Just my luck

Listen: after coming to truly, intimately, understand the meaning of the phrase “when it rains it pours,” I’ve resolved that the best attitude to have is just strip down into your birthday suit and do a little dance in the street. Smile, and let it rain (or in my case, let the medical drama come as it pleases); sooner or later you’ll be dry. At least you got to dance, right? One day, I will be dry again. One day.

I will now insert some writing from a couple days ago, and at the end, come back to present day so you can see the wonderful ebb and flow of all I’m experiencing.

*     *     *

The other day, I discovered that it’s never a good idea to think the worst has already come. The worst, it should be assumed, could always be yet to come.

Dr. Hilario had the job of explaining this to me, one morning when I traveled to Kalibo to see him. For someone whose name bears a close similarity to the word “hilarious,” he and his news were very far from it. After covering his desk with snot and tears, and listening out of my only remaining “good” ear to his pleas that this whole experience not taint my “impression of his country,” I think one could determine that his name is all too ironic for the given circumstances. If Rock Bottom is a place, I’m inclined to believe that Dr. Hilario’s office is it. But then again, the worst could always be yet to come…as he made sure to remind me.

It’s redundant to say, as I’ve made it blazingly evident from the past month of completely downtrodden blog posts, that my impression of the Philippines is that it is probably a version of Hell that people who were bad–but not terribly bad–in their lives on Earth are sent to so they think they are in Heaven when in fact they are in hell. The sort of place where you can walk around imagining you’re in paradise, what with the palm trees and the white sand and on and on. But if your luck runs out while you’re here, you’ll become aware that your surroundings are actually just cheaply manufactured stage props for the set of a pretty bad play. Really, you’re in hell, and all the trees and sand is fake. It’s hell.

I digress.

Unfortunately, by the time I found myself slobbering all over Dr. Hilario’s desk, it was far too late for him to try to change my opinion of his country. It’s been all together too unbelievable (in a very inauspicious way) to turn optimistic now, and this point seemed starkly obvious to me as he poked and prodded and sucked at my ear with various painful instruments. Maybe he was making an attempt at hilarity by talking to me about how lovely the Philippines actually is while performing surgery on my ear, through which I cannot hear. I kept trying to tell him I couldn’t hear him, at which point he would stop the surgery, thinking I was saying I was in pain and asking him to stop. Well, of course I was in pain, but I hadn’t traveled three hours via boats and buses to get a relaxing massage. I arrived there in pain, and I expected it to hurt; I didn’t care one way or the other if it did hurt, as long as it would get the job done. I tried to explain this to Dr. Hilario, but he was far too concerned about my comfort level and his country’s status in my tourism book. I think he had decided that if he made me comfortable while performing this terribly uncomfortable task that I might change my opinion of his country; this was a matter of very serious importance to him. But really, this just amounted to the whole process of peeling away dead skin and sucking fluid out of my ear taking much longer than it could have, as it was quite awkward at times with our little communication breakdowns and series of misunderstandings.

Either way, what came of that surgery is not much besides the realization that the words doctor and specialist carry much different meaning in the Philippines than in other places of the world, and that Dr. Hilario was not in any way hilarious, though he always managed to have a seemingly misplaced smile on his face throughout our hour-long unfortunate relationship.

Sometimes, I just stare at whatever wall is closest to my line of vision and wonder how did I get here? But nowadays, I stare at walls and wonder how can I get out of here? Through some tricky twists of luck, I am now unable to leave this place, and unable to finish my divemaster….all at the same time! I can’t fly for 7 days, which means I can kiss my sweet flight out of here, which leaves…yeah…tomorrow, goodbye. My eardrum would rupture. Of course, I had to get sick and landlocked on a country that’s made up of islands; anywhere else, and I could get on a bus and at least go somewhere else. Perhaps somewhere else with legitimate doctors. But not here. Nope. This had to happen while I’m on a freaking island, in the middle of a bunch of islands, in the middle of Asia.

I’ve come to wonder what the universe has against me. I must have done something terrible either in this or a past life, because I’ve been having my ass kicked for the past month. Now would probably be a very good time to consider becoming a devout Buddhist and trying to get my stars aligned with the Karmic cycle. I have a feeling that if I did become Buddhist  though, I’d discover that I was pretty awful in a past life; that’s the only explanation I can imagine at this point for all this. Like, I might have been a very menacing raccoon–for example–deliberately making messes of people’s front yards on trash day just so I could watch from my burrow as they frantically tried to clean up the little pieces of soiled diapers while becoming more and more stressed about being late for work. These are things I must pay for now. Stupid raccoon past. I should have known it would catch up to me at some point. Alas.

