Finding the Cure for Panic on a Cruise to Hawaii

Mark and Eileen boarding Golden Princess
Mark and Eileen boarding Golden Princess

For the better part of a year, I kept a picture of the Crown Princess Piazza in my handbag until the paper became worn from constant handling. I kept another copy on my nightstand in case of overnight emergency.

You see, the Piazza of a Princess Cruises cruise ship is my happy place in life, and I needed those pictures to keep me calm when I had to have heart surgery.

I’ve always loved grand hotel lobbies, but I felt they were truly perfected when I saw the Piazza during a cruise vacation on Crown Princess in 2008. It had all the elements of the finest hotel; from soaring, decorative ceilings to elegant seating areas. I decided it was my favorite thing.

And we all have our things. Unfortunately, another thing of mine is white-coat syndrome. Since childhood, doctors have terrified me. As for hospitals, I couldn’t even step into one to visit friends and family because they freaked me out so much.

When I was diagnosed with a mitral heart prolapse eight years ago, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of dealing with doctors all the time. Just parking in front of my cardiologist’s office would cause my blood pressure to spike, leading the doctor to worry. “But that’s just what you do to me!” I’d jest (even though he was seriously concerned).

With every check-up, I would hope,  beyond hope, that I didn’t need surgery, but would pray that God give me the strength if I did. However, the day came when I was told it was time to repair my faulty heart valve.

Seeing the sheer panic on my face, the doctor suggested my husband, Mark, and I plan a cruise to ease my mind.  Following the doctor’s order, we booked a cruise to Hawaii at the end of the year. That helped, but the day-to-day of pre-op appointments and scheduling still got to me. Panic was winning.

One morning, I was watching television in my room when a segment aired on self-help for anxiety. One of the tips was to look at a picture of something that made you smile; the theory is that the picture would convert your worries into a bright and happy state-of-mind.
That sounded worthwhile to me, and I knew exactly what that image would be. I got out of bed and logged onto the Princess website where I’d seen a picture of the Piazza on the home page. I printed two copies, one for my handbag and one for my bedside. When I’d wake up at night, fretting about the surgery, I’d pray for courage and then I’d reach over to the nightstand for my Piazza picture. During the day, I conquered fearful thoughts by pulling my Piazza picture out of my purse.

I was able to control my panic and made it through surgery! And it’s good the Piazza pictures worked, for a few days after the surgery, I needed them again. I was back in the hospital, fighting a hospital infection near my heart, a tenacious one that was resistant to most drugs.

My faith in God, along with help from my daughter, Georgette, and Mark kept me going, while my Piazza photos kept me sane. I looked at them all the time, telling myself, “you will make it.”

It took a few months during which I lost most of my hair and plenty of weight, but I finally beat the infection. A few months later, Mark and I gratefully boarded the newly renovated Golden Princess. I couldn’t wait to head toward the Piazza and soak up the atmosphere, every beautiful detail that I had fixated upon in the photograph.

In real life, it looked dazzling to me…marble staircases, ornate artwork, soaring ceiling, a bustling atmosphere, live music and entertainers, the delicious wafting aromas of coffee brewing, and the always-inviting glass case of treats at the International Café; something to touch all of my senses. While I cried, for it had been a long journey getting there, mostly I felt overwhelmed by joy.

Beaming, I reached for Mark and we found two comfortable chairs, from which we watched the parade of life go by.

Eileen and Mark live in Southern California, and have enjoyed 14 cruises with Princess.