the cen­tral air-con­di­tion­ing. The le­gionella bac­te­ria gets into the wa­ter and ends up be­ing in­haled in aerosol form. It is de­liv­ered through cooling sys­tems. It can be present in dec­o­ra­tive foun­tains, and in places such as cruise ships, mist-sprayers and un­kempt wa­ter sys­tems.

Le­gion­naires was dis­cov­ered in 1976 af­ter a con­ven­tion of the Amer­i­can Le­gion in Philadel­phia, US. Alas, it has noth­ing to do with Be­douins slic­ing arms off For­eign Le­gion re­cruits or Lawrence of Ara­bia. It’s just a bug in the air-con. But what a preda­tor it is. So as I lay in my hos­pi­tal bed lis­ten­ing to Lucy in the Sky with Di­a­monds and Len­non’s Beau­ti­ful Boy, I re­alised that when in doubt, con­sult a physi­cian, not your bag of home reme­dies. At the HK Ad­ven­tist Hos­pi­tal, with a pha­lanx of nurses, and an en­forced detox, my ex-wife gen­er­ously fer­ried home-cooked food, my son held his tongue and took charge, my sis­ter-in-law flew up from New Delhi and my brother at­tempted to fill out bizarre forms for a new In­dian pass­port.

He called to say that among the “oc­cu­pa­tion” op­tions listed on the pass­port form were “smug­gler, pros­ti­tute, pimp, friend, hired killer, lorry driver, trac­tor driver …” Such a rich col­lec­tion of vo­ca­tional choices en­sur­ing the coun­try’s vi­brant democ­racy re­mains just so. I drifted back to Let it Be. On Christ­mas Eve I was home af­ter 14 days in hos­pi­tal, seven of those in ICU. So, fel­low trav­ellers, do please con­sult a doc­tor if un­well on the road. Happy trav­els in 2017.

Hong Kong-based Vi­jay Verghese runs the web­site Smart­trav­e­la­sia.com.

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