On the morning of December 31st, Victor started running a fever.  It wasn’t too bad, and he didn’t even want to slow down or skip any of the sightseeing we had planned for that day.  I gave him a few pills of ibuprofen and forgot about it.  We celebrated that night as the only patrons of the hotel restaurant where we ordered delicious fish curry and toasted in the New Year with mango juice.  In the morning, he was running a higher fever and was sporting weird small red pimples on his face.  I Googled it and came across something known as “fever rash” and presumed that this was it.

Our flight back was 9 pm that night and we didn’t have much planned for the last day, maybe hanging out at a local beach, which we decided to skip since Victor was clearly feeling worse.  I asked for a late check-out from the hotel and the courteous clerk told me we could leave as late as we wanted.  As hours went on and Victor’s “fever rash” grew worse and worse and some of the pimples filled with fluid, I became more concerned.

The great thing about Oman, mentioned in the previous post, is how easily accessible healthcare is nowadays and our hotel was surrounded by no less than three medical clinics, all within walking distance.  I convinced Victor that we should have a doctor take a look at him, especially since we were faced with three flights and two stopovers over the next 30 hours. (I had initially purchased two flights, 7 hours each, and one stopover in Frankfurt, but just as the airline canceled one of our flights to Oman, they also canceled one of the flights back and rebooked us with this new terrible itinerary.)

We made our way down and slowly walked across the parking lot to the closest clinic. There, we paid something around $10 for a consultation and were relieved when the doctor spoke fluent English.  He examined Victor's face and announced that this was an allergy reaction.  I have never heard of an allergy being accompanied by a fever, but the doctor waved it off as a coincidence.  Victor received two shots in the buttocks (fever-reducer and anti-inflammatory), a bunch of prescriptions, another bill for $15, and we were told there would be no issues with us flying out.  The doctor wished us luck and gave me his WhatsApp number.  Just in case.

Temporarily revitalized from the injections, Victor insisted on driving us to the airport.  We returned the rental car and got on our flight to Dubai.  I was keeping careful tabs on how many pills I was supposed to give him and when (I knew that with changing time zones this was going to become complicated) and so far, he seemed to be doing ok.  During our four-hour Dubai layover, I noticed that his rash was getting a little worse, but his fever wasn’t too bad.  We boarded the fifteen-hour Dubai to Newark flight and tried our best to go to sleep.

About halfway through the flight, I was trying to watch some movie when Victor jostled me with his elbow.  He looked like he was trying to speak but couldn’t quite get the words out.

“How long… flight… left…” Victor whispered hoarsely.

I pulled up the flight map on my screen, “Seven hours.  We are halfway there.”

Victor closed his eyes, leaned back, and whispered the scariest words I’ve ever heard.


“I don’t know if I am going to make it.”


My breath caught as my thoughts raced.  What does he mean, he won’t make it?  Where is he going to go?  We are in the middle of the Atlantic!  Is he serious?  What’s happening?

“The pimples… They are in my ears… They are in my mouth… In my throat… I think my throat is closing up… I don’t know how much longer I can breathe…” he mumbled thinly.

The lights on the plane were dimmed and I leaned closer to take a look.  There were fluid-filled blisters in his ears now and his entire face was swollen and deformed with enraged boils across his nose, forehead, chin, and cheeks.  Panic was engulfing me, and I clenched my hands into fists to stop them from shaking.  I could not fall apart now, I needed to keep a cool head.

I reached into my small backpack, took out all the pills the doctor prescribed, and without checking if it was time for the next dose, started shoving them into Victor’s face.  As he drank his pills, I spoke, trying to keep my voice as steady as possible.

“Listen to me.” I said, “You are fine.  This is not an allergic reaction, it’s been going on way too long for that, and you’ve been taking allergy meds. This is an infection of some kind.  Infections do not close your throat, only allergies do that.  You are fine.  You can breathe.  I am listening to you breathe and you are not wheezing.  I promise you will be OK.  You will make it. GO TO SLEEP.”

Just to make it clear, I had no idea if anything I said had any basis in medical science, I just really wanted it to be true.  I looked straight into his eyes and lied to myself and him as convincingly as I could, almost trying to hypnotize him into believing me.

It seemed to work.  He nodded, leaned back, and closed his eyes.  I leaned in towards his face and listened to his raggedy breaths, in and out, in and out, for the next seven hours of the flight.  Trying to keep myself from panicking, I purchased in-flight Wi-Fi and sent WhatsApp messages to the Omani doctor, begging him to tell me what was going on.  I took close-up pictures of Victor’s rash and posted them online, asking the Internet hive mind to identify them.  The doctor finally got back to me and said this might be scarlet fever and not to worry.  The Internet threw a variety of theories at me – herpes zoster, molluscum contagiosum, shingles, chicken pox, scarlet fever…  I Googled everything and none of it was fatal.

I grasped on to this reassuring thought like a drowning man clutching at straws – it will be ok, it’s some common infection, he will be fine.  But somewhere in the back of my mind, horrifying scenarios came floating up to the surface – what if this is something rare?  What if he is Patient 0 of some brand-new disease?  What if he picked up something exotic on our exotic travels?  What if it’s highly contagious and we have infected the entire plane by trusting the Omani doctor that it was safe to fly? What if I am next and I won’t be able to take care of him by the time we land in Newark?

What if… he is not going to make it?


  1. OMG Ulia, you both are so courageous. What happened after, what did hw have, how long it took to heal. Best regards to you both. Looking forward to many more posts from you.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *