I was sitting down at the living room table, processing the past few days I had spent in the hospital when my host family informed me that we were going camping that night. I was a little shocked, as I had literally just returned from my stint an hour prior. I politely and nervously asked if there was any way I could stay home. I love camping but I wasn’t sure what it would consist of and I didn’t want to test my body with hiking or other possibly strenuous tasks. They told me nobody was around so I could either go with them or stay the night home alone. Alone, I would have no access to medical attention if I needed it again so I took it in my stride and agreed to go with them. I packed a small bag and in an hour, we were on our way. We drove through beautiful rice fields and mountains for about forty five minutes. I began to feel unwell with a headache and nausea but I took an aspirin and dismissed it. There was nothing I could do now. When we arrived at the campsite around 7 pm, I saw many of my father’s coworkers and everyone was wearing matching shirts. I determined it was a work event and we got settled into a small cabin about a five minute walk from the central site. We all rejoined the crowd for dinner. It was pretty slim pickings and my host mother gave me steak and other pieces of meat. I pecked at it for a little while and eventually got bored. All of the conversation was in Thai and I didn’t know anyone. Not to mention, the mosquitoes had marked me as a prime target. I started to feel unwell again and crumpled into my seat. My host mother saw me swat at one and offered that I could stay in the cabin and watch Peem, who was uninterested in the event. My sister and I climbed up the barely lit path. Peem and I shared the bed as she watched TV on my father’s phone and I entertained myself on my phone until I really began to feel sick. I laid on my stomach and napped for about an hour. When I woke up, my muscles felt tense and I forced myself as quickly as I could to the bathroom, where I violently threw up. I slumped up against the wall, feeling defeated and terrified it would occur again. I looked down at my hands and saw they were covered in hives.
It was my worst nightmare. I had already been diagnosed! I was allergic to an antibiotic and I hadn’t taken it since! I could not fathom what had happened and began to sob with frustration. I hung onto a bar on the side of the wall and pushed myself up. Seeing my reflection in the mirror, there were hives all over. Places they hadn’t been before: my face, my neck, my back. I was covered and they were so much worse than before. I opened the door to the bedroom, where I found Peem playing games. I asked her where my parents were and she pointed to the wooden door leading to the campsite. I called my advisor immediately to no answer. Then, I called my coordinator, who told me that she would call my host family. She asked me where I was and I told her I was forty five minutes away. As she was out of town herself, she could not come get me. Before I could even hang up, Kru Nok (my advisor) called me back. We had precisely the same conversation and I heard another phone ring in the room. It wasn’t mine or the one Peem had. To my horror, my host mother had left her phone in her bag so she did not receive Teacher Suporn’s (my coordinator’s) call. My coordinator and advisor and I had a three-way phone call on Facebook and they asked me to go tell my host parents. I knew the path outside was too far for me to physically bear but I trudged to the door nonetheless. I walked outside and glanced out to the pitch black wood. I remembered the way there but I did not want to risk my way down the rocky path, especially with deteriorating health. My advisor asked to speak to Peem. I reminded her that Peem was a child but she still wanted to. I handed the phone over, mind blown that a seven-year-old possessed more skills and usefulness in this scenario than me. I was utterly helpless. Peem peered over at me, confused by what was going on. I took the phone back and explained again that both of my parents phones were in the cabin with us. There was no way I could make it back out again and absolutely no way that I would let Peem try. Now, it was a waiting game. I eventually fell asleep and heard my parents enter the house late at night. Half asleep, I savoured those precious moments of rest and was determined to see a doctor first thing in the morning.
The next morning, my host parents woke me up at 7 am. They had gotten numerous voicemails from my advisor and coordinator and told me we would leave the campsite promptly after breakfast. I got dressed and saw that my hives had disappeared for the most part. I no longer felt nauseous but did not care to eat. I still struggled to move but I pulled it together as my host parents ushered us through the morning. We returned home at around 9 am and to my surprise, nothing happened. I relaxed in my room all day, sleeping or watching television. I understood that I no longer had symptoms but I certainly thought the events of the previous night warranted a check up. The day passed. I had dinner with my family and went to bed early.
At around 1 am, I woke up nauseous and shivering. I wrestled for at least half an hour to pull myself to sit. It was the heaviest I’d felt yet and my entire body was strung with pain. I had a blinding headache and turned on the lights to see the frightening image I had predicted before: hives. I was terrified beyond belief and started to have a panic attack. I felt like my body was decomposing and I was terrified I would die. I had no idea what was happening to me and I thought I had moved past this. I continued down this wormhole of misery until it foolishly occurred to me that I should alert my host family. It was close to 2 am and I wondered if it was really necessary to wake them up. I thought that might be rude and debated it until I texted my American cohort who rightly told me I was being incredibly stupid. I had to tell them. I agonized standing up and fell over to my host parents’ room, right across from mine. I knocked on their door quietly and then louder and louder. They eventually opened the door frantically and I started apologizing profusely through sobs. I felt terrible to interrupt their sleep. I kept repeating that everything hurt and I was very scared. My host mother turned on the lights and helped me downstairs. They gave me water and paracetamol and watched me with a mix of confusion and fear. I calmed myself down slowly and surely until I stopped crying. We discussed what had happened and they agreed that the next morning they would take me to the hospital again. It was both good and bad news. I breathed a sigh of relief to be getting treated but I was terrified of going back. I now had no theories as to what was wrong with me. There was no foreseeable end date and no guarantees. I would definitely have to face my phobia again and miss even more of my exchange year. Worst case irrational scenarios ran through my head. If this was it for me, my family and all of my loved ones wouldn’t get here until three days later at minimum. I was at rock bottom. They helped me to my room and I quietly cried until I slept.
