This weekend, I attended, in an official capacity, the Curve Nation Expo held in Orlando, Florida. I was there along with the Editor in Chief of POSE Magazine, Tiffany Jones Keaton, as the media sponsors of the event. When I got there Friday afternoon, the hotel check in was one big cluster f*ck. Nothing major or radically life altering, mind you, just the silliness we have all experienced when checking into a hotel that is not necessarily prepared for a huge influx of customers ranging from your average traveler, to one of several family reunions in attendance, along with multiple conference attendees. ”Guaranteed” 4pm check in time at the International Palms Hotel and Conference Center in Orlando, Florida on International drive turned out to be more of a “suggested time” as opposed to a guaranteed time. I didn’t get my room until 5 pm and due to lack of communication by the staff, I was never called (as promised) by the front desk when my room was ready, nor did I get my luggage brought to my room until 6 pm. Again, nothing earth shattering. More of an annoyance if anything. However, it seemed to foreshadow what would end up one of the worst experiences I’d ever had in any hotel in my 48 well-traveled years of life.
DISCLAIMER: I want to STRONGLY clarify that what you are about to read has NO REFLECTION on Curve Nation whatsoever. They are not responsible in the slightest for the events that unfolded. That blame is squarely on the hotel and hotel staff. The staff of Curve Nation are comprised of a group of AMAZING, caring and benevolent people who probably saved my life and my faith in human beings as a whole. This goes for the attendees of the expo as well.
I had a wonderful time Friday afternoon and Friday night, gathering with all these beautiful plus sized ladies and gentlemen. I made some really great connections with fabulous people. Numbers and hugs were freely exchanged during this early stage of weekend solidarity. Vendors were shopped. Glasses were raised. Dancing and hilarity ensued and I was truly geared up for a weekend of not just work, but fun and friendship. I was privy to watching these gorgeous women walk the runway, preparing for Saturday nights fashion show event. I learned so much watching these confident beauties strut their stuff. I was mentored by a woman who is a staple in the plus size pageant circuit. Ms Plus America 2004, Debbie Shannon, on how to walk for shows. I got to engage with some of the models and we partied as though we have all known each other for years, because for many of us, we have known each other for years either as professionals or acquaintances on Facebook, Twitter and various other social media platforms. Instagram memories were made and already, the promise of a fabulous weekend was in place.
Saturday morning, I attended a lecture by plus sized model,actress and event hostess Rosie Mercado, who shared with us her back story on all the trials and tribulations she went through before achieving the success and fame she has now. I got to hug up on the Mogul Diva herself, Ms. Gwen DeVoe, Founder of Full Figured Fashion Week in NYC, who I had just interviewed for POSE Magazine only a couple of months earlier. (Click link to read the interview!) She gave a fabulous seminar as well that had all of us laughing and raising our hands and voices in testimony. I met amazingly talented photographers, bloggers, models and designers; all who embraced me immediately as the new Feature Editor of POSE Magazine. I met the Double Divas themselves, Molly Hopkins and Cynthia Richards of LiviRae Lingerie. You couldn’t ask for more down to earth people. What you see on their television show is completely unscripted. They are exactly who they are in real life. And of course, the entire staff of Curve Nation, CEO Devine (who I stupidly referred to as “Dee-Vine” as opposed to “Dev-in-nay”, which is the correct pronunciation…proving that I, too, can be a real idiot on occasion) and his other staff members who were so gracious and wonderful hosts.
Basically, I was in plus sized heaven…until lunchtime.
Saturday afternoons horror story began with a simple text from Tiffany that merely said, “lunch!” Yes. Downtime. We were going to have a break. A lovely buffet was set out and of course, I partook. The food was unmarked…meaning, there was no explanation of what each food item was, let alone a description of ingredients. Having severe food allergies, I inquired if anything contained nuts, specifically, a pasta dish which looked to me to be penne pasta with an alfredo sauce. A woman behind me inquired of one of the bus boys who was bringing out the dishes, what each item was. I eavesdropped cautiously, listening to him tell her what the items were. I even forewarned another woman that I knew had a shellfish allergy, that I had heard the stuffed mushrooms contained crab meat and told her to forego that dish. But, when I went to help myself to some pasta alfredo, I noticed that there was what resembled perhaps minced garlic in the pasta. I asked the busboy, what is in this dish. He said, “pasta and cheese”. The woman behind me said, are there nuts in that? Of course, I listened attentively. ”No, no. No nuts. Pasta and cheese.” Okay. So I took a scoop and proceeded to join Tiffany in the banquet room with several other conference attendees and some staff of Curve Nation. I took a bite of this dish and instantly, I felt that old familiar itching in my throat that I feel when I come in contact with an allergen. I drank a sip of water after swallowing the food…and felt fine for the moment. Then, I took another bite, just as my throat started to close. I immediately whispered, hoarsely to Tiffany…”Nuts. Are there nuts?” That’s all I could manage as a spit that second bite out of my mouth, drank some water that barely got down my throat. The wheezing began. I felt light headed, faint, dizzy. My body started to get covered in big red hives. I pulled out my epi pen (never without it!) and my inhaler. Immediately, the women around me recognized I was in serious trouble.
