Friday, November 14, 2008

i have some stories

After years and years of playing The Oregon Trail computer game in elementary school, you'd think I'd be well equipped to avoid typhoid fever. You'd think. Kolkata had different plans for this Oregonian girl and I in fact did contract typhoid fever. And I didn't even ford the freakin river.

I have a lot of stories to share with you, dear blog readers. I don't really know where to start. As you could probably tell from my dad's previous post comment and from my two plus weeks of blog silence, something went wrong with my trip. I spent 10 fun filled nights in an Indian hospital recovering from what we now know was typhoid fever and a bad, bad parasite. All is well now. I am currently sitting on my bed in Hillsboro, Oregon at 5 in the morning, attempting to combat jet lag. I figured now was as good of time as any to start to sift through what has happened.

The whole story, obviously, wasn't being shared on the internet. Over the course of my last 5 blog posts I had been feeling increasingly sick. Being the incredibly stubborn and self sufficient person I am, I decided to work through my spiking temperatures and bouts with painful stomach cramping. For nearly three weeks I had an on and off temperature of over 103 degrees. When I hit my fifth layer of clothing and near delirium, Traci decided it was time for me to go to the hospital. Did I mention I love and am forever indebted to my amazing medicine-bound roommate? And so I went in a taxi all bundled up and found myself two hospitals and multiple dizzy spells later being admitted to Belle Vue Clinic under the care of Dr. Singh.

Despite what images you may conjure up when you think of a medical adventure in a third world country, I can assure you my time at Belle Vue Clinic was very comfortable (all things considered). By sheer luck, Dr. Singh ended up being the local physician for the American Embassy and to Traci's and my relief, we found a large sign outside the front entrance that declared a hefty donation to the hospital had been made by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Oh, Seattle.

After being admitted, I found myself under an onslaught of tests and more tests. This was a product of the combination of the fact that not only did my illness have very vague, very intense symptoms, but also that I was in India where it is very customary to fuss over your guests. The few weeks prior to my hospital stay, Kolkata had a horrible outbreak of malaria and dengue fever that had plagued the slums of the city. I had diligently been taking my malaria pills and yet I still found myself ridiculously freaked out that I might have one of those two bad boys. I was relieved (??!!!) come day 3 in the hospital when I was finally diagnosed with typhoid fever. I had taken a typhoid vaccination before I left for my trip, but I guess I got the shitty end of the deal (pun intended) of the 80% effective rate. The next 7 days were spent on the phone with people I love from home, battling my insurance company and being pumped full of copious amounts of IV antibiotics. And so it was, my India trip was irrevocably changed.

I tried to stay positive about the situation--I even named my parasite, Perry the Parasite. Regardless, my experience of being in the hospital was a terrible blow to my self esteem. I felt entirely defeated. Those first few days in the hospital were riddled with anger and tears and disbelief. The best way I can think to describe it all is comparing it to a bad break up.

I'm pissed.

India and I are not on good speaking terms right now.

I feel like I got dumped by India, this place I had fallen so madly in love with. What did I do wrong? I loved and loved and gave so much of myself and you hurt me. "It's not you, it's me," I could hear India say as I lay lonely in my hospital bed with only my IV line to hold my hand. I most certainly hit what can only be described as the lowest of lows.

Above all else, I was overwhelmed by the thought of never getting to see my patients at Prem Dan again. I gradually came to terms with the fact that my travel plans post-Kolkata would be replaced with an early return ticket home, but still I was terrified I wasn't going to be allowed back to work. I was devastated and worried my intense experiences volunteering would never have even a hint of closure. All I could really think about while in the hospital was how guilty I felt leaving everyone uncared for at Prem Dan. Here I was with a disease that a lot of the women at my work have, coping with the guilt that while they lay sock-less and blanket-less with their fevers, I was carted off to the most posh hospital in Kolkata at a moment's notice. I had the money to make my typhoid go away and the help to make every OK in the end. I came here to help others with illnesses like this. The full weight of the dichotomy of our world I was beginning to see through India was punching me in the gut and not easing up. I urgently wanted out and to get back to Prem Dan.