During the day, my host family was busy with work and could not take me to the doctor. I felt so betrayed by my own body and furious with the hand of cards I had been dealt that I didn’t even care what was happening to me. I was told to wait at school, just in case I needed help. Under my uniform, my hives were barely visible. The ones on my face and neck had vanished. I spent almost the entire day asleep on a mattress in the AFS office and lying around useless. I tried to put on a show that everything was fine so people wouldn’t worry too much about me, but inside I felt terrible. I left half an hour early for lunch so I could slowly push myself down the stairs. I met my friends and tried to force myself to eat. I could handle a yogurt and a smoothie but I left both unfinished. I returned to the office, went to sleep again, and woke up after school. It was around 4:45 pm and Kru Nok, as well as an AFS volunteer and my english teacher, Teacher Nee-On, were packing up to leave the office. I joined them and made my way down the first small flight of stairs down trying to match their speed. On the landing preparing for the second flight, I blacked out a little and my legs started shaking. I held on to the railing and could not go any further as I was in unbelievable pain. My teachers, who are both very skinny and far shorter than me, each took one of my arms and helped me down the stairs. We got to the bottom and they remarked that I looked white as a ghost. I was barely maintaining my consciousness and they pulled me into the car. They drove me immediately to my house where they put me in the back of my car and my parents drove me to the hospital. I woke up and it was pitch black. My host mother opened the car door and I could not move my legs to get out. She helped pull me into a wheelchair and I was rushed inside the hospital. They did all of my vitals from the wheelchair and issued me an in-patient ID card. I was transferred promptly into the Intensive Care Unit. My host father and Peem stayed in the waiting area, to my relief. I was lifted onto the elevated hospital mat, surrounded by other patients and doctors. The curtains were drawn and a nurse began to undress me and put me into hospital clothes. I could not move no matter how hard I tried and I felt embarrassed as my host mother helped the nurse. I sunk back into the bed and was told I had to get an IV. I was so out of it that I was desperate for anything that could remedy how I was feeling. I had a panic attack in front of my host mother which was one of the most humiliating moments of my life. I thanked my nurse and apologized that she had to deal with me. I turned to my host mother, who nervously laughed and per my request, she handed me a thin tube of aromatherapy my natural mother had given me to help with any anxiety. As I tried to control my breathing and focus on the smell, I imagined my mother. She definitely did not know this time that I was sick. She thought I was back in my community, healthy as ever. I would have given anything in that moment for her to hold my hand or give me a hug. My host mother listened to my doctor and they made a plan for treatment. After about two hours, they transferred me to a real room. I was ready to go to sleep and hope that this was just a nightmare. My host family checked me in and asked if I wanted them to stay, despite there being no place for them to sleep. I appreciated all they had done for me and felt terrible for the position I had put them in. I knew both of my parents had to work and my sister had to go to school. I declined, said goodbye, and they promised to visit. I went to sleep immediately to avoid being awake. Nurses woke me up twice but I did not care.
I woke up and luckily, this hospital bed came with a remote so it could move itself upright. I did not have to endure any pain to sit and I had breakfast. It was a rice soup and I ate as much as I could, which was barely any. I was visited first thing in the morning by Lily, who had translated for me in my previous visit. She told me that it broke her heart to see me back in the hospital for something more serious. We bonded over moving to Thailand and I was fascinated by her extensive knowledge of languages and excellence in her field. She gave me her LINE and returned to work. My host family arrived shortly after that, bringing my laptop and clothes. This was my saving grace as I was not sure I could handle the boredom of my last visit. They stayed with me for lunch, which I picked around again, and left in the afternoon. They did not return for a few days.
The days I spent alone were the worst, although having company also was difficult as the tone was so serious. I started watching the Netflix series, Designated Survivor, and that kept me busy. I was happy to have the escapism available to me. I learned more Thai language fast as I had to describe my symptoms, discuss insurance, and talk about my needs to various doctors and nurses. Some days I did not have a voice at all and then I just played a terrible game of charades to communicate things. I could not walk by myself and if I needed to go to the bathroom, I would stumble out of bed in excruciating pain and crawl on the floor. I felt very helpless and frustrated, as there was no news on what was wrong with me and no sign of recovery any time soon. Lily and her older Thai friend/colleague began visiting every morning and before she left work to say hello and chat for a while. She was brilliant and funny and we quickly formed a friendship. The Thai woman and I had a harder time connecting one-on-one as she didn’t speak any English but she cared for me like a mother would. Lily would translate for us though and I appreciated both of them greatly.
