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My recent “Invitation to the Rest of Your Life Trip” in Tuscany wasn’t what any of us expected—not me or the ladies who joined me. No one could have foreseen that early the morning of day three, I would get horribly sick at the villa, unable to be more than ten feet away from the bathroom, but that was only the beginning. 

I wound up being taken to a hospital in Florence, Italy, and eventually returning to the U.S. with the aid of wheelchairs at each of the airports.

There’s nothing obvious that caused my system to unravel the way it did. The doctor who was called to the villa said it could be viral and I might be contagious, although, with explosive, uncontrollable diarrhea, no one had to worry about me being around other people. He wrote four prescriptions—none of which began to help, even moderately, until three days later.

By the last day of our trip, I was weak, I’d had a rapid heartbeat for days, and I felt like I was dealing with more than diarrhea. When I called my doctor at home, he guessed that aside from whatever got me, I’d probably lost eight liters of water plus electrolytes. He urged me to check myself into a hospital in Florence.

I was taken by ambulance to the ‘oldest still functioning hospital in the world,’ Santa Maria, Nuova. Built in 1288, it’s the hospital where they take indigents, people off the street, and old people without means who are near death, and I can attest to this because they were all around me. 

The hospital staff had no sense of urgency, and after they checked me in, they left me on a gurney in the hallway for three hours while I tried not to pass out. To their credit, they did a scan of my abdomen, an EKG, a Covid test, and some blood tests. In between each of the nurse’s five attempts to find a vein, he would pause to eat another chocolate truffle, and no, he didn’t wash his hands, and he wasn’t wearing gloves.  

A few years ago a girlfriend was taken by ambulance to the same hospital in Florence for a different reason. Her scary experience there was almost identical to mine, and as I was lying on a gurney in the hallway for three hours, being totally ignored, she texted, “Same ambulance? Same hallway? Same gurney?” Thank goodness for friends with a sense of humor!

After five hours, they began giving me IV fluids, and when I left, I was given four more prescriptions—two were different antibiotics—and told I couldn’t leave Florence for four days and I couldn’t walk around the city. I stayed in bed and ate bread, bananas, and potatoes, and drank two liters of water a day. That’s when my esophagus started spasming… I’ll spare you.

Once home, I saw my doctor who gave me two more prescriptions: a potassium supplement to replace what I’d lost and another for the esophagus. The bread, potatoes, and bananas continued for another week and even now, 27 days out from my initial problem, I’m unable to resume a normal diet until June 15. My doctor also said I shouldn’t be surprised if four to six months from now, I lose some of my hair. So far, I’ve lost eight pounds. I don’t remember ever being this sick, and to go through much of it alone, in another country where you don’t speak the language… I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

While the trip didn’t go as anyone hoped, the nine ladies traveled to the places on the itinerary. They shopped and ate pasta and bonded and formed genuine friendships with one another, and for that, I’m glad. I was the common denominator that brought them all together, but in the end, I’m sad to say I was the outsider. 

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  1. Ohhh, you dreamed of this trip, and worked on all of the details for over a year. I am so sorry that you got so ill. You endured a travel adventure that no one would wish on anyone. That just confirms that you truly are a bad ass. I hope you feel a bit better each day.

    • Brenda, I’m so very sorry this happened on your dram trip. I’ve been sick before overseas and it is scary dealing with hospitals and doctors in another language. Wishing you a speedy recovery and sending hugs,

  2. Brenda when I heard about this , I was grateful that you got home safely, and that you are ion the mend. This could’ve happened to any one of us while traveling,. The language barrier and the treatment by a new team of doctors adds a bit of drama as well The women I travel with would never have gone ahead shopping; they would’ve called their doctors, investigating transporting you, brought in interpreters, and would’ve stayed and helped resolve the situation while bringing comfort and optimism to what was unknown and frightening I must say an act of grace might’ve lifted you up when you needed it most. Be well Brenda. You’re a trooper!

  3. I thought of you during April feeling a bit down that I was unable to take the trip with you. Not only were you ill, gravely so, but deprived of the experience I know you painstakingly planned. May your recovery be complete and speedy. There is more than a little truth in the saying that we plan…and God laughs.

