Lost meds


It must be the only time-honored bit of travel advice everybody agrees with: Keep a list of your current medications when you roam, and store supply bottles separately.

In Europe this spring, roughly April 15 through June 15. I faithfully did what I was supposed to do. My demon requires I take more than 12 pills per day, every day, and to be sure I don’t miss one or double up, I distribute them in cases, each of which holds a week’s allotment.

Our itinerary had us onboard a cruise ship for two weeks, then to visit Barcelona, Spain, for a couple of days before we dispersed on our own. For us, that included the tulip farms blooming like crazy in mile-long-or-more rows that seem to stretch from one Dutch horizon to the other. Breathtaking from the air.

Here are Amsterdam’s legendary Kuykenhof Gardens and interlacing canals plied by barges. I go all soft and caramely at the sight of a live-aboard barge: She’s usually freshly painted, has lush flowers and fresh herbs in her window boxes, perhaps a clothesline stretched across the ship’s cargo hold. We’ve seen bikes, small cars and playpens lashed on the deck, making a safe haven, in good weather, for the family dog. Or child.

I digress. By pooling our recollections of the time between debarking Liberty of the Seas and searching the hotels, we were able to posit that the little nondescript “gym” bag went missing in the Port of Barcelona shortly after we passed through.

To allow customs officers to interview the 5,000 souls onboard Liberty alone, ropes and posts were set for passengers to queue up in a zigzag, like you see in airports for security purposes.

Tiring, but mea culpa, my own fault: I had one more bag along than I should have had, thoughtlessly putting a burden on those dear friends who would take turns picking up my bag and advancing it to the next bend in the queue.

Funny, but at no time did I think I’d been robbed. We left messages at the harbor offices, and at Royal Caribbean’s desk, at charter bus stations, any place we could think of when we were hand-carrying luggage.

What was in this precious package people were jumping through hoops for? Some soft walking shoes and a light jacket Mary had bought me for formal dinners, and a whole lot of personal supplies you might expect an old broad to carry – plus a plastic bag of dirty laundry.

My medications were in it too, the ones that are supposed to be kept separately, right?

So. Do we have the bag or don’t we? Not yet. Mary met us in Barcelona and before we even got to Düsseldorf, she was working her Blackberry and the Internet. She was speaking German, Spanish, (and English), and I could detect in her voice the kind of firmness you adopt when trying to let your children know you are onto them. Polite, oh yes, and authoritative, but without apology.

At last, the news was good, but Mary warned me not to get too hopeful. The bag was picked up by the Harbormaster’s crew who placed it in safe-keeping after I recited everything I could about its contents. I’ve lost the notes I made to track it, but it seemed reasonable to us that it could be taped shut and “overnighted” in not more than a week to get to Düsseldorf.

The postal service in Germany is so erratic – from virtually overnight to several months – and I didn’t want to wait until the end of our trip to start back on my medical regimen.

Early on during this nightmare I started cutting back on my one-week tray of meds, and I didn’t know how I would react to that. The docs put you on this stuff, are strict about quitting cold turkey. I had gotten a “vacation override” as the insurance people call it, enough of my meds to last until the last day of our trip. All were in the gym bag in the Barcelona docks.

Dear Mary, calling the right people and asking the right questions, and doing it over and over again. One person told her the bag was in his office, but she should call back on Monday to make arrangements for it. Monday the person at that number said, No, there’s no bag here. Try again later.

At one point the quest (but not the bag) made it back to the United States, and an alarm went up that we could be charged with illegal transfer of prescription drugs across national boundaries. But we were going to be in Europe for seven more weeks. I could walk from Germany back to Spain in that time.

And then there are almost daily “bank holidays” that government and commercial offices must be closed, stretching weekends until the function of weekends no longer has meaning.

Next hurdle: Verifications. Starting with our faithful Kroger pharmacists, who read off the list of everything I take to be sure of dates and dosages, to my two doctors who faxed prescriptions signed for everything we needed to order. Plus personal e-mails asking how else they could help.

The bag arrived in Düsseldorf exactly 30 days after going missing.

A friend in Rainer’s orchestra is married to a pharmacist who was kind enough to fill the scripts, 90 days’ worth, and in a matter of hours I was loading my pill cases, feeling better all the time.

Enough with the melodrama. I’d love to live a sweet normal life, but that is not to be. In its place I have friends and daughters for whom I am deeply grateful, and enough technology to lace us all together.