Today, I walked to the grocery store.
That might not sound like an accomplishment, but today it is one. Because for the past two weeks, I’ve barely been able to make it up a flight of stairs, across the street to a gas station, or 15 minutes down the road to the hospital.
You see, during my time in Malta this January, I picked up some sort of infection. I’ll spare you the nastier details, but the bottom line is that for about a week, all I did was vomit, force water down my throat, vomit some more, sleep fitfully, and lay in bed in agony, with my guts churning and a dull throb behind my eyes.
The sickness started on a Monday and by Wednesday I was laying in a hospital bed quietly crying while a liter of fluid pumped directly into my veins. I remember feeling cold and slow, so very slow. It had taken me a long time to figure out how to get into the bed, with the nurse bustling around me with instructions.
I was slow because I was weak by then—so weak that I couldn’t even make it to the hospital from the clinic, just a 15 minute walk down the road. They had to send the ambulance for me instead. And then it took me ages to get down the hall and into the bed.
But finally there I was, in the bed as instructed, hooked into an IV, with my dirty trail running shoes poking out from under the sheets (and there is something distinctly disturbing about being told to get into bed with your shoes on), crying as silently as I could while nurses and doctors whipped past the thin curtain that separated me from the hallway.
I’ve felt alone often in my life, but there’s something uniquely terrifying about the aloneness that hits you when you’re hospitalized in a foreign country. I cried and cried and just kept thinking how all I wanted in the world at that moment was to not be alone.
And then I cried some more because OH MY GOD, WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO LUNA?
My greatest fears were all playing out. I was sick—the sickest I have ever been in my adult life, so sick that I could barely get myself around. And I was alone. Horribly alone. Miles and miles and miles away from anyone I truly knew. And if I had to stay in the hospital overnight, or (heaven forbid) for what the doctor suggested might be three days, what would I do with Luna?
Any one of those things alone would have been hard to handle, but all three at once?
And so I lay there and cried, as quietly as I could, behind a curtain in a Maltese hospital with a bottle hanging above me, slowly emptying into my veins while I grew colder and exhausted my tears.
A few hours passed and the doctor returned. He told me I could go home, but if the symptoms persisted, I must come back tomorrow. And if I came back, I should make plans for the dog because they were probably going to keep me. My kind Airbnb host picked me up from the hospital on his motorbike and drove me home, where I kissed Luna, took a hot bath, and frantically hydrated.
I was back at the hospital the next day—this time with knife-sharp pains stabbing through my stomach—but again they let me go home for the night.
I cried with relief when Luna greeted me at the door; I had made tentative arrangements for an acquaintance to watch her, but I was anxious about those plans and relieved not to have to use them.
And then it was Friday and I made my way painfully from Gozo (the island just north of Malta) to central Malta. The journey left me sicker still and I broken-heartedly emailed to cancel some last appointments I’d made, feeling terrible that on top of being sick, I was now possibly going to be disappointing my editors.
Friday night I took two hot baths, laying in bed, too weak to sit up for very long, and watching movies in between. I should pause here and say that I hadn’t eaten anything since Monday. Or, more accurately, I had eaten a few bites of banana once—and promptly threw them up. I wasn’t throwing up anymore…but there was nothing to throw up, so it didn’t feel like progress.
And, of course, when you don’t eat for days and days and days, even sitting upright in bed can leave you short of breath.
But, finally, that Friday night, between hot baths, I found myself suddenly and unexpectedly hungry for the first time since Monday.
I was starving, my stomach clenched in knots of hunger instead of nausea. And the hunger was simultaneously a relief and a horror. Relief, of course, because not being hungry for such a long time is terrifying and bad for you. And horror because I couldn’t imagine making it out of the apartment, down a flight of stairs, and through the winding city streets on a quest for soup. I’d had enough trouble getting out of the taxi and up the stairs with my things; how was I going to make it to a restaurant or a grocery store and then back?
So instead of making my way downstairs, I just lay in bed. Exhausted. Crying again. Defeated. Alone.
I was rescued that night by an angel named Cassie. She was one of the appointments I cancelled and when she saw my email, she asked if she could bring me soup.
I said yes. Please, please bring me soup. And then I greeted her at the door, burst into tears again, called her an angel, and slowly carried my soups up the stairs and into my little rental.
The next morning, I was braver and a tiny bit stronger. I made it two blocks from the apartment for some butterless toast and a fruit smoothie. And then I slowly made my way home to Switzerland via taxi, plane, train, and bus.
Again, the journey took a toll on me. Monday morning, I was at my normal doctor, again laying in a bed with my shoes on, again hooked up to a bag full of fluid.
This time, though, the doctor sent me home full of not only fluid, but medicine. Four little boxes of pills, which slowly and surely seem to be working.
First, I was able to eat a few small things. Then larger portions and more things. And now I’m walking to the grocery store and making it up and down the stairs to do laundry. I’ve never before been so grateful for those small movements, small triumphs.
Don’t mistake this for a happy ending, though.
I’m still very weak. I’m still tired and my body is not quite right. And I’m still feeling the ripple effect of having come face-to-face with my greatest fears. Namely: my own aloneness in a truly dire situation and Luna’s helplessness without me.
I usually like to wrap up my posts, to offer up an ending to the anecdote, the story, the chapter of my life. But this piece of my story is still ongoing. Ongoing as I build back my strength. Ongoing as I still feel my own aloneness in this world like a daily electric shock. Ongoing as I try to make sense of what just happened.