Each woman at that table, under Tiffany’s cool and calm delegation ran for specific things. One woman, Talya, ran for ice water and ice. Another ran for the hotel manager. A third ran to her room for HER epi pen (should I need a second dose), another still ran for some Claritin and another still (whom I believe was Devine’s mother) ran to locate some Benadryl. A fifth woman ran to find out what exactly was in the food I ate as different allergies need to be treated specifically. As I was slowly losing the ability to breath at all, a man came in and the women all shouted, FIND HER SOME BENADRYL QUICKLY! He ran out, well, rather, walked out…and came back shortly empty handed. ”We don’t have any benadryl.” Simultaneously, the group of women screamed at him, “YOU HAVE A GIFT SHOP! GET HER SOME DAMN BENADRYL FROM THE GIFT SHOP.” He disappeared again. The rest of that moment was a blur to me. I was losing the ability to breath rapidly. My eyes were swelling shut. My lips were bloating to Angelina Jolie proportions. What I do remember is Devine’s mother grabbing whatever packet of Benadryl this man finally did retrieve out of his hand and running it to me, quite irritated by this man’s lack of urgency. The Benadryl packet was expired, but I took them anyway. At this point, the front desk manager, Sarah, came in…again, the same lack of urgency, casually saying, “Someone told me that someone can’t breathe in here? What’s going on?”
At this point, Tiffany (Tip) took over and demanded to know who Sarah’s boss was and to get them on the phone RIGHT NOW as they really dropped the ball allowing this young woman, the front desk manager, to be in charge of the entire hotel while the general managers were no where to be found. I didn’t get to hear all of the conversation as I was in and out of a state of awareness, but I do know that Tip gave her a very calm but extremely firm mouthful about how this entire situation was handled, rather, a lack thereof.
NOBODY called 911. No one. This was the STAFF’S responsibility as the women were far too busy taking immediate care of my situation, placing ice packs on my swelling throat, dispensing my medications, retrieving my inhaler, trying to keep my calm. When Sarah DID return, it was with a lecture on how they are not allowed to dispense medications to the customers. Honey, no one asked you to dispense…we just asked you to GET SOME. However, what she DID manage to do was hand me an incident report form and casually stating that I would need to fill this out. Sister, I’m dying in front of your eyes. Are you seriously handing me a FORM to fill out? The chef never came in to tell us what the allergen in the food was. The busboys proceeded to bus all the tables surrounding us, but never once coming to where we were to offer cold water, a cool rag, ice packs, SOMETHING??? The lack of compassion from this hotel was abhorrent. 2 hours later, my wheezing had stopped. At some point, the members of Curve Nation’s team had located two nurses who happened to be attending the conference. These women stayed with me the entire time, keeping a watchful eye on my breathing, my swollen face, my ability to speak, etc. They regaled me with funny stories to keep me calm. Other people from the conference came back often to check on me. I was feeling better, although my left eye looked like I had taken a punch to the face from Mike Tyson.
However, I attempted to be a trooper and try to attend the 3 pm conference given by blogger Kelly Glover of “Big Curvy Love”. (If you aren’t reading her blog, you should be. She’s HILARIOUS!) By midway through her conference, I started to feel sick again so I left. I went to the front desk to speak with Sarah and tell her how disappointed I was that NO ONE from the hotel staff seemed remotely concerned that one of their customers nearly dropped dead in their banquet hall and that her show of concern merely consisted of making sure I filled out a liability and insurance form. At the moment I approached the desk, she was apparently giving report to the night manager, Kenny. The look of alarm on his face when he saw mine immediately gave me the impression that had HE been in charge during the day, I would have been substantially better cared for.
Her reply to me was “Well, you were definitely a learning curve for us. Next time, we will do much better.”
My reply? ”Is that what you think I want to hear? How NEXT TIME you will do better? How about, labeling the food that it may contain nuts or other allergens? How about, when you ask kitchen staff if there are nuts in a meal, that they know to ask the CHEF who made it, instead of just asserting that it was just “pasta and cheese”? How about the bartenders who were standing RIGHT THERE offer me a bottle of water? How about you doing something more than handing me an insurance claim form? How about the fact that it takes merely common sense to know that you should call 911 immediately, ask questions later. My 5 year old granddaughter could handle that? How about you show some concern and stay in the room, at very least?”
She replies, “Well, what can we do to make you more comfortable now?”
“Well, for starters? You could have asked that question about 3 hours ago.”
