It’s a Sunday morning, I’m laying in bed in my 8-bed dorm room at a hostel in Tarragona, Spain, and it’s the first morning I don’t wake up thinking I’m going to die in over a week. I’ve had pneumonia for 8 days and it’s been brutal. There have been tolerable days, but mostly it’s been a never ending barrage of muscle pain, migraines, shortness of breath, fever, painful coughing, and general unpleasantness. I’ve understandably scared the shit out of the friends I managed to make in this state but they’ve been incredible, checking in with scared furtive looks to make sure I’m still alive, brining me the necessities, cleaning my puke when I don’t make it to the bathroom. Things my friends back home would do for me, and I’m so fucking thankful I can’t even put it into words.
Because the thing is, you never feel more alone than when you’re sick in an unknown city. It all started in Tilburg, Netherlands where I was supposed to attend Incubate Festival. But instead I was so alone and really didn’t know what to do with myself. I had nobody to talk to, nobody to offer to bring me soup, nobody I could bitch and moan to. But it all started getting worse when I got to Tarragona, Spain and I thought that being in a shared dorm in a hostel would be pure hell. Granted the first night it was: I had booked a 4-bed dorm, thinking it would be more quiet, but I couldn’t be more wrong. The first day I got there I went straight to bed, streaming episodes of The Great British Bake-Off (I’m obsessed guys, obsessed!) and I could immediately tell I’d made a huge mistake. My bottom bunkmate was Spanish and very loud, repeatedly standing in the half-open door yelling things to other people down the hall. The room was also right beside the common room, which I fear would not bode well for the next week. We were joined by a Canadian girl who’d just arrived, and another Spaniard who was sleeping on the bunk above her. He didn’t seem to like that she was a snorer, and so I was woken up every 30 minutes by his loud sighing, followed by slapping of his mattress and loud movements in an attempt to wake her and stop her from snoring. Literally the most idiotic thing I’d ever witnessed. If it wasn’t for the fact I was in massive pain, I would have gotten up and slapped that fucker silly. The next morning I asked this nice German girl Lena, who was temporarily working at the hostel, whether there were any beds—and more importantly any bottom bunks—available in her room. She said yes and I immediately switched rooms, which was the smartest thing I’d done in a while. “Things are going to get better, starting now,” I thought to myself. If only I’d known how wrong I’d be.
The bad would come in waves: I’d take an ibuprofen, and I’d have a few good hours. This allowed me to visit the beach, participate in some of the festivities at the Santa Tecla festival (more on that in another post,) and enjoy some time with my new friends. I was starting to run out of ibuprofen, so I stopped by the pharmacy with the intention of also picking up some acetaminophen—or their version, paracetamol—and decide to ask the nice pharmacist if she thought it was weird that I was now 6 days into what I believed to be a simple fever. Her eyes widened, and told me I should go to the hospital immediately, and that there was one around the corner. I have to admit that, up until this point, I had been somewhat cavalier about the whole thing, but this was the first time I actually started to worry. I went back to the hostel to drop off my stuff, contact my insurance company, and pick up my passport. The process of going through the emergency—albeit slightly confusing when most people don’t speak English—was actually quite quick, well, apart from the fact I waited in the wrong waiting room for a while. There was a nurse who spoke English very well, and so she’d been able to take down all my symptoms and input them into the computer system. When I met the doctor, he only spoke Catalan so he was unable to tell me what was going on, which didn’t do much to assuage my fears. But he wrote me two prescriptions: one antibiotic, and a painkiller, which I’d already purchased, so I guess I was on the right track. I went back to the same pharmacy, and the pharmacist look relieved, and informed me that the antibiotic I’d been prescribed was very good. One pill per day for 3 days and I’d be better she promised.
