¡Hola a todos!
Well, it has finally happened, that all-too-rare occurrence last experienced far too long ago. I write to you all from the same location featured in my blog: for example, the three previous entries were all written from here in Baños, as I spent time recuperating from a nasty illness that has slowly been seeping into my narrative these past few entries, yet none of them were actually about Baños. This is, as I write, a rare and happy moment indeed: my blog is once more up-to-date!
It is time, finally, to enlighten you all as to how this happy occurrence has been facilitated and it is a typically sorry tale. I was aware by the time I arrived here in Baños that all was not well with my digestive system and that this latest fast had done nothing to alleviate my symptoms, a rare failure. I spent a couple of nights at our hostel here moping around, doing little, feeling listless and lethargic. Matters finally came to a head two days after my arrival. I was, through a managerial failure, sharing a dormitory room with three Dutch girls (quite the failure…) and had remained in bed deep into the late morning. The Dutch girls had become alarmed by my disorientated behaviour and forced me to take my temperature with their travel thermometer. The reading came back stark and far too high: 39.8 degrees Celsius. They rushed to reception and called a doctor out to see me, while I lay in my bed shivering, five blankets plied high, complaining loudly that there was no need for any doctor and that my stiff upper lip would see me through – idiot. The doctor arrived to correspond with Seb’s entrance, having heard of the ruckus unfolding in my room. The doctor stripped back my blankets and took my temperature once more, while stabbing his ice-cold stethoscope all over my feverish body and prodding my stomach gently, all the while asking me in Spanish how I felt and what I had been doing with the local girls – what a card. The reading came back high again and so the doctor readied an injection to help lower my temperature. At this point Seb quickly withdrew from the room, entertaining quite the phobia concerning needles (I had to call him back in once the doctor was finished).
A speedy assessment had the doctor’s prognosis as Salmonella Typhus – it certainly sounded intimidating at least. He told me that I should visit him at his clinic when I felt well enough for a blood test, as a precautionary measure; Seb offered to accompany me – he is a true friend really. So, about an hour later, with my temperature back down to a steady 36.8, we set off for the clinic, two American girls in tow, trainee doctors fascinated to see how a local Ecuadorian clinic might operate and hazarding wild guesses as to the exact nature of my illness – I felt like a beset patient going through the motions on the set of ‘House’, the famously gruff, eponymous doctor thankfully absent from this scene. One girl, who had grown up in Papua New Guinea seemed gleefully, obscenely certain that it could only be malaria and I had surely been misdiagnosed. I was quite resentful of all this speculation, naturally, and very glad to arrive so soon at the clinic. Seb once again excused himself at the sight of the needles, still in their packets, awaiting my arrival. In truth, the blood tests were simple enough and I was happy to comply, myself secretly quite eager to know quite what it was assaulting my senses so violently and desiring, naturally, to be well again as soon as possible. The blood tests concluded, Seb once again returned to the room, the doctor informed me that due to an electrical failure in town that day, the results would not be ready until later that evening. I should return to the hostel, rest and then come back for the test readings at six o’clock. Seb and the girls offered to accompany me once more and so we returned to the hostel: for me, it was an anxious wait.
Once returned to the clinic, the doctor spent a minute going over my results before showing them to me. Some components of my blood that I did not recognize the Spanish names of appeared particularly high and were apparently a cause for concern. Malaria – mercifully – was not present in my blood, ruling out that possibility. The chance of Salmonella, while a low possibility according to the blood test results, remained the doctor’s preferred assumption. I broke the news that my temperature had returned: 38.8 before I had left the hostel a few minutes earlier. The doctor took another reading, gave me a brief physical examination and announced that I would be residing at the clinic that night. While not wholly surprised by this statement, I was alarmed nonetheless: I had yet to even visit a medical centre in South America before this day and here I was about to spend a whole night in a clinic, still not entirely sure as to the cause for my illness and prolonged enjoyment of the facility. Seb returned briefly to the hostel to gather a few of my things and tell management there of the developing situation. Meanwhile, I was hooked up to the first intravenous drip I have ever experienced – a totally nerve-wracking event, during which my veins proved elusive as ever: indeed, I am barred from giving blood back home in the UK on account of my veins firstly being so difficult to find and then, once found, collapsing so regularly and even blocking completely, halting the flow of blood at an early stage. Thankfully, this drip was pumping things into, rather than out of, my veins and so the contraption held good and I was able to settle down to a relatively comfortable and hugely exciting evening in my own private room with television and en suite – well, it was certainly a welcome exchange for my dorm room back at the hostel!
I enjoyed the near-exclusive use of a nurse throughout my stay at the clinic and she became a firm friend during my plight. In truth, once I was hooked up to the intravenous drip, my condition soon began to improve, albeit slightly. I continued to fight the fever for a further two days and went without solid food for nearly three days, subsisting off copious amounts of water, Gatorade (think ‘Powerthirst’ Beth, this drink is surely a prime candidate for the inspiration behind our favourite You Tube video) and liquid nutrients being pumped into me through the IV drip. The drip also fed me a solution to help me fight the fever, a strange, clear liquid that made my veins burn – that was the sensation that I felt – and was sometimes very painful. During these moments of my personal battle, my nurse would massage my arm and talk to me soothingly, seemingly sharing my pain. I was incredibly grateful to her for her compassion and for her company both at those difficult moments and at all other times: her bright personality helped to dispel any potential storm-clouds gathering in my mind and also alleviated the long periods of boredom and tortuous solitude. During my second day in the clinic, Seb came to see me and I encouraged him to continue travelling: we had no idea how long I would take in the clinic at this stage, or how much time I would need to recuperate sufficiently afterwards before I might feel ready to travel onwards again. So it was that my strongest friend in Baños departed and from this time I was left completely alone, bar the timely interludes when the doctor or my nurse visited me.