    • Susan, I’m sorry you were down and feeling a little like you were left behind, but it’s good you didn’t go. And God… I’ve been talking to him a lot. xoxox, Brenda

    • That is unfair to Brenda’s guests. They were not friends, but buying a trip. I am happy they went on and made the best of a trip that had an unexpected problem. Brenda, best wishes for returning health.

  4. This is a nightmare. I am so sorry for you. I am hoping your doctor will monitor you closely and get you back to your healthy spot. Again- this must have been terrifying and I am so sorry.

    • Thank you, Cynthia! I have a great doctor and he and I spoke several times while I was in Italy, and I’ve seen him twice since I’ve been back. xoxox, Brenda

  5. So sorry to hear you were ill and still recovering. Yojany has planned a trip for us in June and our journey starts in Florence. Thank you for the heads up about the medical system. So glad you arrived home safely.

    • Pamela, Isn’t Yojany the best? I sent her flowers when I got home because without her help, I couldn’t have made it home. She was one of my rays of sunshine during this whole thing. Enjoy your trip… Take out trip insurance!! xoxox, Brenda

  6. Holy sh*t Brenda! Not the right way to go big or go home! You really went through a lot there darling, and I hope you recover gloriously and speedily. I bet home never felt so good and I’m glad you’re safe and, hopefully, cozy and comfortable there. ❤️

    • Cynthia, Thanks for your comment. Home… You’ve got that right! All I wanted was to be home… safely… in my own bed with my Annie girl. Thank God, I got my wish. xoxox, Brenda

  7. I truly feel for you – I got very ill on an Asian work trip quite a few years ago and felt so alone and not really wanting a doctor anywhere near me, as it was just not home! Glad you are home!!

    • I’m sorry you experienced something like this, Teresa. Being alone and so far away from home makes you feel so vulnerable. All I wanted was to go home. Thank you for your nice note, Brenda

  8. Oh no! So very sorry to read this. You were so looking forward to this trip. I hope you are back to your normal self very soon. Take good care

  9. So sorry to hear about your experience. I can’t even imagine how frightening it had to be for you. That God you made it home and are under your doctors care now. Prayers for you .

    • Thank you for your prayers, Colleen. That means a lot and I’m very grateful. Yes, parts of this journey were very scary, but I kept talking to God and visualizing that I would make it home. xoxox, Brenda

  10. I’m so glad you made it home ok. What misery!

    We had the opposite experience when my husband got sick in Umbria outside of Orvieto. The concierge whisked him to the hospital where he was seen immediately and had X-rays and other tests and was back in no time with a nebulizer and several meds. I think you ended up at the wrong hospital, unfortunately. However the last time I went to the ER, it was at least 6-7 hours before being treated for a head wound.

    • Thanks for this positive comment, VJ. Yes, the wrong hospital indeed. I know of another hospital in Florence that is modern and totally different. Your head wound/ER story is concerning, but at least you were in the United States and had options.

  11. It’s unfortunate you weren’t transferred to a better hospital somewhere else. I’m sure Italy has some very good hospitals. It must have been very scary being taken to a place where you were not sure of the care you were to receive. And, to have your dreamed of trip ruined.
    I’m happy the others continued on and enjoyed their trip. I’m sure it was not cheap to attend and they would have had high hopes for this trip. But, without you it would not have been the same. Sad all around.
    Praying for your 100% recovery soon.

    • Yes, Joanna. It was sad all around. Thanks for your prayers. The doctors and nurses at the Italian hospital screamed and yelled at one another, but it was just how they talked and interfaced, but it didn’t make me feel confident that I was in a place that would take good care of me. xoxox, Brenda

  12. Oh, Brenda! I’m horrified to hear what happened on your trip! After all you did in preparation for everyone to enjoy such a wonderful time together, I hate that you missed it (and in such a dramatic fashion)! I’m so sorry you’ve been so sick. I’m sure the ladies on the trip are so grateful for all the things you had prepared for them to do. And it’s great they jumped in to make the trip successful on their end. I just wish you could have enjoyed it all with them and have seen their faces enjoying the surprises you had in store. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m thankful these ladies got connected and I’m sure they’d love the chance to have a reunion with you once you’ve recovered!