When I looked up the particular antibiotic, I saw that it was generally prescribed for viral infections and pneumonia. And then it all made sense, the pain in my lungs and the shortness of breath were due to my lungs being swollen. And I’d had literally every symptom in the last week. I finally felt reassured. So reassured in fact, that I proceeded to make one of the dumbest decisions of my life (I was making back-to-back good and bad decisions in Spain it would seem.) After taking some painkillers and my first dose of antibiotics, I felt almost invincible. There were going to be fireworks on the beach that night, and I really wanted to see them. So off I went for a quick tapas dinner with my new friends, where we had a bit of sangria. We then stopped by the shop and picked up more sangria and bottles of cava for the festivities. After the [lacklustre] fireworks, we made our way to the main square to dance to some mind-numbingly terrible music, still swigging straight from my bottle of cava. We then go to a park where there was supposed to be a reggae party, but instead they were playing 60s classics, so we still dance. I end up in this underground club, where more terrible music is played and drinks have literally 4oz of alcohol. Basically I went HAM—Hard As a Motherfucker for the uninitiated. I can see you all shaking your heads in disapproval, and you’re all completely right. But you have to understand, I’d just spent the last week mostly in bed, hadn’t had a drink in forever, and just wanted to feel like a normal person again. That night I slept like a baby and woke up thinking things might not be that bad anymore. But after attempting to take a few bites of my yogourt and granola I quickly realized the error of my ways.
I got a bit of work done, took my second dose of my antibiotics, went down to the beach for a quick swim, and walking back my body started to shut down again. Great. My friends covered me in towels on the way back to the hostel, and I immediately fell into bed shivering like a leaf. They covered me in blankets, gave me a hot water bottle to cuddle with, and brought me water to stay hydrated. This is where I proceeded to run out of the room to throw up and didn’t make it to the washroom—turns out throwing up is a side-effect of the antibiotics—and go back to bed for small bouts of sleep. When I make it out of bed at around 10pm, I’m feeling slightly better. There’s a parade happening on our street and we observe it from our room window, it’s really impressive but I’m only half taking it in. I eat some soup my friends had bought me, and—like the fool that I am—think I might have seen the last of it.
After another sleepless night, I’m not feeling all the great the next morning. I attempt to get work done, but it’s a slow and arduous process. I email my editors that I’m deathly sick and I just won’t be able to turn in this assignment, and they’re more than understanding. I had made plans to go visit some further beaches, plans that were obviously abandoned. My shortness of breath was getting worse, to the point of almost not being able to breathe at all. I was getting worried again, like seriously worried, and wondered whether I’d even wake up if I went to be bed. Turns out I wasn’t the only person worried about this. I still went to bed at 5pm, coughing all night, which made my already unbearable headache feel like a sledgehammer to the temple every time. I had a series of increasingly fucked up dreams which helped nothing. But funnily enough, I woke up knowing the worst had passed. I just knew it.
And I was right. That day I actually managed to go outside for a while and get some sightseeing done. We even attempted to find this jazz bar we’d heard about, which turned out to be a dirty lie. We sat in one of the squares and had a bit of wine at a tapas restaurant—don’t worry, I was more than reasonable—and came back to the hostel early. For the first time in over a week, I went to bed without being in excruciating pain. I slept well, and woke up coughing, but without every cough being a direct assault to my brain.
Which brings me back to the earlier scene, laying in bed, finally realizing that everything was finally going to be better. And I’m crying, like, on the point of sobbing. Crying because I’m so relieved, but also because I’ve never been more homesick. Crying because I don’t even know where home is anymore, and when I’ll find it again. Crying because weirdly enough, it’s only just really hit me what I’ve decided to undertake, and for the first time, I doubt myself and my capacity to do it. And crying because I’m finally letting myself cry. I’d had small moments of self-pity in the previous weeks, but I would quickly push the tears back and tell myself to get my shit together and just move on. But this time, because I’m still so exhausted and I simply don’t have the strength to stop myself, they come pouring out. And it feels so good. It doesn’t immediately alleviate all those feelings, which are exacerbated by the fact that it’s rainy and gloomy for the first time in the 7 days I’ve been in Spain. But I know those feelings will pass, and if anything, my resolve is somehow strengthened because I know what I’m able to overcome. The following week was spent in Valencia and Granada and I had an amazing time. I’m now in Barcelona, back to work, and back to my normal self.