A bad beat on the gulf is no laughing matter

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This column first appeared in Ante Up Magazine in August 2009.

The last time I went on a cruise was with my wife and kids and a big-eared mouse from Orlando. It was fun, but there was no casino and no poker. The most decadent thing I could find to do on board was have a hot tub fantasy involving Cinderella and Pocahontas.
This time it will be different. On Aug. 20, the Ante Up Poker Cruise sets sail from Tampa and I’m stoked. For four nights we’ll be razzing and triple-drawing and maybe even Badugi-ing for only $359. Geez, I can eat more than that in pasta alone. And the way I’ve been playing lately, the whole trip should cost me only a few grand.

I figured this would be an ideal time to go over some health advice for cruising rounders. First, if you’re on medications, for gosh sakes write down the names and dosages. Don’t just bring the pills. That little travel case with compartments for each day may be handy for you, but without a list, its contents are a mystery. Surprise, there are dozens of pills that are little and red and have a score going down the middle. Don’t force the ship’s doc to choose between pumping on your chest and taking a break to go look up your pills. Make a simple call to your doctor or pharmacist.

And while you’re on the phone with your doctor, get a copy of your EKG and a list of your medical conditions, too. With a copy of your EKG and the knowledge of whether you have GERD, PUD, IBS or some other dreaded initials, it just might help the ship’s doc decide to give you an antacid or call for a chopper.

And speaking of gastrointestinal distress, just because food is included doesn’t mean it’s time to gorge. Your gall stones and your fickle colon haven’t gone on vacation so if you’re normally not supposed to eat fatty, greasy, fried, spicy, dairy, cheese, nuts, whatever, you don’t get to do it at sea either. Discretion, it’s more than just good advice.

What about seasickness? I’ve been seasick twice in my life and both times weren’t pretty. I prayed for death. Nevertheless, a ship as large as the Inspiration isn’t likely to rock and roll enough to bother most people. If you’re particularly sensitive, ask for a cabin near the middle of the ship and ask your doctor if Dramamine or a scopolamine patch might be right for you. If you get the patch, be particularly careful not to touch it and then rub your eyes. Your pupils could dilate so much that you mistake 4-4 for A-A and that could hurt more than vomiting in your shoe.

While we’re on the subject, cruise ships are notorious for harboring the dreaded norovirus, a malady that will surely interfere with your ability to last more than one round at the final table. Mama knew best. Wash your hands. Use hot water. Hand sanitizer, too.
To avoid the Mexicali bacterial version of the trots, you should be particularly careful of what you eat and drink in Cozumel. Bad bacteria can wash downstream from Pedro’s baño to the produce fields and it never quite gets washed off. Salads, uncooked fruits that can’t be peeled, even salsa can be contaminated. And don’t forget about those ice E.coli cubes floating in your soda. Just say “No!” Thankfully, the bottled beer and straight tequila at Señor Frog’s tend to be quite safe.

I’m not really worried about swine flu. We’re going to Cozumel, not Ground Zero Mexico City. The “pandemic” seems a bit over-hyped to me. Anyway, if you’re older than 60 (There are still a few poker players over 60 not named Doyle, aren’t there?) you already may have some immunity from a previous flu. Otherwise, avoid large crowds, cover your nose and mouth when someone coughs, and wash your hands. And don’t worry about eating pork. You can’t get swine flu from puerco verde.

Also, don’t forget sunblock. UVB protection (the SPF number) by itself is not enough. You need a physical blocker like titanium, zinc or avobenzone to give you UVA protection, too. The Caribbean rays are brutal. Use moisturizer. Wear a hat.

I’m looking forward to meeting every single Ante Up cruiser. Please look me up. If I’m not at the poker tables I’ll be in the hot tub on the lido deck with Pocahontas.


— An avid poker player, Frank Toscano, M.D. is a board-certified emergency physician with more than 28 years of front-line experience. He’s medical director for Red Bamboo Medi Spa in Clearwater. Email your poker-health questions to ftoscano@redbamboomedispa.com