Nine hours after boarding my flight at SEA-TAC I arrived in London. My first week and half in Europe was spent safely in a countryside side town with a family friend. It was a safe and cushy place to land, but before I knew it I was out on my own and, as it often does, the world hit me with a reality check.
My first night alone was spent in my hostel near London bridge, where I found myself scurrying out to the street to catch an Uber the hospital. For the majority of the night I lay awake with horribly itchy and goopy eyes and an urgent need to pee every five minutes (yep, you guessed it: a double eye infection and a UTI - that’s what I get for long travel days without bathroom access and incredibly bad habit of incessantly rubbing my eyes - haha).
Unfortunately, this was my first in a long line of doctor and pharmacy visits - and even one multiple day hospitalization during my trip. I don’t feel the need to include every agonizing or boring detail, because my goal is to share what the experiences taught me about myself, my health, my support system and my independence. Nonetheless, I think it’s important to at least provide and overview. A brief timeline includes:
A hospital visit in London where I was first diagnosed with an eye infection and a UTI
Dublin walk in clinic visit for my persistent eye infection - where the doctor was worried about cornea damage (thankfully there didn’t appear to be any)
Ireland Eye and Throat Hospital - A day long visit that included flipped eyelids, orange dye, handcuffed men, and creepy old sexual predators
My 22nd Birthday which began with a $100 pharmacy visit in Dublin for steroids, cranberry supplements and antibiotics
A visit from a concierge doctors in my Barcelona hostel and a brief hospital visit for inconclusive tests
A 3 day hospital stay at Hospital Delfos in Barcelona, Spain for a possible kidney infection
A brief period of remission followed by a visit to my cousin Alexa’s American Doctor in Rome
And that was pretty much the end of it. My eyesight is a bit diminished to this day and my urinary tract is still easily irritated after so much trauma. But after Rome I had a better handle on my health and made it through the rest of the trip with diligent self care and a willingness to proceed with positivity, and trust in my bodies resilience.
It’s interesting really, when I committed to traveling entirely on my own near the end of my trip my body calmed down. I have discovered that my body is always communicating with me. It seems to me, at the beginning of my trip I wasn’t listening. As a result, my body fought harder and harder to communicate. When I finally took the time alone to heal, to explore what my body was saying, my health problems diminished.
One of my main intentions for my European travels was to heal from an incredibly abusive and unfaithful relationship (which mirrored the lessons of my past). Reflecting back on this relationship I recall my 21st birthday. On my Birthday I had a black eye due to an eye infection and I can’t help but suspect my body telling me to see the man in front of me for who he truly was. However, I didn’t listen. Again on my 22nd birthday, I found myself with an eye infection in Europe. An eye infection that seemed to be telling me: “Look! Open your eyes, you are here to heal yourself, get to know yourself and yet you are focused outside yourself! Stop distracting yourself with other people!”
Similarly, I truly believe that my UTI and constant pain around my reproductive organs was a signal from my body to deal with the abuse I had faced, sexually and otherwise.
By the end of my trip I saw my physical ailments as important messages from my body, and when I finally listened I healed, physically and emotionally.
Now if you don’t buy any of that, that’s cool, I get it! You definitely don’t have to. Instead, consider the other important lessons I learned...
Alone, 8,000+ miles away from my family and friends I survived my first extended hospital stay ever! This in itself showed me my strength. I sat alone in a hospital where no one spoke English fluently, afraid for my health. I faced allergic reactions, inconclusive tests, dangerously high fevers, by myself. I did so in tears, much of the time, but I did so with only myself there to rely on.
I found comfort in myself and my incredible strength. I watched as my body fought and willed my mind to fight alongside it! Because of this experience, I can proceed forward without fear, knowing I can count on myself even when the going gets tough.
I also learned that in those moments when I don’t want to do it alone, when I need a hug, or words of encouragement I can cultivate this for myself. I learned that my family loves me more than I’d ever known. So much so, that they sent out word and found people on the other side of the world for me to stay with after my discharge from the hospital and to come back for follow-up visits to translate for me. Love is a powerful force that travels across the world even when bodies cannot physically do so.
While I would rather not face hospital visits and ongoing ailments in my travels to come I am so appreciative of everything I learned on my 2016 trip.
Because of the adversity I faced I’ve learned to listen to my body fiercely and with trust. I now have faith in my ability to overcome challenges in solitude. And I now know that in the moments where I do not want to overcome hard times alone, I can call on my support system and no matter what they will come through.
In those dark moments on my trip I never thought I would feel thankful. But I write with so much gratitude for my experiences. I am enlightened and empowered because of them!
May your moments of both hopelessness and triumph empower you wonderful warriors!
I send you strength, for whatever moment you may be facing now or in the future!