Shall I re-cap? How did I get to Dr. Hilario, you might ask. Or maybe you wouldn’t. But I’ll tell you anyway.

Jellyfish sting on day one

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to anapylactic shock on day 8

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to oozing wounds and congestion by day 18

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to (now) an acute middle ear infection on day 26 preventing me from flying, diving…everything.

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This is how I have to position my head to allow the drops to sit in my ear canal

I had one day left of my divemaster and I was feeling almost accomplished. I even had a beer with Jenna and Chris in celebratory preparation for my last couple days on the island, and I haven’t had a beer since Obama won re-elction when I was in Burma. Things were going great. I was still itchy and somewhat congested from the jelly stings, but I couldn’t have cared less; I was about to finish my DMT and be on my way. I had worked so hard to get here, and literally pushed through every single day with every ounce of energy I had. I had dealt with terrible Cebuair Pacific customer service representatives, and paid them heaps of money. I had dealt also, with terrible FedEx customer service representatives, and paid them heaps of money. I had dealt with the Philippines immigration office, and paid them heaps of money. It was finally…almost…over, and my travels could start up again with the memory of the Philippines fading away slowly as if it was just a crazy film I once saw but never intended to watch again.

But just when I could see the end of this already lugubrious segment of my journey, was when the rain started to pour, so to speak. I had come this far on a very thin strand of luck, and I was less than half-inclined to stretch it in any sort of way. I was almost there, and I was taking no risks.  But, it seems despite my efforts at staying below the radar of whoever controls my luck, and just skirting into the finish line, the universe must have took umbrage in my celebratory beer. And this is where the metaphorical kick in the metaphorical balls came and hit me in full force–no doubt, from the universe who’s been monitoring that thin strand of luck, and wants to drill home the point that there will be no luck stretching whatsoever, and I play by their rules, not mine.

I woke up at 2 in the morning on that night of the celebratory beer, to the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. It felt like someone was taking a hammer to my head and banging away merrily like one of Santa’s little elves working frantically and tirelessly in the last few days approaching Christmas. I had left the dive shop that evening with what I thought was Swimmer’s Ear…a sort of fullness in my right ear that I imagined would clear up by the morning. Well, it certainly didn’t, and by “the morning,” otherwise identified by 2:23 a.m., I was in terrible pain–and tears–walking through the dark fetid feces-lined streets to get to the 24-hour clinic.

This place (have I mentioned?) is the worst. They gave me painkillers and decongestants and a variety of other mysterious pills and sent me back to bed, promising that it would be better tomorrow.

I went back to bed, now writhing in pain. My lassitude was now at all all-time high. I was ready to just spend days staring at walls, for I had pretty much exhausted all reserve supplies of energy and motivation at this point.  I was deflated. It would have been my last day diving, but on that morning the state of affairs was quite clear: there would be no diving for me, only misery.

It’s unsettling to suddenly become deaf, and also unsettling to inexplicably break out in a very bumpy and unsightly rash on my right hand while simultaneously becoming deaf, having not been recently stung or otherwise physically agitated by anything. But this only augmented my current feeling of what else could you throw into the mix, universe? while my general demeanor became nothing short of surly.

Apparently doctors in Boracay don’t prescribe antibiotics for acute infections, either because they’re completely unaware of how infections work, or because they’re lazy. So I sat and waited for another couple days for the infection to clear, assuming (wrongly, I might add) that the medication mix I had been given at the clinic would clear it up.

Three days passed and it didn’t improve. In fact, it seemed to have gotten much much worse. Not only was I deaf and in pain, now, but this awful loud ringing had begun, and it seemed my jaw and neck were becoming the newly claimed domain of the hammering elves on a deadline. It’s worth noting, however, that the itchy bubbles on my hand disappeared as mysteriously as they had appeared. I went back to the miserable clinic.

They were surprised to see no improvement, but instead a drastic worsening of my condition. Imagine that: surprised!

