I should be on a plane to Cambodia right now. Instead, I’m sitting in the Seoul Airport in the fetal position on one of the Delta Lounge’s scoop style “relaxation chairs” on my way to the states. The only relaxation being had right now is induced by the pain killers and anti inflammatories I have on deck for my 10 hour flight to Seattle. As if I could have picked a better time to become ill enough to book an emergency flight home stopping through Korea. Thank you kindly, Mr. Trump. It’s no wonder why the lanky, mid twenties Korean security agent checking my passport and boarding pass gave me the “more than once over” as a single blonde girl traveling alone.
“Where are you coming from?”
“Any checked bags?”
“Nope, just my backpack”
“Did someone give you that backpack to take?”
“Nope, all mine”
“So you were in Thailand for two months and only had a small backpack?”
“No one gave you gifts?”
“Nope. No gifts.”
“Two months and no one gave you a gift?”
“No but now I wish I had a gift.”
I couldn’t help but smirk at his interrogation with a crowd of people standing behind me. Sir, have you taken a look at me? Do I look like I shower often? No. I just had the dude I rescue dogs with cut my hair with a pair of kitchen scissors and the last time I wore mascara was for a wedding in September. Let’s all move along now.
After the debriefing, I was reluctantly allowed to proceed through security, but only to be faced with round two of questioning.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes” (I’m a minimalist, people. I write my damn blogs on my phone, get off my case).
“Nothing you need to remove from your bag?”
Not unless you want me to remove the two shirts and three pairs of underwear I managed to pack last minute….
I check my phone before throwing my belongings in the bin to find a text from my sister…
“Make it to South Korea alright?”
I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Years of traveling across the world alone, and every time my family is confident I’ll make it to my destination and eventually check in. But I’m on the verge of septicemia in a second world country ONE TIME, and they take a sudden interest in the times of my layovers.
Once through security, it was as if heavens gates opened. The sound of a piano echoed through the tall ceilings and a burst of cold air hit me as if I just walked into a wall of ice. A fleeting thought that maybe it wasn’t the air conditioning that was cold and maybe I was just about to faint ran through my mind. Nonetheless, I proceeded forward in a hazy confidence.
My usual self would have made my way to the bar. If I have to endure a twelve hour layover, it may as well be buzzed. But week two of heavy antibiotics prescribed by my new favorite Thai doctor had me heading to the lounge for some shut eye. I stop in the restroom first, and catch a glance of myself in the mirror. For the love of God. I look like a twelve year old boy who is going through an awkward stage. The old blood stains from a bite wound patient add for a nice touch on my Mike Tyson boxing shirt. Personally, I think my red baseball cap makes my pale skin from feeling continually nauseous over the last week really pop! Don’t get me started on my black track suit pants that managed to make it off the property with only two sets of muddy paws on them (a win in my book). When you live in rural Thailand, you often forget what normal people dress like in the real world. It only took twelve seconds into a FaceTime with my aunt and uncle for them to bring up a picture of the uni-bomber to show the painful resemblance.
After a solid head shake in acceptance of my appearance, I go into the stall. One may read this sign and giggle, but you know you live in Thailand when you actually agree that not standing on the toilets is a solid point to make. It gets confusing sometimes. Do I squat or sit? Do I bring my own toilet paper or use the ol hose it method? Can I flush my toilet paper down the toilet? Or do I throw it in the trash bin like normal? *Disclaimer: I threw it in the bin out of habit*.
