I imagined arriving in Europe feeling gorgeous and glamorous. Instead, I arrived with a nasty neck-to-ankles rash. Then I lost a tooth. Lovely, eh? Let me explain.
This is my first blog post in months. I never intended to stop writing. But when I returned to the USA in November, after a few months overseas, life got busy. Winter was a blur of holidays, family time, work, and marathon training. There was also plenty of personal admin—the tying of loose ends and in-depth organization needed to prepare for another extended trip abroad.
Remember last year, when I found myself 50 and homeless? I made the most of a sour situation by relocating to Europe for a few months. Now, before settling into a new lease or mortgage that would limit my freedom, I’m going back on the road.
What I have planned is pretty darn cool. Over the next several months, I’ll tick boxes on my bucket list like getting to know Greece and going on an African safari. I’ll luxuriate in long-term stays in Florence, Barcelona, and Istanbul. I’ll train for the Venice Marathon while learning to cook—and eat—more delicious Italian meals. And of course I’ll return to my beloved Lumbarda for another summer soaked with sea and sun.
It’s an undeniably fabulous plan. A few things went awry, however, right from the start.
After wintering with my family in Phoenix, I visited friends in North Carolina, Boston, New York, and Vermont. The Boston trip included a storied 26.2-mile run. My time in New York City focused on fun and productive media meetings for work. It was a jam-packed few weeks, so a day spa treatment with my Brooklyn buddies sounded like an ideal way to unwind. Initially, it was…
I’ve been a hot tub user my whole life. I’ve been to spas around the world, soaked in natural hot springs, and swam in all sorts of bodies of water—some that were honestly unsavory. Until recently, I had never heard of—much less suffered from—hot tub folliculitis.
Mine wasn’t just any old case of hot tub folliculitis. If you know me at all, you know I do things all in. When the mystery rash appeared, it was bizarre yet painless. I woke up, glanced in the mirror, and noticed red welts all over my arms. The rash worsened. And worsened. Over the next 24 hours it spread across my chest, my butt, and my legs. I also developed a big pink splotch on my chest and swollen lymph nodes, sure signs of infection.
The same day the rash appeared, I traveled to visit a friend who—lucky for me—is a primary care provider. She devoted herself to my case. She ordered blood tests, consulted her medical team, and researched every possible cause of the rash. My mind went a million different places. Could I be one of the few that contracts measles, despite being vaccinated twice? Could I have something worse? Would I be allowed to board my flight? Would I land in a hospital instead of on a Greek island?
The medical team suggested two diagnoses: Lyme disease or hot tub folliculitis, an infection of hair follicles caused by an improperly maintained tub. Miraculously, my friend got me into the Dartmouth dermatology clinic for an urgent same-day appointment. There, five or six docs gathered around my lumpy, reddened body. “Hot tub folliculitis,” they confirmed, “and far and beyond the worst we’ve seen.”
I asked if it was normal that only I would be infected—one of three friends who visited the spa together. “Yes,” said the doc. “You were run down from the marathon and you probably had micro-abrasions on your skin from racing.”
Micro-abrasions. The severity of the rash suddenly made sense. I had scrubbed my skin in the shower with a loofah, prior to going to the spa. Then, after soaking in the tub, I enjoyed a spa treatment: a heated sea clay body wrap, during which I was slathered in mud, wrapped in a hot blanket, and left to bake. I had abraded my body, soaked in bacteria-laden water, and then baked the bacteria right in!
The good news: hot tub folliculitis typically resolves on its own. The bad news: my case was so severe I needed treatment, and the only oral antibiotic that would work is one I can’t take.
My friend and her team evaluated the options. She had already put me on one oral antibiotic to target the infection evidenced by the cellulitis (pink splotch) and swollen lymph nodes. It was working, but that drug would have no effect on the folliculitis rash. Ultimately, they landed on a plan: IV antibiotic infusions twice daily, right up until I boarded the plane.
The plan was somewhat experimental, but I was game. Straight away, it began to work. The photo below shows my arm 10 days in—the most improved area of my body. My legs are the worst off, but by now they merely look like I was mauled by mosquitos, rather than infected with measles or an even more serious disease.
After my final IV on a Friday morning, I took a redeye flight to Paris. I arrived on Saturday—tired, hungry and eager to explore. As I showered and settled into my room, I grabbed a few handfuls of the dried garbanzo bean snack that I carried on the plane. I bit down on something hard. Assuming it was a petrified bean, I spit it into my hand.
It took a moment to register that the object was a tooth. A wave of revulsion hit as I imagined a factory worker losing a tooth while packaging a batch of beans. A minute passed before it dawned on me to inventory my mouth.
Sure enough, the tooth where I had a root canal many years ago had fallen out. Not yet two hours into my time abroad and there I was—rashy, toothless, and pumped full of meds. Hardly how I envisioned my adventure. But then, how often do things turn out the way we imagine? That’s the beauty of travel. Of life. We can’t see what will be in advance. I don’t think I’d want to.
And so, looking and feeling far less lovely than I’d hoped, I embraced my time in Paris and Rome—stopovers en route to Greece. I enjoyed crepes and baguette and running along the Seine in Paris. I paid my respects to the singed but still magnificent Notre Dame. I savored my favorite pizza and sipped plenty of wine in Rome. And I received a very important FedEx package—a supply of Sound Probiotics to keep healthy bacteria in balance and counter the effects of the hardcore meds.
Finally, I flew to Greece, a place I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was a kid. Whether it was the meds, the probiotics, the passing of time, or the sea air, I felt better as soon as I landed on Santorini. I made the most of a few wonderful days there. I’ll tell you all about it soon.
Right now I’m on a ferry bound for Sifnos, the tiny island where I’ll spend a month. Friends have told me of the island’s magical beauty. Locals in Santorini rave about its peace, quiet, and food. I’m ready to move into my sweet rental apartment, settle down, and call Sifnos home.
I’m also excited to get a new Greek tooth. As for the rash, I’ve been told the pigmentation can remain for a few months. I’m hopeful I’ll lose the mottled look soon. But if not, I’m confident the sun and sea in this paradise will soothe me, and this island girl won’t really care.