    Your hospital experience reminded me of when my mom went to a local clinic when her heart was a-fib in San Antonio. We thought she was having a heart attack. It was one of the local Catholic clinics (she’s not Catholic), and they would not send her to the big non-Catholic hospital she requested. They sent her to the downtown Catholic hospital where they send the indigent and homeless. The room was only big enough for her bed and the recliner I stayed in. Unlike your experience (and those in many places around the world), she did get a great doctor and despite slow and lower quality care than at most hospitals she was finally diagnosed correctly and treated by the end of the next day. But I know that in many places in the world the family has to bring the patient food and basic care when patients are hospitalized. Top it off with not speaking the language and it can be traumatic. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that, and are still recovering. Praying for you and your thorough recovery and healing. Please take care and be patient with yourself as you heal. Love you, and grateful you’re okay!!

    • Dear Beckye, When my parents and I first moved to San Antonio, I was 11-years-old, and my father was taken to the Santa Rosa Hospital downtown. I imagine that’s the one you’re talking about. My mother was terrified because most of the patients and visitors and medical team were speaking Spanish, and she later told me she felt like she’d been dropped in another country. I also have A-fib… and A-Flutter and Mitral Valve Prolapse so days of nonstop rapid heartbeats and being dehydrated in Italy concerned me greatly. Thank you for your prayers. Love, Brenda

  13. I am relieved to hear you are doing better after such a frightening ordeal. I was hoping for a detailed report on a lovely event. Take care and know you are thought of fondly.

  14. Those women you took to Italy I would imagine were right by your side!Worried and Helpful and Checking in with YOU?
    Hospitals not what WE AMERICANS are use too!!!!One needs to go The Private route!
    So wish my Friends there could have Helped You!Somehow I feel it’s Ciao Ciao Italy no return from You.

    • Having lived there for so long, you know about Italy. If my electrolytes hadn’t been down around my knees, I would have called you for advice! xoxox, Brenda

  15. Dear Brenda,
    I’m so taken back what happened to you I find everything you went through completely disturbing. Sharing your life story I know you are very courageous, brave, full of moxie and a survivor. To be out of the country and get so sick like you were is so scary and frightening. The hospital sounds very different and of course not where you would prefer to be cared for. At that point I’m sure you were feeling grateful you were in some hospital care.
    As you mend and regain your strength know my thoughts remain with you. Will your doctor allow you to drink BOOST? The one that has 360 calories? It claims to help you gain or maintain weight. I drink the Vanilla or Strawberry flavor. I mix mine with some almond milk. It helps me to try and maintain my weight.
    Warm hugs, and well wishes and prayers coming your way.

    • Thank you for your beautiful note, Katherine. It is much appreciated as are your well wishes and prayers. It was scary to be so sick and not know what it was or when it would stop and the long flight to the U.S. seemed to take days and was fraught with my every growing medical issues. I’m so grateful to be home. xoxox, Brenda

  16. I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me is glad the other ladies went on and enjoyed themselves. The bigger part of me just feels like they abandoned you! If one of them had gotten so horribly sick, not even knowing you I believe you would have stepped up to care for them. But the important thing is you’re finally home and getting better. When the huge scare of all this is behind you, you might want to travel again. Oh, and losing weight in Italy? I would say that NEVER happens. And it just shouldn’t have happened to you!

    • Lisa, Yes, the important thing is I’m finally home. I would venture to say I’m one of the few people who went to Italy and lost weight. I didn’t even get to eat a plate of pasta or some prosciutto! xoxox, Brenda

  17. Oh, Brenda – what a terrible ordeal for you! I’m so sorry your trip was interrupted after all the effort you made to create such a wonderful experience! I’m so glad you’re home safely. Sending prayers for your quick and full recovery!

  18. So sorry to hear about your travel nightmare but glad you are home and recuperating. We have many experiences traveling or living overseas and some hair raising stories about both regarding medical care. In retrospect, I can now see the humor, sort of. Those experiences have also curtailed our desire to return to some places around the globe!

