What better way to celebrate a birthday than to go on a cruise? Being avid cruisers we chose to do just that. When friends suggested we join them on a 14 day Southern Caribbean aboard Celebrity Constellation we just couldn’t say no. Great itinerary, great price and a new cruise line for us to try. My feelings on Celebrity will be shared at another time. That’s not what this post is about.
My birthday happened to be on our third formal night. Doesn’t get much better than that. We started the day as usual, sleeping in, breakfast, check the e-mail, wander around the ship making a plan for the day. There happened to be an ice carving demonstration on board that we always enjoy so we went to see that. It was followed by a pool volleyball game between ship staff and passengers. Great fun! Wouldn’t you know it, one of our favourite martini bartenders was working the pool bar that day, so we just had to sit at the bar as I had my birthday Mudslide. Dangerous drinks by the way, taste just like a chocolate milkshake but with a big kick. 🙂 After happy hour on deck we headed to the room to prepare for dinner at 6. We always like to go for a drink before dinner, so we wanted to be ready by 5. We got ready and headed for our usual pre-dinner spot in the Rendevous Lounge. Our usual table was waiting and so was the waiter to take our order. “Our usual” we said and off he went. We met up with the DJ there who came by to wish me a Happy Birthday asking if we would be up in Reflections later that night. “Of course we will be” was our response.
Dinner was it’s usual not so good, but what followed was a nice little birthday cake and the staff singing Happy Birthday to me. They cut this tiny little cake into 8 pieces to serve the table. I got the “Happy” and Ed got the “Birthday” It was about the size of two mouth fulls…perfect. 🙂 We then headed to the martini bar where Gede made me my “special” birthday martini. It was a coffee, chocolate type covered with whipped cream and swirls of chocolate. Yummy! They even managed to get a candle to stand up in it. Just a few calories there. Oh well, you only turn 52 once in life so what the hell. To that they sang Happy Birthday to me…another great surprise. We had great fun there at the martini bar. Our new friend Ailsa took some pictures and we had a few toasts together there. We then took our drinks and headed up to Reflections Lounge to be there for the band at 10:30.
We got to Reflections about 10:15 to the end of the trivia game. We would have won that one too, but alas another pen was not to be won. 🙂 When the band started we were up dancing right away. They all smiled and nodded. Did I mention we had become regulars in Reflections and most nights were the only people on the dance floor? After a song or two, the band acknowledged my birthday, what another nice surprise. We danced and danced and danced some more while the band played. We even danced to the canned music between their sets. It was a great evening, calm seas (making it easier to dance on a ship) good music and great fun.
The band was done for the evening at 12:15 when the DJ took over. There were still quite a few people in the lounge. I was on my way to the washroom when Angelo started playing Happy Birthday and called out my name. I stopped, hid behind the pole from embarrassment, then came out and waived to the crowd of other passengers wondering who on earth Arlene was. I waived to Angelo and gave a quick bow. We both had a good giggle over that. Another one of the bar waiters, Kevin, came by to wish me a Happy Birthday and said that the last drinks were on him. He was heading out as the party was winding down and there wasn’t need for so many waiters. I thanked him and off he went.
Then the worst thing ever happened to me although I wasn’t going to realize it for about 30 minutes or so. I ordered another drink for Ed and I along with 2 glasses of water. Ed was up dancing with Katie Jo, an amazing dancer from North Carolina. No she wasn’t a professional, she was just another passenger like us. According to the time stamp on our bill, the drinks were ordered at 1:36 am. The waiter brought the drinks, I signed for them and up on the dance floor I went. We were getting a bit tired by that point, so we weren’t dancing quite as often. When we were up dancing I was watching our table closely. There was no one around the table or that side of the lounge. There was only a group from UK sitting on the other side of the lounge. I’m still not sure why I was watching our table so intently, the only thing there was my purse, with nothing in it, and our water and drinks. We were sitting enjoying the music and having our water and our drink. For some unknown reason I decided it was time to leave and it needed to be NOW. We left our unfinished drinks and water and off we went. The rest is a bit of a blur so bear with me.
As we were walking towards the elevator Ed noticed that I was staggering a bit. He thought that a bit unusual as I was fine a few minutes before, up dancing with no problems at all. On a moving ship that’s not always the case. When we got out of the elevator 4 decks below my staggering got a lot worse. I still didn’t notice anything wrong at all and Ed didn’t mention it. We got into our room, got ready for bed and that’s when everything changed.
