This was one of NZH Lifestyle's top stories for 2017
Warning: Graphic content
Lying facedown next to my partner in a Fijian hospital with an anti-vomiting needle in my butt was not how I had pictured spending my romantic holiday.
Yet this was the situation I found myself in, during a recent jaunt to the holiday hotspot. After six hours of intense vomiting, fevers and, yes, a lot of ghastly trips to the toilet, I wound up on a drip at 2am.
The very memorable night occurred during a one-week escape to the southern Coral Coast of Fiji with my boyfriend, Nick. Both of us have busy fulltime jobs and find it hard to get away, so we were really looking forward to spending time together on what we imagined would be the holiday from heaven. I pictured sun, sand, surf and great food.
As it turned out, we had two full days of it before the food betrayed us. It was on the afternoon of the third day, after polishing off a totally innocent-tasting steak sandwich for lunch, that the holiday from hell began.
"I feel sick," I moaned to Nick as I huddled in the foetal position on our king size bed. Nick had kindly gone looking for sick bags for me and returned with a stack of thick plastic retail bags from the souvenir store downstairs. "This was all they had," he said.
To be fair, the sort of bags you might pile three pairs of new shoes into proved they were up to the task as I leaned over the bed and hurled up the entire day's meals into one. Nick, who had so far not been feeling ill, turned green as he took the bag from me.
"Now I think I'm going to vom," he said, running into the bathroom. I heard the shower curtain ripping, before gagging and splatters. Then more gagging. Then a flushing toilet as his body realised there was more than one end from which to expel rotten food (which I ran to after he was done). Delightful.
I've had food poisoning before but I've never hurled so much that I started throwing up water in just a few hours. Nick was the same. He was so shocked by the capabilities of his gag reflex that he actually took photos of the partially-digested sushi he deposited in the bath. I'm pretty sure the whole thing was documented on Snapchat.
After about six hours I was barely conscious and faintly decided this was not just a bad case of indigestion. At 11pm we rang the hotel reception and asked for a taxi to take us to the nearest hospital ASAP. It was a 45-minute drive away.
That feverish journey along Fiji's developing roads was not kind to my tender stomach, and felt far longer than 45 minutes. I do remember feeling quite proud that I managed to not throw up in the car - we all know how much taxi drivers hate that. Instead, when we arrived at Sigatoka Hospital, I ran inside and found the nearest deserted room to make up for my dry spell.
When I finished being sick I looked around at the mosquito-ridden "hospital" I was crouching in. Paint was peeling off the walls, there was no air conditioning and I couldn't tell if the random people walking around with no shoes on were patients or employees. If there were nurses around they were not in uniform.
After a foggy wait during which I visited the bathrooms twice (these were pretty disgusting but my situation was dire), one of these plain-clothed nurses grabbed me and directed me to the single doctor on duty. The doctor took my vital signs and told me in a thick Fijian accent that my blood pressure was so low I had gone into shock. I guess I would have been more shocked if I was not physically in shock. Before I could pass out he instructed the nurse to hook me up to a saline drip and take me to lie down in another room.
Mosquitos waged a war on my legs as I huddled blurry-eyed on a tiny plastic mattress for hours. There were no sheets or pillows. In fact, there wasn't even anywhere to hang my drip at first. I was left holding the drip above my head until a random Fijian man - I don't know if he was employed by the hospital - wheeled a rusty stand into the room beside me and hooked it up.
I remember being lucid enough to think how bizarre it was that in 30-plus degree weather with 100 per cent humidity, I was freezing. The cold was probably the worst part. Oh, until the doctor came back with Nick in tow, holding two big fat spiky needles, and asked us to pull down our pants.
The true meaning of experiential travel is surviving a food poisoning experience that lands you in a developing country's hospital with an anti-vomiting needle in your butt. As modern experience-seekers, Nick and I veered well away from major tourist attractions by spending the next five days in bed trying to keep down toast and water.
We also left Fiji feeling enlightened, due to the drastic incidental weight loss we incurred. Sure, we'd spent more than A$5,000 to spend an overseas holiday in a hotel room watching Netflix.
But the new intimacy we shared after witnessing things that romantic partners should never have to? Priceless.