June 26, 2020
We lived on apples and a bag of donuts a day, we walked all over (to save on transit), and tried to schedule train rides overnight to avoid having to rent a place to stay. We were 19 and new to traveling. I figured that if we budgeted and planned everything to a tee that our trip would be virtually painless. But then we went swimming in the Blue Lagoon and Cole’s ear wasn’t having it- so we spent half of what we’d budgeted for the month in one day and spent two in absolute hell. Which I’ve learned is how it goes sometimes.
We think that him having been in the water and then getting in a plane somehow messed with the fluid in his inner ear, which is where a person’s balance center is, and flooding it can cause some serious vertigo. And in this case, it did. Cole started feeling what he described as “weird headed”, which somehow means both nothing and enough. This weird headedness caused us to turn in early and miss bus rides, but escalated until eventually he couldn’t even move his head from side to side without getting sick.
We were at a hotel in Amsterdam when we realized the severity of the situation. We had turned in early the night before, despite it being our only night scheduled to be in the city, because Cole needed the rest. We tried to soak in as much of the Amsterdam experience on the walk from the bus station to our hotel, which just meant that we looked in lots of windows and stopped for a THC sucker that didn’t work and made our breath smell like stale weed and gullibility. By the time he woke up that horrible horrible morning, Cole was unable to function. He kept his eyes closed to tell me that he couldn’t get up, and when he tried for the first time he took a single step before falling into the bathroom, and didn’t remove his head from the toilet until we were forced to leave. I tried to persuade the receptionist to give us the room another night or for a later checkout but she very firmly tells me that there is absolutely no way. A few minutes past 11 the receptionist was pounding at our door, and then standing over Cole’s head forcing us to leave.
Then we were sitting on the steps of the hotel. Well, I was sitting. Cole was laying next to a pool of vomit and trying to sleep. I was on my phone, ordering Ubers and messaging hotels, though the Ubers wouldn't take us once they saw Cole and the hotels I looked into were booked for the night. It took hours to even get Cole to the side of the street where we could potentially be picked up, and he crawled into a busy bike lane and was shooed away from a store window on the way. I got him into one Uber without him falling or the driver shaking his head and driving away, but after two glances in the rearview mirror the possibility of our salvation faded and we were back where we started. I even called an ambulance, which we would not have been able to afford, and was secretly partially relieved when they claimed that his symptoms did not qualify as an emergency and that they could not send a car. It was not until a kind local offered to talk to a taxi driver for us that we finally convinced someone to help us get to a doctor, so long as Cole held a paper bag to his mouth.
The following 5 hours are recorded in my memory as a hungry and dehydrated blur of situations in which it feels that the world is against us. Situations where Cole explains to me and I struggle to explain to others that he can’t move despite us knowing very well that he has to. I vaguely remember checking in at the clinic, the doctor jerking his head from side to side, Cole’s immediate dry heaving, getting anti-nausea meds, the doctor helping me to sit him up on a bench by the road with sunglasses on to make him look normal to increase our odds of being picked up. I know that at some point he cracked his phone while lying in front of our hotel, and I can almost picture trying to sneak him past the front desk, but the moment where I really felt present with the situation was after being scolded at the clinic for having a foot up on the chair I sat on. I was looking at hotels on my phone, with my knee bent and tucked under my chin and the heel of my loafer on the hard seat of the chair next to the thigh of my other leg. The woman who checked us in at the front door entered the waiting room to tell Cole to sit up in his chair rather than lying across a few seats the way he had been. He carefully raises his head with his eyes squeezed shut and she waits for him to sit all the way up before walking away. Before exiting the room of waiting patients she says to me, “Foot down.”
And at this moment I realize that I am foreign foreign. That I am a child playing the part of an adult for the first time. I am in a place where Cole cannot lie down to keep his eyes from spinning in circles without being scolded, and where I can’t put a foot up in my chair without someone reminding me that I am not at home. This woman and everything that preceded her shoves the responsibility of fending entirely for myself, and for Cole too, into my arms without telling me that the package would be so big that I wouldn’t be able to see the ground beneath my feet. And that then the ground I walked on would narrow. And that then people would poke me. And then there would be a tornado.
So maybe the moral of this story should be that you shouldn’t go to high altitudes after swimming, or maybe it’s not to plan ahead so much, but from that point on I knew not to expect that I could put my feet up in homes that weren’t my own.
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