On a side note: Seoul Airport has about a million things to do on a twelve hour layover. Anything from a movie theater to ice skating, you name it, they got it. What did I do? I binge read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Figured it was a solid read as I seem to be overly positive and give lots of fucks. Also, Mark Manson is my spirit animal and I highly suggest you get yourself a copy. Maybe I’ll hit up the botanic gardens during my next layover in South Korea, but for now, the scoop lounge chairs I shall sit. When it was finally time to head to my gate, I waddled my way over. As time went on, the people started flowing in as we all waited for our plane. With the crowds of fellow passengers came a group of mid twenties Korean girls with their cameras out, feverishly snapping photos. At first glance I figured it was a photography class on a field trip to the airport. I got up and walked away, only to realize they were walking along with me. Sick, exhausted and seriously in pain, I was in no mood to have my photo taken. Then, all of a sudden, I realized what was going on. They weren’t a photography class, they were the paparazzi, and I had been casually walking alongside a K Pop boy band for the last 30 minutes. If only I could have found the pictures of the cute, young gentlemen enjoying a coffee and pastry with the sickly American girl stuffing her face with a panini while making hard eye contact with the camera. In a side note, if anyone can find those pictures on an online Korean news site, send them my way.
On second thought, maybe some things are better left unseen.
As we boarded the plane, the pop stars conveniently stood in line behind me. My attempt to get out of Southeast Asia with little hassle and going relatively unnoticed took a sharp turn the second I had about twelve eager girls snapping photos all around me. When I arrived at my seat, it was only minutes before I was falling asleep, only to wake up in a panic with the fear of blood clots from all of my inflammation and medications I was on. I just couldn’t bring myself to purchase the compression socks my RN step mom suggested I buy for the flight. I would rather be rushed off the flight with a pulmonary embolism than feel any more strange wearing fancy socks for my infected-organed self. As the plane began its final decent, and I was giving myself an imaginary pat on the back for making it the entire flight without dying, the flight attendant suddenly made me feel a little less healthy.
“Miss, do you need water?”
“No thank you I’m fine”
“Are you sure? I really think you need water”
I smiled and agreed as I suddenly started to feel a bit light headed. He rushed back with not one, but four bottles of water that he hastily gave to me as he urged me to drink them all. Guess I wasn’t quite looking as strong as I felt.
Over the next day, I finally made it to Colorado, where my younger sister picked me up from the airport to bring me straight to the hospital. She threw wet wipes on my lap and tried not to gag as I used about ten to wipe off the last 36 hours of traveling off of me before arriving at the hospital. Disclaimer: the ER in Denver immediately made me want to turn around and head back to my overly friendly Bangkok Hospital where the staff complimented my Thai and gave me a fancy (strangely crotchless) two piece uniform for my stay.
The decision to travel back to the states after weeks of becoming increasingly ill from an infection caused by the placement of my IUD was one of the hardest I have ever had to make. I have always felt invincible. I am never the type to get sick while traveling. “Montezuma’s Revenge” and I never tangoed, and I dismissed the mere thought of taking Malaria pills knowing damn well that mosquitos use me as their favorite neighborhood bar. So, when your doctor tells you that it is about a one in a million chance to have happen to you what happened, you feel ultimately defeated, and very much not so invincible. After returning home, it became painfully clear that, as always, everything happens for a reason. The Universe was dragging me back to the states, and although I tried everything in my power to fight it, it won.
Now, months later, I still am coping with the fact that my dreams of living in Thailand were crushed the minute my body decided otherwise. There was so much work to be done, and I had to leave it all behind. On top of it all, there is now the constant struggle of opinions from peers and assumptions coming from all directions. Even as someone whose every move and decision is made with the purest of intentions, it is hard to not start to listen to the voices all around you. I started writing this in my first week arriving home, to add some comic relief to a real shit situation. Now, I am finishing it to remind myself that even when life doesn’t go as planned, it doesn’t make it wrong; as it is always what is right for you if you are following your intuition. I can assure you this is not the end of my Thai travels, but in the mean time, you can find me working every day to help those stateside. Until then, I’ll see you soon, my Thai mutts.
Picture: The nicest tuktuk driver that insisted on taking a picture together on my ride to the bus station from the hospital. He made the pain subside for about 32 minutes. Disclaimer: I was looking better than I felt.