Travel; USA: Get your kicks on Route 66

The Chuck Berry song also urges you not to `forget Kingman, Arizona'. Rebecca Nicholson certainly won't, after food poisoning led to a bizarre encounter with some local firemen
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"WHERE YOU from, honey?"

She was wearing a crisp, white nurse's tunic and smiling at me across the top of the computer. I was shivering in my grubby white T-shirt and shorts and clutching my stomach.

"London, England."

"I love the way you talk!"

"If you don't hurry up," I thought, "you're going to love the way I throw up all over your computer."

It wasn't a bit like ER. I hadn't been rushed from room to room, with good-looking medical staff sitting astride me on the trolley and shouting unintelligible orders. There was hardly anyone in sight. And no machines going beep.

"Hang in there, honey - I just need your credit card details, then I'm done." Another big, radiant smile. Meanwhile, my internal tectonic plates continued shifting about. Ominously.

The thing is, I'm normally so careful when eating abroad. I'd avoided the shellfish in San Francisco, and the clam chowder. Ditto tap water: give me the overpriced bottled stuff any time. But, 100 miles back in Las Vegas, I had plumped for a barbecued beef roll.

My memories of the remainder of that night's drive are a trifle vague. Every so often, I'd ask Robin to stop the car and I'd disappear into the desert for a few minutes, reappear, and we'd drive on. I can remember that sometimes there were stunted bushes at my feet, sometimes stony nothingness, and always a sky absurdly full of stars. But as to how long the drive continued, or how often we stopped, I've no idea. Fortunately I was so far gone that the thought of rattlesnakes never even crossed my mind.

Then, when we pulled into a gas station a few miles from Kingman, Robin spotted a sheriff's car and asked for his help. The sheriff reckoned it would be quicker to call the local paramedics. Suddenly I had pressing business elsewhere and left them discussing the details. I emerged from the rest room some time later and was amazed to find myself face to face with a group of firemen. Two of them advanced towards me carrying what looked like a flaccid hosepipe.

"I can assure you, gentlemen," I said firmly, "I'm not about to burst into flames." Now they looked surprised: they'd been carrying one of those things you wrap around someone's arm to take blood pressure. They were the paramedics, you see; they just happened to be firemen as well.

Two of them took my blood pressure, the rest kept their goggles on and stood well back - a pretty good policy for both fire-fighting and medical emergencies. At this point an ambulance arrived, and the assembled medical forces spent some time finding out whether I was happy to let them take me to the hospital in Kingman. I felt it would cost an awful lot if they did, so I said I'd be able to get there with my friends. They then said they'd all come with me anyway, to make sure I was admitted immediately.

So we set off across the remaining desert in convoy: the fire engine in front, us in the middle, the ambulance and sheriff following along behind.

The minute the orderly at the computer had finished her lengthy enquiries, I was suddenly engulfed by a posse of nurses. Hundreds of them. Well, at least six. I tried counting them but they all kept moving about and they were all wearing white and all had the same soft and soothing voices...

Apparently, I was in the hospital for more than three hours. Apparently, they carried out various tests. Apparently, dodgy pieces of meat are not unknown in Las Vegas. Apparently, they put me on a drip for an hour or two. Apparently, I'd managed to walk unaided into the place, but when I emerged again I was in a wheelchair, talking drivel. There must have been something powerful in the drip, because afterwards, every muscle in my body - including those in my jaw - refused to obey central office.

The song "Route 66" urges travellers: "don't forget Kingman, Arizona" (among other places). There's no chance of that. I don't know what was in that hospital drip - but by God, it did the trick. I awoke at 8.30 the following morning feeling absolutely fine. Not even the teeniest bit light-headed.