    • Sharon, Bad things happen whether we’re at home or in another country, but when we’re traveling and alone, it makes us think twice about doing it again. Right now, I don’t want to go any further than the grocery store, but I’m sure that will pass. Thank you, Brenda

  19. I am really sorry about this… scary for you, all the while feeling so sick—prayers for you…..

  20. I am really sorry about this… scary for you, all the while feeling so sick—prayers for you…..

  21. omg Brenda, what an absolute nightmare!! I am so so sorry. I hope you are up and regaining your strength, have good travel insurance and are not so scarred by the experience that you will never return to Italy. That would really be a shame. What bad, bad luck. Again, so sorry! xx C

    • Thank you, Carolyn. Yes, I had travel insurance. Getting ready to file a claim this week, so we’ll see what they say. As I look at the beautiful pictures of your trip, I’m reminded that Egypt has always been the number one place I’ve wanted to visit since I was a little girl. But since I’m still a bit shellshocked, I’m thinking you and Dennis are the bravest people in the world. If I could get that sick in Italy, odds are, there’s a tomb waiting for me in Egypt. I know this too shall pass. xoxox, B

  22. I’m so sorry about your experience. We travel a lot and always worry about getting sick despite being careful and eating healthily. Do you know what it was exactly? Best of luck for ongoing recovery.

    • Thank you, DonnaJean. No one knows because the Italian hospital didn’t run any more than the basic tests. There was some discussion of several, nasty new bugs that are going around. If there’s a vaccine against getting it again, I’ll be first in line.

  23. I was so shocked to see this on IG and flew right over to read your blog. I’m so so sorry. You out so much work into this trip for all of the ladies you invited, including myself and I still feel badly I couldn’t make it. I don’t think anyone could have mustered up the courage to endure all you did in a foreign country as ill as you were. When you are up to it let us know how you are and the story behind how this occurred and what the doctors have concluded it is/was. Sending love, prayers, and hugs.


    • You’re sweet, Jane. We don’t know what caused it, but the diarrhea was just the first domino that fell. As I mentioned in one of my other comments, there may be a nasty new bug that’s circulating and if there’s a vaccine against getting it again, I’ll be first in line. xoxox, Brenda

  24. Oh Brenda! Terrible experience. I am so sorry. I’m leaving for Europe this week and praying for us all to stay well. I’ll check on you when I return. Sending all the healing and positive vibes possible. The care you received or in your case did not receive is such a nightmare. My heart hurts for you.

    So sorry,

  25. How absolutely awful. Benda I can only imagine how horrific it was. You had planned a wonderful trip and then this happened to you. I am so glad you are home and I hope you feel better each day. Take care of yourself. xx

  26. Oh my gawd! I wondered why there were no pics on instagram of the trip. Thought this is so odd and of course it was as you were having a most shocking time being so ill. Having to go it alone was extremely stressful. I certainly would have been there at the hospital with you if I was on the trip even tho I don’t speak Italian.
    This certainly has been an eye opener for all of us to have a contingency plan if we are travelling and get unexpectedly ill.
    I hope each passing day has you feeling healthier and happier.
    Here’s something to give you a chuckle – decades ago when my boyfriend needed to go back to a hospital in Seattle (he was still recovering from food poisoning – hospital had released him too soon) I called the hospital to see about getting an ambulance to take him to the hospital. (We live in Canada,). The clerk said no one comes to the hospital by ambulance if they can possibly avoid it as it’s too expensive – put him in a taxi! So I called for a taxi and off we went.

    • Rosemarie, Your presence at the hospital would have been appreciated, although it might have scared you to death. What a strange assortment of people. A man with yellow eyes broke into the ER. He was yelling in a language I’d never ever heard and waving his arms. The woman who checked me in was a tiny thing, but she confronted him and tried to force him to leave, but eventually she called the police and they took him away. It was after he was gone that I could tell how afraid she really was. The whole time I was lying just inside the doorway of the ER, ten feet away from him with a dozen possible scenarios running through my mind. None of them good. A taxi instead of an ambulance! LOL! At least you got him there! xoxox, Brenda

  27. Jon and I are very sorry to hear that you got so sick on your trip, Brenda. Make sure you get your Dr. to give you a PCR test, so if COVID was mixed in with it in some way, you have that on file if you get long covid symptoms. Hope your recovery is problem free!

