Its been an interesting week since I got back to Valencia. One I’d like not to relive any time soon. The week before leaving my parents in Portland I was starting to come down with a little something. I stayed away from everyone in the house – mostly – and only hugged my Dad when I left for the airport. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t even done that.
I’m a product of my parents in many ways. Their philosophy runs to the ‘Just keep going. Tough it out’ kind of mentality. Born of the Great Depression and WWII. Rather than lying down and resting, my people figure drinking more water and pushing through adversity is the best course of action. So After landing in Valencia, my day one 11 km walk on the beach was de rigueur for how I roll. Turns out that wasn’t such a good move.
Afterwards, I woke up in the middle of the night jet-lagged – to be expected – and very sick. I looked for a thermometer like a bear pawing through a Yellowstone camp site and, not finding it, then made my way to our local farmacia open 24 hours 365 days a year. They know us there and they speak ingles when I need it. I was dizzy by the time I got there and the pharmacist came around the counter and sat me down on the bench. I told her I just needed a thermometer.
‘You need to go the hospital. You are clearly very ill.’
I told her I was planning to see my doctor when the office opened later but I just needed to get rid of this nasty headache and find out if I have a fever. She shook her head and was insistent. She wasn’t deferring to my judgment.
‘Your face is red as a tomato and you’re burning with fever. I think I will call for assistance.’
I begged her not to, so she led me to the street, hailed a taxi, and told him where to take me. I let her do this because I couldn’t think straight. I had the worst headache of my life and I could barely keep my eyes open, as the light from the sunrise was starting to penetrate them. I wasn’t going to the usual IMED hospital all expat Americans frequent. She had sent me to Hospital Casa de Salud.
The difference between these two facilities is night and day. IMED is like a hotel with doctors that come direct from central casting. All white teeth and perfect hair. When they smile you can practically hear the ‘ting’ from the glare. This was no IMED.
Casa de Salud is the Catholic hospital that looks like it’s exterior shots could have a vintage from a 1980’s soap opera. The producers of the long running show, General Hospital would have been proud. It being Catholic also means its filled with nuns. Little nuns. Like under 5 ft tall. But don’t underestimate them, these ladies are fierce and I know this from staying at convents on my Camino. You don’t go up against little apple doll nuns – even Emilie knows this is a universal truth.
‘They’re kind of scary.’ She told me at one convent run like a military camp we stayed at in Carrion de los Condes.
‘These little women could survive a nuclear winter.’ I told her. ‘You want to be on their side.’
She’s now a believer.
If IMED is the Ferrari of Valencian hospitals, Casa de Salud is the ’67 Dodge Dart. Its not fancy but it will still get you from A to B. And while IMED is a more state of the art facility because it was built in the century we’re living in, Casa de Salud still has what it needs to get the job done. At IMED they speak in the hushed tones of a Sedona Day Spa, but at HCdS they have an even bigger bonus: All of the ER docs speak English. No translator required.
So the taxi driver helped me inside and they took me back immediately. No usual mucking about with paperwork, other than handing over my NIE card and requesting a pronunciation of mi nombre. I was running a fever of 40 degrees. That’s 104 to you and me. I was very sick. I told them I thought I had an ear infection and that the flight had made it worse. But that’s not what it was at all. I had a bad strep infection that they think I’d had for some time, and they immediately went to work.
They got me in a bed and started pumping me full of meds and working on getting my temp down and the infection under control. And the best part? They surrounded me with people who could communicate with me. I can’t tell you how grateful I was for that. I felt confident they had me and allowed the shots to take me to somewhere else. Not a coma exactly, just a place where I could understand that they were helping me but where I handed in over the wheel. I wasn’t the driver anymore. I faded away. The apple doll nuns were praying for me.
Right now I am here alone. No one I know is in Valencia this month. They’re all at second homes in the mountains or at the beach down the coast. Jeff is in the US. Alone in a hospital for the first time in my life and it felt very scary at the beginning. But the staff seemed to understand that. They took care of me both body and soul. By the time they finally discharged me they had become my preferred medical facility. A place I have confidence in – even more than Pristine IMED.
My descent into illness had been so slow I didn’t know my tonsils had been the size of Roma tomatoes and my breathing was impaired. Or that my hearing wasn’t what it should be. I just knew I could barely stand and my vision was blurry. Now the meds have started doing their work and my entire body feels like it’s awakening from a long hard trek across a desert. I can smell again. I’m just praying I didn’t give it to my Parents or Emilie.
But I can thank those little apple doll nuns and the docs for how I’m feeling today. And I’ll be bringing my local pharmacist flowers next week. It’s amazing how much of a difference communication makes. And how much compassion at a crucial moment means even more. Lets face it, I’m no longer a Ferrari. I needed a mechanic for my 67 Dodge Dart of a body. And A few kind hearts and by some miracle I found them. I’m so glad to be home now feeling much better with the help of strangers who cared.