By this point, just about everyone has had some type of illness ranging from simple colds and tummy bugs, to serious medical conditions. When someone sneezes we all go diving into our bags for various pills, salves, and tissues. We are a walking pharmacy. Even though my roommate has a pretty nasty case of the flu, I have heroically managed to stay healthy… until now.
Today started off with a bumpy van ride to Pashupati temple. Behind the temple, the Bagmati River winds through sacred cremation grounds. It was there that we visited a hospice and saw the light exiting an old man’s eyes. The attendant said it was t.b., but then she corrected herself and said it was cancer. I held my breath the entire time regardless. Outside of the hospice, the bodies of the recently deceased were laid out on ramps by the river bank and lowered down so that their feet were washed by the rushing water. Then, in the presence of family, offerings were made of flowers, coins, and milk. The river is said to flow to the spirit world. When the cremation fire was lit, a woman in mourning let out a wail that made my skin prickle and move. As soon as the sound subsided, a monsoon began to blow in. Wind and rain mixed with tears as we darted back to the van.
It’s hard to have a normal day after a morning like that. I went back to the hotel to check on sick roommate and get ready for our next outing. We were going to see an Ayurvedic doctor and I was so excited that my stomach was fluttering and I could barely touch my lunch.
We walked through trash and mud to get to the clinic, but the doctor’s courtyard was a well manicured garden of various herbs that I have never seen before. The office was a small room with a few old chairs and couches. The doctor was a serious and unassuming man. He asked us to sit while he brought out some scrolls containing the traditional teachings of Ayurveda. I sat up and leaned in, eager to learn his secrets. That’s when I noticed how hot the office was.
It was so clammy in there. So stagnant. I removed my scarf. I checked to see if anyone else was dripping sweat, but they all seemed focused on deciphering the doctor’s think accent. I fanned myself. He was talking about blood and placenta. I dabbed my face with a paper towel. My head started to vibrate and hum. I was convinced that I was coming down with the ‘roommate flu’ and started to panic. I began looking around for something to puke in, should the need arise. I had pretty much decided on the vase in the corner when it dawned on me that I could just leave. I mumbled to my classmates that I felt lousy and needed to get back to the hotel. They looked horrified. The doctor kept on lecturing. Our guide, Sakar, ushered me out to the street and caught me a rickshaw. He told the driver where to go and let him know, in Nepalese, that I was sick. I owe him one.
As soon as the rickshaw started moving, the sky opened up and began dumping buckets of rain on us. For some reason, probably dramatic effect, I couldn’t will myself to dig in my bag for an umbrella. I convinced myself that the rain would make me feel better. The rickshaw driver made it up to the street that my hotel is on and slowed down. I took this to mean that he was through, so I chucked some money at him and jumped off into a huge puddle. I began to sort of half jog/ half limp down the street and the driver pulled up behind me and began screaming at me in Nepalese. He had the biggest “are you FREAKING NUTS!?” look on his face that I have ever seen. Apparently, he had planned to pull all the way up to the lobby. He insisted that I get back on the rickshaw for the last 100 feet. I argued that I was already drenched, but he either didn’t understand or didn’t care. I climbed back in for all of 10 seconds. The shop owners across the street were cracking up.
When I got up to my room, roommate looked at me with a glazed over expression. I told her I was back early due to illness and she groaned at me in sympathy. I stripped off the sticky salwar I was wearing, turned the shower on cold, and feebly climbed in. I felt revived. By the time I had finished washing, I started to think about how I had already gotten a flu shot. I was probably feeling lousy for other reasons. When I made it to my bed, it dawned on me that I was most likely suffering from a combination of low blood sugar, a bit of exhaustion, and a mild tummy bug. Being horizontal seemed to me the best thing in the world. I ate a packet of Smarties and some crackers and washed it down with a gulp of Pepto. Relief came instantly.
Lesson: Panicking about getting the flu feels a lot like getting the flu.