So that’s how I ended up in Dr. Hilario’s little office. The very inequipped clinic referred me to him, a “specialist,” because they couldn’t do anything besides prescribe me decongestants despite my futile attempts to assure them that I was no longer in any way congested, but instead infected. They told me I needed to have surgery to have the ear drained, or else the building pressure from the fluid would rupture my ear drum. They, of course, were incapable of such procedures. I must travel to Kalibo to get this done, so I went to Kalibo to see Dr. Hilario. He was perplexedly cheerful when he told me he was going to “change my medication,” give me some antibiotics, pain killers, drops, and steroids, and send me on my way. That’s precisely when I broke down in tears and collapsed on his desk cursing the Philippines and their “medications.”

I explained to him (through my dramatic sobs) that it had been 4 days now, and I couldn’t afford to trust in these mystery medication cocktails anymore. I explained how much the other clinic had charged me for decongestants and other random pills (none of which were antibiotics), while my pain increased and the infection around my middle ear incubated. I explained that I didn’t travel 3 hours to have my medications changed. I explained that I am allergic to most antibiotics, so I was at a loss for what medications might help. I explained that I would like to please be able to hear again, and if he would kindly suck the fluid out of my ear as I had been promised back on Boracay, then I would kindly stop slobbering on his desk. I explained that my flight out of this wretched place departed in 2 days, and I would very much like to be on it, so I would need to have my ear fixed now, thank you very much. I told him I didn’t understand how the doctors at the 24 hour clinic are allowed to practice medicine.

You know the story. He assembled his tools and did what he could, while trying to persuade me that the Philippines is in fact lovely.  But I still can’t hear out of my right ear. The infection had gotten too bad to be worked on by Dr. Hilario, as he explained so colorfully: my ear had essentially seized up much like my throat had the day I went into an anaphylactic episode. So it was too late for the draining. Since the ear was so swollen, he couldn’t do much sucking, and I would have to wait until the swelling goes down and the infection starts to clear.

Do you think I’m living in a nightmare? Sometimes I hope so, thinking, as I stare at a wall or two, that I might just wake up and find that I’ve never been to Boracay at all. It was all just a terrible dream, and Boracay in fact doesn’t even exist.

But alas, when I knock on the walls at which I stare, I get a knock back from Jose, confirming, as I dreaded, that I am actually here. And Boracay is an actual place, however foggy and filthy it seems in my mind.

Jose came home around 5, just as I had gotten back from Kalibo and was declining into another melodramatic interlude of crying and blowing my nose into my bedsheet, which now doubles as a tissue, oddly enough. He hummed the tune of “Don’t worry, be happy” as he rubbed my back and I buried my face in the sheet.

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“I want to go home, Jose,” I said, blubbering through pitiful sobs, “but it’s the only thing I can’t do. I can’t fly! The only time I’ve ever wanted to fly away this badly, and I can’t.  I can’t even fucking shower!” (Typed out, this sentence looks coherent and meaningful, but I can assure you, it was pretty much incomprehensible to Jose through my childlike wails and head burying.) It must have sounded just like muffled noise mixed with the bouncing of my back through the broken breathing that sobbing as such elicits.

I know there is a point where things must make a turn for the better, and I’m truly wondering when that might be. My body has been ransacked, and it’s making sure that I’m aware of that fact. I want to believe this doctor that my condition will improve in a couple of days, but I feel like I’ve been running after my health for so long now, only to find out I’ve been running on a treadmill. No matter how hard I’ve tried to get better, or to just get through my DMT, I have ended up back where I started: sick, in bed, in a place that I hate with a passion greater than that which Mel Gibson has about the Christ.

I guess now it’s a waiting game.

I changed my flight today, and will fly out of this place in another 8 days. That’s how long this should take to heal. And my DMT? If this ear fixes by then, maybe I can finish that one day of diving I have left. I will think about that later. BUT, if this ear doesn’t open up and allow me to fly on the 22nd, rest assured you will be able to find me somewhere in the ocean, swimming my ass to Ho Chi Min City.

Hilarious, huh.

 *     *     *

I wrote that three days ago, in the midst of my misery and disconsolate desperation  However, as the days have passed and my ear still hasn’t opened, I lay here at peace with the situation actually quite happy that my luck turned in such a strange way. Like I said, when it rains it pours, and if this in fact happens, it really is best to just start the dancing.

So that’s what I’ve been doing with my days…literally. I have been dancing the hours away, and just having fun out on the porch of my upstairs apartment with my neighbor Jose.

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We listen to music on blast with the little travel speakers my mom sent me (in the package that I had to pay the Philippines government $60 to deliver to me), and dance.

