Day 23 on the island
The burned skin has long peeled off and the once bulbous and red-raw wound of Gary’s spider bite has faded into barely a freckle. “We’re going to a new holiday home today!” I say, trying to energise the words as I did so effortlessly three weeks ago. Lara just looks at me wearily. So does her baby sister. “Another one? But mummy, I want to go to SCHOOL!”
I’m not complaining. Or at least I’m trying really hard to see the bright side which is an extended holiday with my lovely family, mostly free of charge (once the travel insurance claim goes through) in the Caribbean. It’s pretty darn bright when you look at it that way. But there’s the other side to the coin where we are confined to a small apartment with Gary attempting to work remotely on a five hour time difference while I come up with increasingly screen-reliant ways to entertain two small children. At mealtimes – banished from mixing with others at the restaurant – we come up with what we can with sparse ingredients foraged from the tiny (but devastatingly expensive on the scale of £7 for a bottle of milk) onsite shop. At night the baby wakes repeatedly.
There is no end in sight.
And we’re almost out of beer.
Ok, maybe I am complaining a bit.
We think it’s just a heat rash. Lara seems absolutely fine, chatting away and extremely excited to be on the first abroad holiday she can remember. Surely if it were chicken pox she would be poorly?
It is most definitely not a heat rash. Blistering spots have erupted all over my porcelain daughter’s skin. “She’s got it bad,” we laugh, safe in the comfort that her temp is normal and her spirits are high. We will later come to realise that she did not, in fact, have it remotely bad.
Day 3 – 5
The spots peak and scab over and we are able to venture out to the beach, keeping a safe distance from others. Lara looks a little less leper-like and has fun splashing about in the sea. Her temperature remains normal and the only time she seems bothered by her affliction is when she wakes hot and itchy in the middle of the night.
Day 6 – 12
“I don’t expect Annabelle will get it,” my mum (a retired nurse) tells me. “After all, she’s still breastfed. Surely your immunity will pass on?”
“I don’t know,” I reply, “that’s not what I’ve read online…” But secretly I’m hopeful. The holiday rolls into its second week and we all sleep soundly through the night. A small crop of red spots on Annabelle’s arm fail to materialise into anything sinister. Sisters fly in and sisters fly out. We drink the rum punch. We laugh a lot. We relax.
With that impending sense of quite-ready-to-go-home-now-thank-you well-being we move from our villa to an apartment. Our original holiday was to be 16 days long on the virgin islands (visiting the place where my parents first met in recognition of the 10th anniversary of my dad’s death) but due to the continued damage caused by last year’s hurricane, this fell through and resulted in us having to book an apartment for the last two nights of our holiday. That was the plan, anyway.
Annabelle is fractious and sleeps badly the first night in our new place. The original red spots have faded but she has begun itching her head, messing her hands along her hair line with an urgently perplexed look on her face.
We are due to fly home tomorrow. There are a few unidentifiable red splotches on Annabelle’s head but as the day wears on she becomes more cranky, stops eating with her usual gusto and by the evening the unmistakable blisters have rashed their way over my baby’s soft skin. Her neck is particularly bad, and there are the beginnings of spots on her arms and face as well.
Annabelle is covered in spots. Covered. She looks like a poster child for chicken pox. They are in her ears, on the palms of her hands, the soles of her feet. Barely a square inch remains unblemished.
We phone our travel insurance who tells us we will need confirmation from a doctor to be sure it is the pox. We arrange for a brusque doctor to visit the apartment which she does so and, in the space of 3 minutes confirms it is chicken pox and that we can’t fly for at least a week and that we now owe her $200 USD. We then make another expensive call to the travel insurance while establishing that we are able to stay in the apartment for another week. Gary contacts work to see if he can work from here. I email Lara’s nursery. We cancel classes and ask the neighbour to carry on feeding the cats. Mum goes home without us.
Day 17 – 21
We settle into a new routine of sorts. Gary works as best he can, being five hours behind the UK. I take Lara to the pool while Annabelle naps. We have a few horrendous nights – the most memorable of which finds us up at 4am, trying to forcefeed calpol into an incandescently rageful Annabelle whose temperature has rocketed to 39. She screams as I try to dab calamine onto her spots. She screams when I try sudocrem. She won’t feed. Even a bath – the failsafe Annabelle-calming-method produces bewildered, mournful sobs. In the end she tires enough to accept the boob once again and falls into a fitful sleep as I Google all the chicken pox remedies I have no hope of laying hands on…
The doctor arrives and we wait with bated breath, secretly convinced she will take one look at Annabelle’s much improved skin and issue the all-important ‘fit to fly’ note. We should know by now, really, not to get our hopes up.
“No,” she barks. “The scabs are not dry enough.”
“Aren’t they? They look pretty dry to me and it’s been a week now… We were really hoping to fly tomorrow…”
“No, how about Monday? I’ll do it for Monday.”
More emails are sent to Gary’s work, Lara’s school and all the other commitments we have over the next working week that it never occurred to us we might miss. Our travel insurers confirm what we have suspected, that without the doctor’s note they cannot book any flights for us. Moreover, they tell us that some airlines require medical clearance which can take a further 48 hours to come through.
Meanwhile our accommodation agent finds us a new holiday home to move to and we make another trip for provisions, not knowing whether they will be for two days or 10.
The new holiday home is lovely. It has stunning sea views, it’s light and breezy, large enough for all of us and has a pool. But it’s not home. And, for the first time ever, I think, it occurs to me that you can be in the most beautiful, luxurious setting in the world but if you want to be home that is the only thing you will see, no matter how far you look.
Still, we make the most of it and have fun in the pool. To celebrate our last night of being unfit to fly we go to the restaurant for dinner. The children behave beautifully and Gary and I enjoy a much-anticipated pina colada.
Day 25 (Monday)
We wait with bated breath for the doctor to email. Our travel insurers, five hours ahead, remind us to send them the note as soon as we get it. And we wait some more. At 10am we phone her and she says she will get to it as soon as she can. After another chase she finally sends it at 4pm and we forward it on to the travel insurers, knowing full well that at 9pm they will have long gone home for the day.
The travel insurers say they are looking into flight options. Lara decides to make cards for all her teachers and friends back home. She hasn’t been to nursery for over a month now and this week we are missing important meetings and introductions for next year when she will start reception. Gary tries to work. Annabelle – looking laughably healthy now – reveals a new tooth. She will turn one year old in four days and has now spent a twelfth of her life in Antigua.
And here we remain in limbo. The drinking water has run out and so we are drinking tea and milk. We’re trying to save the blisteringly hot hike to the shop until we know when we need to book our airport taxi. We are saving the last two beers for the receipt of plane tickets.
I know there are many people who would say that they’d take an extra holiday any day over the mundanity of normal life. A month ago I probably would have been one of them. But there’s extra holiday and then there’s being ready to go home and not being able to… A repetitive mantra which pounds into your head at 3am when your baby has reverted to sleeping and feeding patterns you thought were long behind you: Iwanttogohomeiwanttogohomeiwanttogohome. Knowing that saying it does nothing but make the feeling worse and yet you want it so badly you can’t not say it. Like being in the throes of labour but trying not to think about the pain.
Home. It’s such a simple thing responsible for so much mental wellbeing. Because no matter where you are there’s really, after all, no place like it. Not even paradise.