I was having a bit of a hard time breathing. Thinking it was caused by my position I rolled slightly onto my back. Then I noticed that I couldn’t feel or move my legs! Then I couldn’t feel my arms, nor could I move them. I saw a big ball of blue flame and wondered what was happening. Then I felt the sensation that was already in my limbs come into my head. My face started going numb. The last words I was able to say were “Oh my God, I’ve been drugged!” Then my breathing got worse and I started to hyperventilate. Thank God Ed was there or I don’t know what would have happened to me. He called for medical assistance right away and then got a paper bag for me to breathe into. It helped with the breathing a bit, but I was still completely paralyzed. Not a good feeling at all.
It seemed like forever for help to arrive. When they did, it was someone from housekeeping with a wheelchair. I was completely useless to help Ed and the staff member get me into the chair. At this point I couldn’t see anything either, I was now blind! Thankfully Ed was well trained in getting unconscious people onto stretchers and out of difficult spaces and knew what to do. The staff were completely useless. What can you expect from housekeeping staff. They aren’t trained for this!! Ed covered me with a beach towel, (the only thing in the room) and off we went. I recall the trip because they had to slow with each bump on the way, the rest of the trip to sick-bay is a blur.
When we arrived in sick bay I’m told that Ed assisted the nurse in getting me onto a bed. I don’t recall any of this and I was still blind and paralyzed. I do recall the sensation of heat as they covered me with blankets. The doctor came in and the first thing he did was complain about not being awake because he was awakened from a deep sleep. Wrong thing to say to retired emergency personnel. No sympathy there. I recall trying to speak and telling him that I had been drugged and I believed it to be the “date rape drug”. He asked some bizarre questions which I don’t totally recall, but I do remember them being bizarre in nature at the time. I do remember him asking if I knew who did it. Of course not! He then tried to tell me I was hyperventilating and that was causing my symptoms and that I needed to calm down. I told him while convulsing that I was calm. My jaw was chattering and I had absolutely no control over it at all. Not a good feeling. I recall them taking my blood pressure, apparently normal, temperature, normal. Then they decided to take a blood sample. The nurse took my arm and asked me to make a fist. I couldn’t. I still had no feeling or control in any of my limbs at all.
My speech was back, but almost unreadable at this point. I remember feeling I was going to die. I managed to turn my head to Ed and said “Help”. He recognized the look in my eyes and knew I was in serious trouble. I felt like the staff didn’t have a clue what to do to help me and thought I was going to die on that table then and there! The doctor kept popping in and out asking questions telling us that he was consulting with colleagues. Not sure what colleagues he was referring to, but there didn’t seem to be any answers coming any time soon. About 3 am they gave me some Valium to calm me down. Not sure that was the best thing for me at the time mixing drugs like that. The nurse brought in a specimen cup and asked me to provide a urine sample. I told her that I might be able to but I would need help walking. She said not to worry about it and to just do it when I got back to my room and bring it in the next day. I was released from sick bay about 5 am and was taken back to our room. I then filled the cup and left it on the counter for Ed to deliver the next day.
The next morning about 10 am Ed took the sample to sick bay. I stayed in the room, in bed. Partly because I was still exhausted, partly because I was terrified to leave the room. When Ed took the sample the doctor called him into his office and closed the door. From what Ed told me the doctor now believed that my problem wasn’t just hyperventilating, but agreed that I had been drugged. He said that he was calling security and they would be calling us about 11 am in our room. Security called about 11:15 and we went down to give our statements to them then. We then went back to sick bay. I was still having tremors from the drugs in my system and was extremely nauseous. The doctor asked me another series of questions about what I ate, what type of medications I have ever been on and so forth.
The next step was a bit embarrassing but understandably necessary. I had to provide another urine sample, this time a supervised one. Hopefully taken within the time frame to allow testing. There was the nurse and a female security officer present in the bathroom with me. They were very good about just idly chit-chatting to make it seem not so uncomfortable for me. Then they took the sample and did the usual toxicology drug test on it. Guess what showed up…the Valium of course, and nothing else. Unfortunately these type of tests don’t test for any “date rape drugs” namely GHB (Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid), that has to be done in a lab. As there are no labs on board a cruise ship the testing of any of the samples would have to wait until we were at port in Fort Lauderdale on the 11th. Then they gave me a shot to help with the nauseous which was becoming extreme. And back to the room again to rest.
Ed called the doctor about 6 pm to give him an update on my condition as requested. Ed told him how I was doing. He said that security were having local authorities come on board in the morning and we would be paged to speak to them. He also said that he was sending the samples taken from me forward for GHB testing. That was a relief, someone was actually listening and doing something about it. Or so we thought.
When we arrived in Fort Lauderdale at the end of the cruise we had to wait on the ship for the local authorities to arrive. That would be the Port Everglades Sheriff’s department. We spoke to a female officer and told her what had happened. She already had the statements that we provided to ship security. She told me there was nothing she could do and gave me a file number. When we told her that we were both in emergency services she asked if we were active. I think it may have made a difference. Too bad we are already retired. We then left the ship and headed for our hotel to wait until the next day to fly home.
