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Getting Sick on a Cruise: Ed and Marilyn’s Story

Travel Team | Dec 8, 2023

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A cruise doctor diagnosed Ed with “ship bug.”

That there’s a name for this illness, one that isn’t too specific but that is apparently common enough on cruise ships that they gave it its own term, just goes to show you how it pays to be prepared. Anything can happen on a trip, it doesn’t have to be some catastrophic accident.

When Ed got sick, seemingly with a common “ship bug,” that preparation may have helped to save his life and provided constant support for his family. Here is his story.

Getting Sick on a Cruise

Emergency vehicle outside of a hospitalEd and his wife Marilyn were in the middle of a 31-day cruise when he began to feel ill. He developed a bad cough and had difficulty breathing. Ed’s trip to the infirmary led to his diagnosis of “ship bug” and a course of antibiotics.

Ten days later, the medication didn’t seem to have had much effect. Ed, who was 88 years old at the time, was still struggling. The couple had a decision to make: go to the hospital in Lisbon, Portugal, where they had just docked, or wait seven days until they got back to the United States to seek medical care.

Worried that her husband’s condition would worsen somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Marilyn decided to take him to the doctor in Lisbon.

Why do so many people get sick on cruises?

It’s not common to get sick on a cruise, but it’s also not unheard of. Lots of things can happen on a ship. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), respiratory illnesses are the most common diagnoses on a cruise ship with 30% to 40% of illness or injuries falling in this category. This includes diagnoses like COVID and the flu.

The next most common diagnoses on a cruise are injuries from slips, trips, or falls; seasickness; and gastrointestinal illness caused by norovirus or contaminated food or water.

About half of passengers who report to medical facilities on cruise ships are older than 65.

Diagnosis: Pneumonia and Heart Failure

Doctor holding x-rays.Now back to Ed’s story. Once at the hospital in Lisbon, Ed was officially diagnosed with pneumonia. The medical situation clearly was more severe than they’d realized. With Ed in the hospital for two weeks, Marilyn called their daughter, who flew from the U.S. to Portugal planning to say her final goodbyes.

“Truthfully, he almost didn’t make it home,” said Ed’s daughter. “That was the scariest part of all.”

Ed’s daughter also contacted Seven Corners, and the Assist team took up the case, helping the family figure out the next steps.

Seven Corners contacted doctors in Lisbon to arrange Ed’s return home as part of his emergency medical evacuation and repatriation benefits. As part of those benefits, Seven Corners Assist arranged a private plane with a reclining seat to get Ed home safely and comfortably. We also sent a medical escort with an oxygen tank to fly home with him and monitor his condition en route.

Even back in the United States, Ed wasn’t quite in the clear yet. He needed more time and attention to recover. He was immediately taken to a clinic in Cleveland and diagnosed with heart failure. Thankfully, he was released from the hospital a few days later, on his way to a full recovery.

Can You Afford to Travel Without Insurance?

Ed’s story is an important reminder of the value of travel insurance. Because of his plan, he did not have to pay out of pocket for an expensive repatriation so that he could get the medical care he needed.

Ed and his family also were able to rely on Seven Corners Assist to coordinate logistics for his repatriation. No one should have to figure out how to arrange a flight and dedicated medical escort while suffering from heart failure, and they don’t want the weight of that stress on their family, either. With travel assistance services, that worry is removed, and the traveler can focus on getting well.

It’s an experience other Seven Corners customers have had as well.

“Once activated the Seven Corners team was phenomenal in their communication, help, advocating for my mom to get the care she needed, and support for myself as well. They initiated a 24/7 response team to coordinate between time zones and to keep everyone on the same page,” said Tim G., whose mother was repatriated from Scandinavia in the fall of 2023. He added that the Assist team “have taken care of all the transactional needs to get us back home to the USA. This experience is not at all like I thought it would be and has me encouraged to pay the extra to get coverage for longer trips.”

Darryl and his wife Nancy were in China when Darryl fell and broke his hip. "Seven Corners did a wonderful job,” said Nancy. “They just took a tremendous load off of me because I didn't have to figure out all these things. We will never again travel without travel insurance anywhere outside of the U.S.”

Said Ed of his cruise experience: “I will definitely buy travel insurance again. I don’t think you can afford to travel without it.”

Best Travel Insurance for Your Trip and Family

Join fellow travelers in the smart decision to protect your health and your trip with travel insurance. Encourage family and friends to do the same. We provide a variety of plans that can be customized to fit your needs. Check out your options with our simple interactive guide, or contact our team of expert, licensed agents. 

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