Yesterday, I went out on his sailboat for three hours, circling the island (of course, I forgot my camera). But from the perspective of a nice calm banker-sailboat, Boracay actually started to look like a very pleasant place. I shared the boat with Jose and his customers (three very nice French guys) and the wind. The wind on my clogged ear was a little slice of heaven. The sunset was reminiscent of happier days, and as I laid on above the waves, I started to actually enjoy myself.  Maybe these next 7 days won’t be so bad, after all.  I’ve grown accustomed to the deafness, and actually enjoy that I can drown out the noises of the morning by laying on my good ear.

I’m not spending as much time at the dive shop, and instead I’m spending my time reading, dancing, eating a lot, and looking at sunsets. I figure if I convince the universe that I love it, it might be nicer to me. And I am slowly becoming convinced, again, that I do in fact love it.

Big tuna = soulfood.  Cooked to perfection by Jose

Big tuna = soulfood. Cooked to perfection by Jose

The day of my major Hilario breakdown, and I was surprised to hear my little white Nokia ring from under my bed. I hadn’t heard it ring since I left Malaysia, and at first I thought that the ringing in my right ear had just changed tones for a minute, as it sometimes does, I’ve learned.  But it was my phone ringing!  I scrambled to find it.

It was a call from the US: a call to see how I was doing.

Now, the caller doesn’t know this, but that conversation was the turning point where I started dancing and stopped moping.  Meren,all the way in the US, spent an hour on the phone with me researching my afflictions and offering his prognosis based on this research, combined with his recommended healing techniques.  He also threw in the beautiful words of encouragement and support that is so desperately needed at times like these, when I’m all alone feeling like I’m living in a bad dream.

Since that call, I’ve started looking at these extra days as a blessing instead of a curse. I actually get to spend time on the island, wandering, exploring, and meeting people. I go around to the dive shop every so often to help out where I can, but I need to rest and dance more than anything, so that’s what I do when I feel the urge.  Jenna and Chris have also supported me in this endeavor, so my daily routine has become relaxed and enjoyable.  Exactly what my mind and body need to heal.

Tonight, I’ve made amends with the universe, and have agreed that whichever way it chooses to turn my luck, I can handle it. It’s all part of the game, the experience, and the memories.  After all, everything is beautiful, even when it hurts just a bit.

9 Responses to Just my luck

  1. Jenna Scandone

    I would just strait up ask for antibiotics. I’m loving your raccoon story, since we all know how you feel about raccoons. :) hope you get out of paradise alive

  2. Fiona

    It’s always easier to hold on to the bad impressions of a place before finally changing perceptions.
    Sorry to hear of things seemingly becoming worse each time ,so close and yet so far! arrgh I feel you
    I hope you’ll have a grand adventure in Vietnam.Take care and be safe Anoush!!
    lots of hugs

  3. Carly

    Glad you were able to turn yourself around!

  4. Aram

    Hmmm, dancing as therapy? Who’d a thunk.

  5. Aram

    I might add that I’m glad you’re on the mend. I do so love you.

  6. Duygu

    <3 <3 <3

  7. Thomas Nephew

    So sorry you were in such pain, ear infections are the worst.
    I blame the jellyfish. Stupid coelenterates.
    I hope you’re feeling better when you read this.

  8. Tabs

    Jellyfishes and Anoush do NOT mix is the message the universe is trying to tell you. That and you have almost next to no control over what life wants to throw at you, a very hard lesson but I think all things considered you are handling yourself very well! Certainly better than I would. 2 years ago I had fluid build up in my left ear from a sinius infection and I thought I would go crazy. I was deaf in that ear for only a week but in that time I turned into a miserable human being and not very nice to be around, I spent most of the time freaking out that it would be permanent and I cried pretty much every day. It was so disorienting, I never knew that simply not hearing out of one ear would affect my whole being like that. So I cannot imagine extending that time and then throwing in being in a foreign country in Asia to the mix. I think dancing is a wonderful therapy and you have the right attitude! At some point its almost freeing to accept you have no ultimate control over the situation and years from now this will be another crazy story to add to your list of bot flies, jungle cats and evil ants. I love you girl

    • Anoush

      Ear infections ARE THE WORST! Thank you all for your kind words, and Tabs your story made me soooo happy that I’m not the only one who felt like it was the most terrible thing ever!

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