Gastroenteritis conquers Queen, sends her to hospital

For the first time in a decade, the Queen is in hospital, felled by a tummy bug. In its usual terse manner, Buckingham Palace announced:

The Queen is being assessed at the King Edward VII Hospital, London, after experiencing symptoms of gastroenteritis. As a precaution, all official engagements for this week will regrettably be either postponed or cancelled.”

The statement comes three days after the palace revealed the Queen was cancelling Saturday’s visit to Wales to present leeks to the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Welsh regiment on St. David’s Day. That announcement was the first indication she had a stomach bug: The Queen will no longer visit Swansea tomorrow as she is experiencing symptoms of gastroenteritis. She will be assessed in the coming days. Her Majesty is currently spending the weekend at Windsor, as usual.” The ancient castle has been her weekend home for the last 60 years.

For anyone who has had an elderly relative felled by gastroenteritis knows this isn’t something to be trifled with. According to the Centres for Disease Control, “Gastroenteritis means inflammation of the stomach and small and large intestines. Viral gastroenteritis is an infection caused by a variety of viruses that results in vomiting or diarrhea. It is often called the ‘stomach flu,’ although it is not caused by the influenza viruses.” It can start suddenly and is highly contagious–noroviruses notoriously turn cruise ships into medical disaster zones. While gastroenteritis isn’t serious for most, it can be for those who can’t drink enough fluids to replace what is being lost. For those, recovery involves a stay in hospital so they don’t become dehydrated.

The Queen, who turns 87 on April 21, isn’t one given to cancelling engagements just because she’s a bit under the weather. It has to be something major, such as a flare up of chronic back trouble that caused her to hand over duties at an investiture to Prince Charles last October rather than spend hours on her feet, leaning over to pin medals on recipients. Indeed, in 2012, her Diamond Jubilee year, she fulfilled 425 engagements and it was the bad health of Prince Philip–three hospital admissions in eight months including one for heart trouble–that had everyone concerned.

For the Queen, this current illness was serious enough that she was admitted to hospital, but not clearly bad enough that she couldn’t travel from Windsor Castle into London to the royal family’s favourite medical centre, King Edward VII Hospital. Still, her official visit to Italy that was set to start on March 6 is off. And that may not be a bad thing. She could not have been looking forward to landing in the middle of the chaos gripping Italy–its politics are being roiled by an inconclusive election (“Send in the clowns,” is a cover line on The Economist) and Rome is fixated by the upcoming election of a new pope. Though given Prince Philip’s propensity for colourful quips (here and here), it would have been a headline-generating visit.