14 July 2012

the worst transatlantic journey of my life.

...Well strip the bark right off a tree and just hand it this way
Don't even need a drink of water to make the headache go away
Give me a sugar pill and watch me just rattle down the street...
-The White Stripes, 'Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine'

Yes, you read that title right. This was even worse than the time I was trying to get home from Europe with swine flu, or just the plain old flu last year, or the time I went to South America with what someone later speculated might be whooping cough.

It all started on Wednesday morning. Wait, back it on up. It started Tuesday night, all of which I spent packing rather than sleeping. By the time Wednesday morning rolled around, my eyes were blurry and my back was achy.

Cue highway traffic and a miscue from the old Garmin, resulting in an arrival at Union Station at ten past eight.

Did I mention I was trying to make an 8:15 train? Chyeah.

Did I mention I had neglected to print my ticket, or even scribble down my reservation number? Double chyeah.

Did I mention that Union Station is freaking huge??? GAHHHHHHHHHHH

Fortunately, there was no line for the ticket agent, so I breezed right up to her, hyperventilating a bit as I explained myself. She was cool as a cucumber as she printed my ticket and asked me to sign it, but when she handed it to me she said, 'Now go catch that train!'

And I just barely did, with maybe a minute to spare. 

Was that anticlimactic? Hold on, it gets better.

The reward that awaited me on that train was a lovely, functional electrical outlet, with which I could watch episodes of Mad Men on my netbook. Which fortunately drowned out, for the most part, the sounds of the Girl Scout troop around me commenting loudly on how they had never been on a train before [obvious], is this thing on the ceiling a light or a fan? or both? and is that the Arch up ahead? when we were a FULL HOUR OUTSIDE OF ST LOUIS. Some people.

I probably got two hours of sleep as well, but it was difficult because my back was hurting a bit from the train and from staying up all night.

Does everyone remember JaNae? My bestie from the time I studied abroad in Madrid? Yeah? Okay, good. Well, she was there to meet me in St Louis and take me back to her lovely apartment. I probably should have crashed then and there, but instead we went out for afternoon martinis and I then explored the nicest mall I've ever seen while she went to work for a few hours.

At this point I desperately needed a break. I was walking around non-stop, and my back was killing me, and I had to pee every five seconds, and I kinda wanted to vom just a little--and that's when I had an epiphany. Los kidneys. There was something wrong with them. Too bad I had to be up in a few hours for a flight to Chicago. 

I think I mentioned last year that whenever I'm sick in a foreign country, I just keep living my life until the illness realizes it is unable to break me and flees from my body. This practice relies upon my theory that I am strong, most other people are weak, and the majority of medications are useless. However, a brief visit to Wikipedia led me to believe that my usual method might possibly not work against a kidney infection. I would have to sort everything out in Italy.

Six am flight was cancelled. Rebooked for 7:15. Stepped off the plane in Chicago five gates from where my next one would be departing (win). Ate delicious food (also win). Boarded flight to London. Was supposed to be sitting next to a precocious-looking preteen. . . until her brother offered to switch seats with her. Enter underage, socially awkward dropout, and would-be paramour. Most awkward flirter ever. He started things off by asking me a little about myself, then guessed my age at 27. Ouch. Kept asking for my info. Ordered a beer at ten a.m. Played with the lace on the back of my shirt while he thought I was sleeping. Got his father to take sneaky pictures of me when they thought I wasn't paying attention. Long story short, the flight sucked, and the hour-long wait in line for customs at Heathrow wasn't much better.

I slept in a bus terminal that night, and on the floor near the check-in gates, before flying on to Italy. All the while I worried about whether I was even well enough to fly, how much a trip to the doctor and medication would cost in a foreign country, and whether or not I would have an adverse reaction to whatever was prescribed to me.

By the time I landed in Rome, I couldn't stand up straight. I was sweaty and weak and exhausted. The receptionist at my hostel recommended a pharmacy down the street. Where the first suggestion was that I get a shot. "You know, the type of shot you get for your period pain," the pharmacist told me. I refused, and waited 4 hours for the doctor. 

You know one of the ways for doctors to check for kidney problems? They punch you in the lower back. It hurts. The doctor and the pharmacist did this to me several times, just to be sure.  Then, based on my description of my symptoms and his assessment of me, the doctor speculated that I had kidney stones. I insisted that it was 'just' a kidney infection, and he shrugged and basically said, "Whatever, it's the same treatment either way." 

He then prescribed painkillers, antibiotics, as much water as I could drink, and a week's worth of bed rest. Yeah right. I spent the rest of the day in bed (enjoying the company of three two liter bottles of water) and got up early the next morning to prepare for my journey out to Orvieto and my first camp of the summer.