I began to see things differently from my horizontal position in bed, attached to my drip. Trips to the toilet became drawn-out, arduous affairs, my drip accompanying me on its wheelie-post. They soon after became grateful moments of energetic respite from my increasingly uncomfortable bed, which was wholly unable to cope with my protracted periods within it and soon shifted out of all recognizable shape as an object upon which to repose. Time slowed completely and the mad, rushed feeling that had been mounting in my mind as I fled north attempting to slot Colombia into my itinerary began to subside, replaced by a more assured, more relaxed tempo. I was in Baños, in bed and could not leave no matter how much I wanted to. Soon I would leave the clinic, only to move back to my hostel for an extended period of recovery time. All thoughts of Colombia must now be banished from my mind: I had simply run out of time. The acknowledgement of this, although a disappointment, was also an amazing release for me and, I think, quite healthy. I felt reassured, more like my normal self, as far removed from my normal self as I had surely been physically while on my trip. I listened to my nurse as she told me about her strength through God and her dilemmas in her love-life and I felt a strong urge to help this charming, lovely young woman but, my Spanish denied any meaningful flow of advice and it was surely outside my position as a patient, even as a fledging friend, to do so: I restricted myself to some words of sympathy and others of encouragement, extolling my angelic carer to never give up, to continue to believe in love, as St Paul himself so eloquently, so forcefully, so honestly wills us to do in Corinthians 1 and elsewhere in his writings. I hope that my words and sympathy helped in some small way, grateful as I am for all that my nurse did for me.
The doctor visited me briefly and sporadically, promising that I would soon be “feeling like Schwarzenegger”, whatever that was supposed to mean…! He was right, of course: on my third day in the clinic I was feeling much better and even began to eat a little apple, followed by a scrumptious broccoli soup at lunchtime. The doctor had already decided that I was to be discharged from the clinic later that day and so I passed the time wondering how I would cope back on the outside, fending for myself and then filling my mind with ‘BrainTrainer’ exercises from the book Seb had thoughtfully brought with him from my bag, determined not to worry myself unduly and before time. My nurse visited me a couple more times that afternoon to administer the final doses of burning fever-destroying liquid and to change the site of my drip one final time: unbeknownst to me before this experience, a drip, like any other object, is considered foreign by the human body, which soon sets about rejecting it as such. For this reason, an IV drip must be moved from vein to vein at quite regular intervals, to reduce the likelihood of discomfort and problematic complications brought on by the body’s rejection. As a case in point, the second site for my drip, mid-way down the fore-arm of my right limb, proved to be especially easy and successful and so the nurse was reluctant to move the drip from this area. Eventually, merely five hours or so before my discharge, it became evident that the drip would have to be moved: my vein had become an ugly, red colour, enflamed and slightly painful. Such a situation would only have deteriorated, had the nurse failed to act and while fascinating for me to behold, I am relieved that the condition was altered nonetheless.
The time arrived finally and I gathered my things, flung back on my old clothes, occupied myself with copious messages of “thank you” and assurances that I would never forget the doctor’s, nor the nurse’s, wonderful care – nor shall I ever; this experience is certainly buried deep within me, a real test and one that I would prefer not to have to repeat elsewhere on my adventures. I returned to the hostel and to the concerned Dutch girls, still inhabiting my old dorm room and great company as I settled back in. The following morning after my release (that sounds a little sombre really, does it not?), I hobbled from my bed and down to the local supermarket to stock up on vegetables and fruit, charged by the doctor to stick to an austere diet of the two during the early days at least, before attempting any food more complex. I had three days of vegetable soup to look forward to consuming. The walk to the supermarket was certainly memorable: I half staggered there, woefully weak from lack of food and terribly low on energy. I had to hold on to the wall, as much for support as for guidance, at times and often felt dizzy covering the three blocks to the store. Once there I quickly bought and ate a banana, before waiting some minutes. Feeling decidedly more focused I then proceeded back into the store to complete the remainder of my shopping, before returning to the hostel to collapse, exhausted, upon my bed. The road to recovery was to be long and arduous indeed.
Nonetheless, recover I have done, slowly yet surely. The Dutch girls waved goodbye the day after my release and since then I have mooched slowly around town, my daily trips to the supermarket for more supplies swiftly becoming a highlight of my day. I spend much time also at this internet cafe, updating my blog, uploading photographs and, of course, talking every day to my family over that glorious electronic institution, Skype. I grow stronger day by day and soon I shall be ready to continue on my physical road once again. I have made new friends at the hostel and plan to head out with some of these characters this evening for a long-anticipated meal at a popular, safe eatery here in the centre of town. It feels good to be back towards something of my old self but, I shall certainly not rush to forget the important lessons that I learnt while confined to my bed: lessons of friendship, of care and of love. Lessons of patient and of calm collection, of trusting to fate and not worrying too much about tomorrow: “which of us, by worrying, can add a single hour to our lives?” I am unlikely to reach Colombia; that is fine by me. I have my health once more and that is far more important than some cursory glance through a country that surely deserves a more sustained, concentrated visit at some future point. So too Ecuador, the small though fascinating country that was to prove my scapegoat in rushing forward to Colombia. I have time now to explore this gem of a country more fully, to take my time, as I am accustomed to do. I have longer to spend in the Galapagos (a luxury to which I certainly feel like treating myself). The lesson is a timely one and therefore I am comfortable in typing that everything happens for a reason, the bad as well as the good and that the latter can surely come from the former, if one is prepared to look hard enough. In my instance, of course, this has not been very difficult an undertaking and for that I am grateful, as ever.
¡Saludos a todos!