I’m in Ronda, Spain attempting to study abroad and learn Spanish. This is not going well. I’ve been bedridden the past three days and asleep for about 15 hours each of those days.
I should have seen this coming.
I saw friends in Lawrence last Wednesday before my flight. At least two were sick with sore throats. I thought the sheer importance of our friendship would protect my transcontinental health.
Sometime while boarding my flight from KCI to Atlanta, I became melodramatically sick. The captain made an overhead announcement and was probably saying something along the lines of we’re going to be delayed to refuel. I don’t know exactly what he said because I was too busy staring out my window with all the theatrics of Simba seeing Scar’s ruined Pridelands.
My eyes closed.
My eyes opened to realize the plane was docked at an airport. ‘We did it!’ I think briefly. ‘Atlanta!’
I was wrong. We had not yet left KCI.
At this point, I was rocking extreme body temperatures. I am to this day pretty sure actual steam emitted from my pores. I sweated through my jeans.
The Air France flight from Atlanta to Paris was similar, except offered in both French and English misery editions.
I watch a plane take off out my window as we taxi on the tarmac. ‘That was rad,’ I thought. If I die of exposure on this flight, at least I’ll die having seen a plane take off.
I found myself freezing and feeble. My core was shaking and the other parts of me felt extra fleshy. I worried my shivering would overpower the plane’s turbulence and disturb other passengers.
No one else’s teeth were chattering.
I considered signaling an attendant but what would I say? I pictured myself coughing, then stuttering, “Je meurs,” to some bilingual, vested man.
I wanted to access the pain reliever in my bag but was too meek to withdraw my ice fingers from where they are neatly tucked below my thighs. I decided to live through the pain.
At what would have been 1:35 a.m. EST, I got dizzy from drinking water.
A tray of morning snacks sat before me. I stared down the plain yogurt, daring it to dare me to vomit.
I remembered looking down as we descended and thinking France looks like it has a lot more dirt than I expected. My face felt long.
I sat next to a handsy Spanish couple on the flight from Paris to Málaga. They kissed between dubbed Big Bang Theory episodes. ‘I haven’t been kissed in days,’ I thought as I blew my nose and hacked a loogie into the dirty Kleenex.
Fast-forward a few days of this bubbling under the gooey guise of jetlag.
It was 11:45 a.m. Wednesday and Will, Warren, and I — all three of the KU students in Ronda — were in a very important meeting in the Ronda program director’s office.
There were just a bunch of ladies there: the director, seated behind her desk, two elderly women who are not introduced to us seated in front of her desk, and one bilingual woman who stands in front of her seat.
“So it sounds like the main problem is that you’re lonely,” the bilingual woman was saying.
This meeting was very important and I had to be here.
“Not exactly,” Warren was saying.
I nodded, wanting to contribute.
“Making friends from other cultures is the whole reason Americans study abroad,” Will was saying.
‘Oh my God,’ I thought, ‘I am going to pass out in front of these ladies.’
At this point, I realized I was standing in a softball ready stance. I decided a symptom inventory would make me look like I was concentrating super hard on the conversation at hand rather than on remaining upright and conducted one: I was feeble, lightheaded, and dizzy. My throat was so sore I had trouble inhaling. I later found out all color had drained from my face, which made me seem usefully grave over this meeting.
I was no longer convinced I had arms and, if so, if I had manual control over such limbs. Sounds reverberated through my ear tunnels as the bilingual woman translated for the director and back.
I mumbled que voy al baño and left the room. Will and Warren found me a moment later sitting on a bench.
“I think that went as well as it could have,” I think Will said.
I was now lying down on the bench.
“Do you think she really understood how big of a deal this is to us though?” I think Warren said.
I was now shivering while lying down on the bench.
“You should maybe go home,” Will said.
“I’m not gonna make it,” I said.
My host mom drove me to a public doctor’s office that afternoon. I looked out the window, trying to keep this affair to the light vibes of a Sunday drive rather than the black end of my precious 21 years of life that I felt it was.
We drove by a boarded up shop with huge front windows for lease with a few piles of dust and trash inside. Its sign hadn’t been taken down yet: “Tenemos Muchas!”
‘More like “Tenemos Nada!”’ I thought.
I did not share this gem out loud.
We parked. I tried to make small talk, but there are only so many things to discuss when my Spanish ability maxes out at “What kind of food do the different big cities like?”
I handed a Google Translated screen with a list of my symptoms over to the front desk. My host mom stepped in. People said words. I nodded and breathed through my mouth. The clinic is free for Spanish citizens. I think my host mom told me that my program is supposed to cover my medical needs up to a certain point, but I don’t have a student card to prove so to the front desk.
My host mom left to make some calls. I took a seat and was actively not dying. People walked in and out and each time I looked up hoping it would be my host mom with antibiotics in hand.
“Apa,” a baby in the waiting room repeated over and over.
“Agua, sí,” its mother said.
This baby speaks Spanish as well as I do.
A doctor saw me. She spoke a little English and asked me where I was from and if I liked Ronda. She said she had moved from Argentina to Spain 10 years ago. I liked her. I asked her why she moved to Spain, she said she was Ukrainian. “Okay,” I said. I tried to tell her in Spanish about my brother visiting Ukraine once. “Bueno,” she said.
She looked at my throat and immediately said, “Amigolalitis!”
“No entiendo,” I said.
Google Translate informed me I had tonsillitis. She said a lot of words. One of them was “antibioticos.” I was calmed.