    • Jon & Kathy, I appreciate your note so much! Just looked up PCR test because I didn’t know what it was. Thanks for the suggestion. This wasn’t your run of the mill “tourista.” Love, Brenda

  28. Hi Brenda,
    I meant to ask you if you have a mailing address that you give to your blog friends?
    I hope you have some friends that live close by that you are comfortable to turn to for your care?

  29. Brenda I was so shocked (as all your friends and followers were…) to read this yesterday. You have been through so many experiences, both terrifying and exciting, in your life and this of course, will go on the terrifying side of the ledger.

    One thing I know after following you for so many years is that you will learn and grow and find the silver lining from this experience. It is always there…
    Sending Love and healing.

    • Thank you, sweet friend, for such a beautiful note. There are many things I’ve learned, and still need to learn, from this trip to Italy. Some I thought were firmly embedded in my DNA, like the color of my eyes and my hair color, but alas, they weren’t, or somehow, they got lost along the way. I’m rethinking many things and yes, that is the silver lining. xoxox, Brenda

  30. Oh my gosh, I am so very sorry to hear this. I was in Tuscany last year with a friend who ended up in the hospital [a different one than yours] and it was a difficult situation to navigate. I can only imagine what you went through.

    Many years ago I fell ill in Nice, France with similar symptoms. The night before I had eaten shellfish and my doctor surmised I picked up a parasite. I was sick for weeks upon my return. Your story brought this all back and I empathize with you.

    I hope you have regained your health and are able to resume your busy life.

    Take care,

    • Hi Joan, I’m sorry you had those experiences. Being sick… really sick… is bad enough but in another country it’s awful. Right now I’m wondering how far I want to stray from home but my adventurous spirit is never far away so I’m hoping this inclination won’t last long. I’m doing better every day. Thank you so much, Brenda

  31. I hate that you worked so hard to plan this trip and then this happened. So scary! Did they ever figure out what caused it? Was it just viral? Praying for your continued healing!

    • Hi Barbara, Doctors in Italy only tested me for Covid and that was negative. My doctor here said with the two different antibiotics they gave me, they “threw the kitchen sink” at me, hoping one of them would help. I appreciate your prayers. xoxox, Brenda

  32. Good lord Brenda! How awful for you. I bet you were scared to death at some point. Or maybe you felt too horrible to be that scared. My husband had to have dental surgery on our trip to Provence, but the French dentist was great. That was still scary and disappointing. Glad you are back home and on the mend. Feel better soon – thinking of you. ❤️

    • Thank you, Gray. I was scared in the emergency room because I couldn’t harness any of my practices like Guided Imagery (self hypnosis) which I’m usually so good at. My mind was racing, always to the scary things. I’ve been in ERs for serious things before but I’ve always been able to get a mental handle on my fears. I think the lack of fluids and electrolytes had something to do with my inability to concentrate this time. I know there’s very good medical care outside the U.S., but something like this makes you think twice about traveling too far for a while. Happy your husband had a good experience. ♥️♥️♥️ Brenda

  33. Brenda, I’m shocked and so sad to read this … you worked incredibly hard on that trip to create a beautiful and memorable experience for all the lucky participants. I’m sorry for your harrowing ordeal and thankful you are home where you can fully recover with Annie at your side. xo

  34. I bet you were scared to death at some point. Or maybe you felt too horrible to be that scared. My husband had to have dental surgery on our trip to Provence, but the French dentist was great. That was still scary and disappointing. Glad you are back home and on the mend. Feel better soon

    • Effat, I’m glad to hear your husband had a good experience in France. Thanks for sharing your story, Brenda

  35. Wow, Brenda, what a horrible and scary experience! I am so glad that you’re home safe and slowly recovering!

    • Hi Ginger, Yes. It had its moments and essentially being alone in another country doesn’t help. I appreciate your note. Thanks so much, Brenda

  36. Dear Brenda, what a terrible experience! I hope at this late date you’re on the mend?! I am new to your blog and love your writing style.

    • Hi Téa, I’m delighted you’ve found my blog and are enjoying it. Thanks for letting me know. And yes, I’m finally back to my old self, but whatever I caught in Italy was really hard on me. Stay well and come see me again, Brenda

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