Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gut Anarchy and Spitali Amerikan

Cipro takeover is still preferable to being a sock puppet.


I generally don’t get sick, but teaching is like swan diving into a festering pool of germs every day, followed by basking in a sun of virus rays. The first semester of my student teaching intern year I was sick several times, because apparently my immune system has about as much gumption as a Victorian woman on a chaise lounge, in need of her smelling salts in between regular bouts with the leeches. I eat a healthy diet, I work out, I drink water and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke, so I’m not sure where I’m going wrong here. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised when I came down with a nasty cough and cold two weeks ago, since I had seen it on display in several students and staff. Prior to that I had what we have dubbed “Tirana Tummy”, which was a natural and wholly expected digestive rebellion against the bacteria unique to Tirana. It lasted a few days, came back on a few occasions, but thankfully left residence right before the cold came to visit. Remember my post about taking a sick day last Sunday to rest up and recover? Yeah, I was finally starting to recover from that cold and feeling nice and rested when I wrote it. I was feeling so ambitious I even went ahead and whipped up the Durres post and scheduled it for Monday, and started patting myself on the back about getting back into the swing of blogging. I went to bed feeling pretty great- rested and ready for the week ahead.

Instead I woke up at 4 a.m., frantically clawing my way out of blankets so I could stumble to the bathroom and proceed to vomit violently for about two hours, interspersed with brief interludes where I lay on the cool tile, curled up on my side around the base of the toilet. Apparently such proximity was still too much distance to cover, as I ended up puking on myself towards the end. It felt as though I had swallowed a large, flaming brick, and it was trying to explode out of me Alien baby style. I finally dragged into the living room, where it took me half an hour to e-mail my boss with sub plans because I kept choking on my own dry heaving, and running to the bathroom because that’s when the stomach problems really started to kick in. The rest of the day I couldn't keep down water, and I hadn't eaten since the afternoon before. I was getting delirious with a mild fever, starving, and the stomach pain was getting worse. Swallowing my own spit was making me gag, which is just annoying. I felt like a husk by the end of the miserable day.

The point, and I do have one, is that here’s where all you potential Albanian travelers get the benefit of a firsthand review of the Spitali Amerikan (American Hospital) in Tirana. My boss, Jeff, came to get me that evening and took me to the hospital. It was as advertised: clean, modern, and staffed with English speaking doctors*. I was taken to the emergency room where I was immediately treated by an incredibly attentive and kind doctor who listened to my lungs (since I still had that cough), poked in my belly, and took my temperature. I had my blood drawn (gloves, everything in packages, just as you’d expect anywhere) and then I was given IV fluids. The blood was analyzed for signs of infection while I napped fitfully for almost four hours as the IV worked its magic. In my last hour there a German tourist took up residence in the bed beside mine. As we were separated with only a sheet it was impossible to not hear him say that he had been up since 4 a.m. vomiting, and he had terrible stomach pain that wouldn't go away. If it wouldn't have been weird, and if I could have held my head up, I would have been all “Twinsies, dude! What an interesting intestinal coincidence!” I pondered a high five, or, less aggressive- a thumbs up around the edge of the sheet. Instead I just went back to sleep and enjoyed the relief of cold liquid in my veins.

I was checked on regularly by kind nurses, and once the IV ran dry I left the hospital with a prescription for Cipro, electrolytes, and pro-biotic powder. We hit up the pharmacy next to the hospital and headed on home. For all of the meds plus the blood draw, blood test, IV, and fluids I spent about $100 USD. For comparison’s sake: in America about 3 years ago I had an allergic reaction to a medication. I was taken to the ER and given an IV with fluids- that’s it. I was charged almost $1,000. For a total, out of pocket expense $100 USD is pretty great and won’t break you even if you do end up with a surprise visit of flaming brick stomach** during your travels.

Tuesday I woke up feeling better by the slimmest of margins, but totally wasted, and Wednesday and Thursday continued the same into Friday. Basically I ended up bed-ridden for the rest of the week, because while I could eat again I just had no energy and I still needed to be near a bathroom. I tried on Wednesday and Thursday to go to work, but I ended up a sweaty, shaking, puke-y mess each time. I’m just now feeling like a real person, after a few false starts where I thought I was feeling better but standing for a few minutes humbled me. I think a huge part of it towards the end of this week was the Cipro making me feel like hell as it worked its way through my body killing everything in sight- I told a friend I felt like it was kitten scruffing me by the back of the neck and rendering me totally immobile. Regardless, I haven’t been sick like this since an ear infection/pneumonia combo laid me out for a week my senior year of college.

The moral of the story is that I have no qualms with the ability of the American Hospital to take care of normal to pretty awful sicknesses, and I would be confident with having a broken bone set there, or getting stitches. I am definitely better off here than in many other places in the world.

*I’m not implying that doctors everywhere in the world should speak English and pander to me. I’m just specifying this because it was pertinent information. I’m also specifying things like clean needles/gloves to describe that it is an establishment up to par with modern hospital standards, not because I was preparing to see them spit on an old rusty needle, say “It’ll do” and jam it into my arm with bare hands. I think a lot of the info on the internet pertaining to medical services in Albania is woefully out of date and/or inaccurate, so I'm just trying to say, this hospital was legit.

**This was not food poisoning or a problem unique to Albania- just a normal, awful stomach virus- so don’t be worried you will come here and this will happen to you. Unless you come here and teach a grip of first graders. Then it might happen to you.

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