By Amy Bradley-Hole Travel columnist
updated 8/15/2007 11:11:26 AM ET 2007-08-15T15:11:26

Being sick stinks. Being sick when you're in a strange bed far from your doctor and loved ones can be plain misery. But hotels are all about hospitality, and hotel employees will take care of you even when your nose is all red and runny or you're throwing up in the sink. If you find yourself under the weather at a hotel, follow this advice to make the best of a bad situation.

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Try not to get sick in the first place. If you take good care of yourself when you travel, you can prevent some illnesses. Try to boost your immune system before flying. Don't drink tap water. Don't eat in filthy restaurants. Wash your hands frequently. Get enough sleep. Don't order a sixth margarita. We all know these rules, but we can easily forget them when we're having fun.

And remember, if you have a chronic illness, it won't go away just because you are on holiday. In my years in the hospitality business, I've had to seek medical care for diabetics who skipped meals, people with Crohn's disease who overindulged and patients with advanced emphysema who spent too much time in a smoky casino. If you have medical problems, make sure you bring plenty of your medications as well as any medical records you may need, and make sure you're always carrying any necessary medical alert information.

If it's an emergency, call 911 yourself. If you're in your room and you need help immediately, call 911 yourself. Don't call the hotel operator and ask him to do it. That wastes precious time. Just make sure to dial the appropriate prefix (usually 9) to get an outside line. Once you've called 911, dial the operator, explain your emergency and specify that you've already called for help. That way staff will know that emergency services are on the way and can make arrangements to meet the paramedics and get them to you quickly. In the meantime, hotel staff may be able to offer assistance. Many hotels have staff members trained in first aid, and more and more properties have automated external defibrillators on hand these days. When I worked in casino hotels, our security departments had paramedics on staff at all times, so some places are prepared to treat full-fledged medical emergencies.

Even if it's not so bad, you should call for help. If you're in your room feeling rotten, don't go it alone. Call the front desk or the concierge. Hotel employees are there to take care of you even under less-than-ideal circumstances, and they will want to help. If you need medical care, staff can direct you to the nearest clinic; they can even arrange for a doctor to come to you. Many cities have doctors who specialize in old-fashioned "house calls" for hotels, and hotel staff will know how to contact them. If you feel too ill to visit the hotel gift shop for medicine, a bellman will be glad to deliver it to your room, and housekeeping staff can deliver extra blankets or pillows to make you more comfortable. A helpful employee is the next best thing to having your mommy there to spoon chicken soup for you.

Ask for off-menu items. If you're having tummy troubles, the typical room service menu might not offer much for you to eat. Just call room service and explain the situation. They should have no problem whipping up a nice, bland meal of dry toast, rice, soup or bananas at any time of day. A full-service hotel with a decent room service menu will have the kitchen facilities to prepare many different dishes that aren't on the menu. Don't hesitate to ask.

If staff have done an exceptional job of taking care of you, please take care of them. Once when I was staying at a casino hotel in Las Vegas, I woke in the middle of the night with a severe migraine. When I get migraines, I also suffer from nausea, and as the headache grew worse, I threw up all over the room, leaving some poor housekeeper with a big mess. Before I left for the hospital, I let the front desk know about the situation, so there wouldn't be any surprises for anyone. When I returned, I made sure to leave a hefty tip for the housekeeper. She had gone above and beyond her typical duties when cleaning my room, and she deserved to be recognized for that. So if an employee helps you when you're down, please return the kindness. If a big tip isn't in your budget, a complimentary phone call to management is easy and meaningful.

If you think the hotel is making you sick, take action. As I write this, I'm in England, and I'm watching news reports and reading in the papers about British tourists who have fallen ill at a resort in the Dominican Republic. The sick travelers who can actually get out of bed aren't taking it lying down — they've contacted hotel management, their tour operators, local hospitals and even the British Embassy for assistance. While such drastic measures usually aren't necessary, it is important to let hotel management know immediately if you believe your illness has been caused by conditions at that property. No, a really bad head cold and an upset tummy probably aren't reason enough for a lawsuit, but things like food poisoning, norovirus outbreaks and Legionnaires' disease can definitely make hotel guests sick. Management can assist you by contacting the hotel's insurance company and initiating an investigation and a claim, but do not expect them to offer you any form of compensation. They won't erase your room charges or pay your doctor's bill until an investigation is complete, so don't even ask.

I truly hope you never have to deal with an illness when you're traveling. But if you do, I hope my fellow hotel employees take great care of you.


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