The conversation was going no where very quickly…and I recognized that. This girl could give Malificent a run for her money when it comes to being an ice queen. Not an ounce of compassion. Nothing but a big wide eyed stare at me. At this point, Mr. Kenny, the night manager about to adopt this nonsense into his lap looked at her and said, “Well, it’s not much at this point, but perhaps we can offer Ms. Cher for her stay to be comped. Ma’am, is there ANYTHING else I can do for you, right now? Some cold water? Some food? What can we do for you?”
I thanked him, profusely, for even the gesture…and let Sarah know, these are the things you say to someone who has just been through a very traumatic experience under your leadership in this hotel. No, I don’t need anything else, but I truly appreciate that you asked me.
From there, I went to the hotel gift shop to purchase eye drops, Benadryl (the non expired sort) and a box of Claritin. I paid the $40 in medication and as I was walking out, Mr. Kenny was walking past. He said to me, “did you need something? I am so sorry about this. I am so sorry no one took care of you.” His eyes showed nothing but compassion and concern. This lifted me tremendously. I told him, no, I’m okay now…I just went to go buy some medicine so I have it upstairs with me, in case I have trouble later. He looked genuinely appalled that I had purchased all this medication on my own dime and said, let’s give that receipt to Sarah for reimbursement. There is no reason that our hotel caused this to happen to you and you should be responsible for these purchases. Again, money can’t fix it…but the GESTURE in compassion once more lifted me.
Around 6 pm, I started to get up from a nap, only to realize I was experiencing what is known as biphasic anaphylaxis, which means, my symptoms had actively started up again. Now, both eyes were swollen shut. I was wheezing profusely again. I attempted valiantly to try to get dressed to fulfill my obligations to Tip to be there as her social media person and get to the Fashion Show to do my job. By 7:30 when the show started, I had to admit defeat. I just couldn’t do it. My feet were so swollen I could barely walk. My eyes were slammed shut. Every move I had made to dress caused my respiration to slow down again. I took some more Benadryl, some Claritin, readied my second epipen just in case, put drops in my eyes and sent Tip a voice mail apologizing profusely that I simply could not be there. Again, she was understanding, loving and told me to rest…but please, if my symptoms got worse, get myself to a hospital and text her that I was going. I went to sleep.
At 10 pm, I heard a knock on my door. Tip had gotten locked out of her room, her phone was dead, she needed her charger to continue working and photographing the fashion show (my JOB!) but her key card was not working. The engineers could not get into her room. Our room in the tower suite was very far from the main building where the new key cards could be made, but even after the engineer showed up with a new key card, she was still unable to get in. I gave her my cellphone and told her, just go back to the fashion show. I will wait her until your door gets opened, get your charger, charge your phone up for you. When it’s done, I will get it to you. I waited outside her room for an additional 20 minutes beyond the 20 minutes that SHE was waiting for someone to show up and let her into her room. Mr. Kenny ended up showing up at her room and looked perplexed at what I was doing there. I explained what happened. He looked so visibly upset that this new situation involved me as well…that I tried to put him at ease by making a joke.
“You know, out of ALL the people staying in this hotel…you guys managed to knock out the only TWO people who were here in an official media sponsor capacity for this fashion show. You really should have been in Vegas this weekend, Kenny, because those are some CRAZY odds.”
Despite himself, he laughed. Shortly after I got Tip’s phone running, Mr. Kenny returned to my room at the behest of my husband who called the front desk from Tampa (he had to work over the weekend and could not attend the conference with me) asking him to please, send up some ice water to my room. Not only did he show up with the ice water, but also with a bucket of ice and a turkey sandwich that he assured me was prepared by his own hands, NOT in the banquet hall’s kitchen, but rather, in the deli area, safely away from any cross contaminates that could have harmed me. I was so grateful, that I think I probably would have cried (mind you, I had not eaten a THING but those two deadly bites of pasta, one which never even made it to my stomach) had my eyes not been swollen shut. I told him, “You know, on Monday, I am going to read the General Manager of this hotel the riot act for what happened here, but, that said? I am going to sing your praises so loudly because out of everyone in this entire hotel…YOU were the only one who showed me an ounce of compassion. And, you weren’t even here when this happened. I appreciate you so much, Kenny. I really do.”
There was a moment. A palpable moment that you could feel between two human beings, strangers, who genuinely were concerned with each other. He, for my health. Me, for his job…as it seemed so inherently unfair that he adopted any of this situation at all because Sarah had dropped the ball.
Part two of this story? The manager above Sarah, but below the GM, Vicky, comes to my room for a conference at the behest of Tip. She said, “You know, you owe my friend Cher and her husband an explanation as to WHY these events unfolded the way they did. You owe that to her, her husband and her children. They almost lost her.”
The statement Vicky makes in front of us at that point will make your jaw drop.
To be continued in “Lessons of Compassion Part Two: More than Words”.