When in Rome, get sick?

Junior's vacation in Europe ends with E.Coli

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When in Rome, get sick?

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Story by Joseph Asher, staff writer

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A dream vacation, two weeks spent in Rome and Croatia sightseeing the beautiful scenery and roaming around on Croatian islands. Her days were spent shopping and hunting for items through store windows. Her nights led her to exquisite restaurants and roaming the streets. A week on the beautiful, blue Croatian waters, jumping off a yacht and racing Dolphins showed little to no sign of the serious sickness that was waiting. 

Junior Emma McMillen came down with a severe sickness on her last few days in Croatia that extended her vacation longer than she intended. McMillen was inflicted with European Sugalike E.Coli.

“The day I was getting off the boat I was trying to get to the airport, I thought I had food poisoning or something,” McMillen said. “My mom took me from the airport to a Croatian hospital.” 

Out of nowhere, Emma started to feel the symptoms of what would soon develop into E.Coli.

“I just started feeling really bad. And I got really weak, and I didn’t want to walk around,” McMillen said. “We were on these islands, so I had to walk around. I just felt like crap for three days.”

McMillen was left wondering what the cause of her illness was. She was occupied with the concern of food poisoning and the fear that she caught something after drinking water during a water ban.

“I drank some bad water when I got to Hvar, one of the islands in Croatia,” McMillen said. “They had a water ban so no one was supposed to drink it, but I also ate a raw burger in Dubrovnik. I was like, ‘Dang, this is raw,’ but I was really hungry, and it was really good. I either got sick from the water or the burger.”

What started out as a stomach ache soon turned into trips in and out of the hospital. McMillen  spent the next few hours with horrible stomach pain and excessive vomiting.

“That’s when I started getting sick. It really hit me the last night when we were on the boat. But I guess I started having problems a few days before that. I had to go to a military hospital when I was in Croatia,” McMillen said. “It was really scary. We spent an extra two days in Croatia, and they couldn’t do anything.” 

With her pain and illness, she flew to Rome, seeking a doctor to help put a stop to her agony. 

“It hit me at one in the morning the day we were getting off the boat, because we had a party the night before. It was our last night on the boat, so I thought I just wasn’t okay. I thought I was just sick,” McMillen said. “But then it kept going. We got to the airport the next morning. We were supposed to get there that night, but I just couldn’t even walk around the town.”

An immeasurable pain consumed McMillen life for the next few days. Pain that kept telling her something was wrong.  

“I don’t even know how to describe it. It just felt like there was a stabbing pain in my stomach constantly. And I couldn’t do anything about it. It was horrible. The only time I got any relief was when we would go find a hotel or something and get a hot bath,” McMillen said. “My mom would put a cold towel around me. I would just sleep in the bath. And she would stay awake so that I didn’t drown. But that’s the only time I [slept].” 

With very little medical help and Emma’s worsening condition, she was then taken back to Rome to seek a solution to her illness.  

“I then got to Rome and a doctor came to see me there because they have home doctors and don’t have any doctor offices,” McMillen said. “He couldn’t help, so I ended up going to Dallas.”

At this point, nothing but fear was running through her mind as she was flown home and then rushed to Dallas Children’s Hospital. 

“I couldn’t walk by myself. I thought I was going to die. I have never seen my mom [so] scared before,” McMillen said. “I was throwing up so much that it started looking red, and then blood was coming out instead.”

At this point, it was unsure if Emma’s condition would improve or get worse, but fear was already coursing through her thoughts. Whether she would live or not was still a question. 

“All I could think about was ‘I’m probably gonna die’. That’s what went through my head the whole time,” McMillen said. “That’s what the doctor told me.”

Hope was found in the midst of doctors and blood tests at Dallas Children’s Hospital. Emma’s road to recovery started after a week at Dallas Children’s, but the bacteria took a lot out of her, and left her to put activities on the back burner. 

“I had to learn how to walk again, so I still can’t dance yet,” McMillen said. “Everytime I dance I just get light headed and have to sit down. I got my score call back and caught up. All the teachers were really helpful. I’m getting better with dance. [High stepper director] Mrs. Reynolds has helped me a lot, she’s just making me go slow.”

Getting the sickness wasn’t just a concern for Emma, but for her mom as well. Through the sickness, their relationship continuously grew stronger. 

“It brought me and my mom a lot closer. She was there for me for everything. We were close before, but now we have a different, better kind of respect for each other,” McMillen said.

Jumping back into school had its downsides, and dance wasn’t an easy road either. 

“It was a tough first six weeks for me since I had been sick,” McMillen said. “I missed the first week of school because I got a stomach bug when I got back in town.”

Despite the difficulty of her first few days at school, Emma continued to persevere through the lingering symptoms of her illness.

“The first four or five days were honestly just blurry, but the whole time I was just scared and hurting,” McMillen said. “I remember thinking, you either get better or it kills you.”

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