Going back to work wasn't going to be an easy feat, however. My doctor gave me a further diagnosis; the good news, my typhoid was the non-contagious strand. The bad news, I had fluid on my bladder and in my intestines and there was a possibility I had liver damage. On top of that, my veins are apparently pretty weak and my wrists had swollen under the stress of all my IVs. My discharge date was pushed out another couple days. I major consolation with this extension came when I found out my travel insurance I had purchased through my school had a Bedside Companion claim--if I was in a foreign hospital for longer than seven days they would pay for a person of my choice to come be with me. The thought being, a person from home will be good at holding your hand and comforting you and they can help you navigate your flight home. Good thing for me my boyfriend, Ben, is the best hand holder I know and he's a veteran India traveler. Day seven came and went, I was still hooked up to IVs and a plane ticket was purchased for Ben. After the amazing help of my University advisor, Fr. Cobb and my study abroad director, Robin Craggs, Ben had an expedited Indian visa, malaria pills and a one way flight to India. PDX to Kolkata with only a few days notice. He's a pretty cool guy.

I was so thankful for Ben taking this crazy trip to come be with me. I can only begin to imagine what it felt like for him to not only process having a girlfriend in the hospital, but to take in Kolkata in only 5 days time. Ben is truly an amazing person and pro world traveler. He arrived safe and sound the morning of my day-10 discharge, just in time to carry my bag and force me to sit down when I got dizzy. There's so much to say about the five days that followed my discharge. I did make it back to Prem Dan where I even had Ben volunteer in the men's ward, Ben and I lived with an incredibly kind and generous Indian family (Dhruv's family I mentioned before), I got to show Ben all the amazing places I called home for the last month and I attempted to cram as many of my undone Kolkata agenda items as I could before I had to fly home. It was an insane couple of days made only that much more absurd by the fact that I was functioning on a post-typhoid level of energy. This wasn't the way Ben and I had hoped our first trip abroad together would be, but so much of it felt like a very cleverly disguised blessing that I am now so very thankful for. We've officially dubbed his time with me in Kolkata as "Rescue 9-1-fun." I'll write about more stories from my final Prem Dan visit and Ben's and my Indian adventures in another blog post. So much to say.

It all feels surreal now, sitting here in my parents house. I always told myself that the best trait for a traveler to have is flexibility. Always be ready to change your plans. Regardless, I am still in disbelief at the level to which my trip was thrown to the wind. According to my unfinished travel schedule, today I was suppose to be in Rishikesh about to head out for the ashram. Thinking of the ashram or Nepal or my last week in Thailand is still really hard. I get hot in the face and close to tears when I remember how certain I was a few weeks ago that I was a good traveler. I felt so confident I was making people proud back home, I was justifying my award of the Sullivan scholarship and I was reassuring everyone who worried back home that the world is a generally safe place outside of Hillsboro, Oregon. All that feels like lie now...I'm really uncertain what is genuine and what is false in all I felt before I went into the hospital. It's overwhelming.

I'm trying to deal right now with these feelings of failure--by my standards a far harsher ailment than typhoid. I know I'll come to terms with this all at some point. There will be a time when the consolations outweigh the desolations and I can comprehend a purpose to this whole ordeal. Right now, though, I don't feel like I belong in my bed at home and I'm missing India in a really heavy way.

I think Fr. Cobb consoled me best during one of our overseas phone calls in my hospital room. He said, "India needs you in the long run, not the short run. You need to be healthy." This has been my personal mantra the last two weeks. I have a little calendar tucked away in my travel journal that is covered in scribbled train times, hostel addresses and what was my tentative travel plans for the next two months. I can't tell you how long it'll take me to feel better about what has happened or when I will feel completely healthy again. I can, however, tell you that I have every intention of unfolding that calendar sometime in my life and finishing my trip.


stefanie p. warmouth said...

KATIE! adventures abound! i am so glad that you are healthy and safe. life obviously isn't taking you on a path that you planned on going down... but the now you have the excitement of reacting, adapting, and go-backing. rest up, because there is a lot of living to be done.

Kim said...

You are a very lucky girl! It may not seem that way right now because you didn't get to finish what you began in India. There is time for another trip down the road. Glad you got home safely. See you on Thanksgiving.