The past two weeks, I have been accompanying my friend and co-worker, Jinni, to various doctors in order to find some relief for her broken rib. In doing so, I was reminded of all the times I found myself in unfamiliar hospitals, in foreign lands, trying to converse, across a language barrier, with doctors about something as deeply personal and important as my health. It's not, I can assure you, anywhere near the top of my list of "Things I Enjoy About Living Overseas". Of course, being sick isn't anywhere near the top of anyone's list of things to enjoy, but nothing takes the wind out of your "I'm on top of the WORLD!" foot loose and fancy free ramblin' man sails like getting sick far from home. Even a simple cold feels so much more isolating, so much more personal, so much more of an obstacle to deal with.
I need to write an entire story around Jinni's broken rib (honestly, it contains the best of what is, in a dark way, the unique comedy that arises out of navigating hospitals in the developing world) but as it turns out I was waylaid with an illness of my own. It started Sunday, faked me out on Monday by pretending to retreat, and by Tuesday morning I was a shaky, coughing, bleary eyed, sinus fire snot mess. I went home from work in a haze of water limbs and sweat and slept all day. I dragged myself, shivering and goosebumped, into a balmy tropical evening. I had to go about a quarter of a mile down the street to get water, but this seemed like a marathon as I stopped every few feet to hack and cough and sneeze, and to will myself not to faint. Every step was torture. This ordeal was made worse by the fact that an enormous work truck filled with tens of wiry young construction workers communicated to me that there ain't nothin' more libido inflaming than a hacking, snotty, stumbling falang. As I struggled to put one foot in front of the other, they leered and heckled and catcalled me the entire length of the street. Dear reader, I have to say, in that moment, when I was feeling vulnerable, and miserable, and filled with fever and yes, a bit of fear as to what I was supposed to do if shit got real with this illness, that the heckling was just too much. I burst into huge, wracking sobs. The men just laughed at me, but when, between the tears and the coughing, I actually gagged and had to stop to puke in the street, they did finally ignore me.
I guess even construction workers in developing countries have standards. Good to know they set the bar as high as "when a girl is sobbing and puking and coughing in the street and can barely walk, that's when you stop heckling and whistling and yelling at her". Chivalry is alive and well in Laos!
After my traumatic evening stroll through my wonderful neighborhood, I came home with water and, more importantly, cat food. If I was going to die alone in my bed, I was going to be damned if my ungrateful street kittens were going to eat me. I dumped an exorbitant amount of cat food in their bowls, then dumped a bit more as a stern "Seriously, there will be no reason other than gross betrayal if you eat me when all of this is right here" warning, and then I collapsed into bed. After that, things get a bit hazy, as I proceeded to toss fitfully in and out of some pretty wicked fever dreams all night long. I do remember that my neighbor, who is a particularly moody kind of drinker, rolled into our shared driveway around 10:30 blasting a very badly produced love song. True, it was in Lao, a language I don't speak, but when you stumble, fever drunk, in your sick-sweat drenched nightshirt to peer out of the curtains of your Treehouse, and you see a sullen looking twenty something man sitting at the wheel of his car, blaring music while he pounds a Beer Lao and stares off into the distance, I don't know, you just know it's a love song. Also, the fact that the same song was played no less than 5 times on repeat is, to my mind, irrevocable evidence that some sort of heartbreak was being worked through in that front seat. The good thing is, when his obnoxious bass shook my Treehouse (the stilts upon which I live are quite sensitive) and woke me up, my fever had peaked at 101, which gave me an opportunity to pound a liter of water, stand in a freezing cold shower, and ponder whether or not I should call the emergency number of the French clinic. I was so tired and weak I just decided to make 102 my line in the sand and call it a night if I reached that line. This was, honestly, nothing more than an awful sinus infection/head cold, or perhaps a flu, with as bad as I was feeling, but fevers in America are not fevers in Laos. In America, a fever is a fever. In Laos... is this A FEVER? Tropical climates are pretty fantastic at cooking up some gnarly diseases, and when I find myself living alone in a foreign country without ambulances or addresses, much less a hospital, anything over 99 degrees suddenly seems much more ominous.
I woke up this morning feeling a level of awful that was appropriate considering the heat snarled, frequently interrupted sleep of last night, so I promptly went back to bed. At 4:00 I finally dragged out of my house to get some food. I still can't breathe, I still feel like tiny pizza cutters are rolling leisurely through my sinuses, but this is all firmly in the land of no big deal now I don't feel like I'm burning up from the inside out.
And so it's here that I will admit that yesterday I had a brick in my hand because of the dog that always chases me down the street, and when the men started in on me, I swear to you, if I had even 5% more strength I would have hurled that brick right through their windshield. Instead, I puked in the street, which is certainly a less violent deterrent, although far less satisfying than seeing the look of shock on their faces as the brick sailed in a graceful arc of "SCRRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEW YOUUUUUUUU", before landing neatly in the center of the windshield and crackling it into a spider web of "SHUT YOUR DIRTY MOUTHS" right before the entire thing shuddered into a crystal pile of "YES, I AM THAT CRAZY" sparkle shards all over the front seat.
At least, that's how I imagined it going down in my fever addled brain.