The kids had done some research for us on GHB, some of which they e-mailed to us. No surprise to me, I experienced every single affect of the drug when mixed with alcohol, of course to the extreme which is what my body does with any type of drug. (You should see what happens when I take a Robaxacet.) Now the hard part, proving it.
GHB Side Effects
Abrupt, intense drowsiness
Decreased body temperature
Slower, deep respiration
Giddiness, silliness and dizziness
Interference with mobility and verbal coherence
Decreased heart rate
When we got home I went to my own doctor. I told him what had happened and my symptoms; there was no doubt in his mind nor mine that I had been drugged. I told him that the samples were going for testing and I would try to get the results to him. He then filled out the paperwork for “hair testing for GHB”. I went to our usual BC lab only to find that they don’t do that kind of testing there. The technician referred me to Cantest and gave me the number. I called them and they don’t do that kind of test either. They referred me to BC Center for Disease Control and gave me the number. I called them and they don’t do that kind of test either. Who does?!? No one that I can find. There are a couple of places on the internet in the US that would do the test, but it would cost me at least $400 per test, and that’s presuming that they will do a test on a Canadian.
Then I heard from an investigator from Royal Caribbean Cruises who own Celebrity. He was very nice, concerned and apologetic. Unfortunately cruise lines are not law enforcement and therefore do not have the authorities or abilities that regular police do. That’s when I got a great shock. The samples taken on the ship that were supposed to be forwarded to a lab were presented to the police officer on board for testing and she declined to do it. The samples are still on the ship! About now they are in port in St. Marten and won’t be back in Fort Lauderdale until the 25th. The samples will be useless by that point! I have requested a copy of the medical report from the ship, will see where that goes.
So here we sit wondering what to do. There is no doubt in my mind at all that I was drugged and I am very confident that it was GHB. How does one prove it when the samples are spoiled and there is no other way to get a test done? That’s not the scariest part.
As an avid cruiser I was shocked to find out that this kind of thing happens all to often. I have been on 19 cruises over 20 years, and this is the first time anything like this has happened to me. It’s also the first time I’ve heard of anything like this happening on a ship. While doing some research I came across case after case of assaults, sexual assaults, robberies and worse. It still sickens me. I know that cruise lines are required by law to report anything that happens on board which hotels, motels and resorts are not. This happens everywhere, just some are known and some are not. Be careful when you travel, whether it’s an all-inclusive resort, camping or a cruise, 5 or 2 star, be careful. If you suspect that you have been drugged with anything, seek emergency medical attention right away. And be aware that some of these nasty perpetrators are using such simple things are Benadryl and Sleeping pills to drugs drinks.
If you are the victim of a crime on board a ship, good luck proving it and getting any form of justice. There are websites out there with tons of information on what to do. I found this one the most helpful. International Cruise Victims Association. There are lots of very useful links on there as well. Be warned though, most of it is for Americans, Canadians seem to be left out of this one. Almost all cruise line companies have headquarters in the US so are American companies. It is difficult to get any legal assistance for Canadians. You can also “Google” Cruise Line Lawyers and may find some help there.
And another word of caution. You don’t have to be on vacation to be the victim of GHB or any of the other “Date Rape Drugs”. It happens all the time locally as well. I was shocked to read that our own lovely city of Vancouver has it’s issues with these drugs. Unfortunately emergency personnel are lax in their response to such claims. You can imagine how difficult it was for us to hear that. I was the one to send help, now to find out that the help you are sending aren’t willing to do anything about it. Have a read of their information on the website Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter. I’m sure you’ll be as shocked as I was.
I found a local place that will do the hair testing for GHB for me. It will cost me out of pocket, and can’t be done until March 20 at the earliest, but I need to know for sure. The reason for the delay is that the GHB is in the hair that is still below the scalp. Nothing can be detected until the hair has grown for about 5-6 weeks from the incident. Not sure how long it will take to get the results, but it will be worth the wait.
Security from the cruise line has advised me that they are trying again to get the FBI involved and to do the tests on the samples collected on the ship. I sure hope they aren’t ruined by now. It will be 14 days since they were collected. From what I read they could be useless by now, but let’s keep our fingers crossed. Security is also going aboard the ship on Saturday when she comes back into her home port to interview crew members. Hopefully they come up with something from that.
Spoke to the Officer who attended the ship and she told me that it was the FBI that refused to do anything so she was called to take an information only report, but they weren’t responsible to investigate as it happened at sea in International Waters. It was ultimately the responsibility of the FBI.
Heard today that the FBI has again declined to get involved. Cruise line security is going aboard tomorrow to do interviews with the crew members. My only hope now is that being interviewed will scare the perpetrators enough so they won’t do this again.
NOTE: This was originally posted in February 2012.