One night, an AFS volunteer and my teacher, Teacher Nee-On, unexpectedly visited me in the hospital with her family. My recovery was on the rise as my throat infection and the pain in my muscles were subsiding slowly. They had baked me peanut butter cookies and brought me some pastries. Kru Nok also arrived and they stayed with me for about two hours. I really appreciated the company. The next morning, my host family, including Peem, arrived. They brought me yogurt, juice, and other food. I was beyond grateful for this, seeing as the hospital food was becoming increasingly difficult for my body to handle. After the first few days of being in the hospital, I could no longer eat meat and Thai food was very hard to eat because of the intense flavours. In the mornings, I would stomach a piece of toast with nothing on it and usually did not eat again until I had a small fruit salad in the evening. I ate just enough to take my antibiotics safely and nothing more. My appetite was strong but I did not know what to eat. Yogurt was the perfect solution and other cold Western foods helped too. Later that afternoon, they went out to feed Peem and brought me waffles which made me over-the-moon happy. I loved talking with them and watching television together. They left in the early evening and this new influx of visitors made me feel hopeful about leaving before my looming sixteenth birthday, October 4th.
Every day that my symptoms subsided, I thought the doctors must be closer to discovering what had been wrong. I only had to do about two or three blood tests within my first week of being hospitalized and I was taking antibiotics every day. Eventually, I had almost no symptoms except being very weak, having minor arthritis in my limbs, and having a fever. The fever was supposedly very serious as it had been high for weeks and they did not want me to leave before it had passed. I was seeing three or four doctors every day and I was begging them to let me leave before my birthday. They said they would try their best and that it might be possible. In the beginning of my last week in the hospital, they made me do one more blood test and I made a deal with my doctor that I would not have to do any more in the next two days or that, at the very least, I would have advance notice. Having panic attacks was not sustainable at all and it wasted all of my dwindling energy for the day. I went to bed and I was woken very suddenly at 5 am to two nurses I knew who barely spoke English. They had a pan of multiple needles and antibiotics in vials that I had never seen before. I quickly gathered that they were there to take my blood, which made no sense to me. I was exhausted, having been restless in the night, and asked to call Lily, who could act as my translator, and I was quickly denied. I began to have the worst panic attack of my life and I begged to see my doctor or someone who could tell me what was happening. I was grabbed by the wrists very forcefully and it began to hurt a lot with my arthritis. They held me down as they took my blood. I began to panic even more as they pulled out antibiotics, which I was terrified that I was allergic to. I begged them to stop, to no response, and then I pressed my brain for the Thai words I needed to end this. I remembered the word for allergy and I shouted it multiple times until they backed off and left the room. I curled up in my bed and sobbed until I could speak again. I had no idea what to do, as it was far too early in the morning to call Lily or anyone in Thailand. I called my parents in the United States for the first time in a while to no response. I then called one of my best friends who picked up fast and I sobbed even harder, telling him what had happened. He felt terrible and agreed with me that what had happened was wrong. Midway through our conversation, my parents called me back and managed to calm me down within an hour. I then texted my friend that everything was fine and turned off my phone. I laid in bed, completely drained but too terrified to go back to sleep, looking at the light shining through my blinds. I did not know how I got to this point in my life and was so ready for this nightmare to be over. An hour later, Lily rushed in the room bringing food and told me she had heard what had happened and was very sorry. She told me that the doctors needed the test to send to doctors in Bangkok to determine the cause of my fever but did not know why I was woken up so early, not permitted to talk to anyone who spoke English, and forcefully held down. We talked for a while and she assured me this would never happen again. I was not so sure. My parents called me later in the evening, having received word that I was “refusing treatment,” which made me furious. This could not be further from the truth. I was fine with being blood tested under the normal circumstances, although I knew I would have a panic attack each time. I was more angry that I did not know what antibiotics would have been administered to me, which could have given me another allergic reaction. My parents understood completely and tried to communicate down the grapevine exactly what I had told them. I spent all day in bed again, barely conscious and depressed as ever.
One morning, a kind nurse, who spoke a little English and felt bad about the fact that I was isolated, visited me on her break. She saw that I had not been eating very much and had quickly lost a significant amount of weight. She left the room briefly and told me to shower and put on clothes. I did so and excitedly waited for her to return. She told me she had obtained permission to take me to get waffles on campus and I thanked her profusely. I was elated and couldn’t wait to tell my parents later. They had been telling me for days that I had to get out of the hospital room, as I had spent way too long confined in those four walls. The second I walked outside, I knew how right they were. I felt like a new person and my energy was completely renewed. I realized how stir-crazy I had gotten and that it was not very healthy. I ordered waffles and an iced tea and I chatted to the nurse about anything we could between our two languages. We often stopped to Google translate things or look up photos. I finished and ordered a sandwich to go. On the way back, she took me to the little hospital store, where I purchased enough food to sustain me for the rest of my time there. I couldn’t believe her kindness and we exchanged contact information as she left. I, again, thanked her and happily called my parents to relay the news. My doctors told me I could leave as soon as my fever had been cleared for 24 hours. I made it so close that day, only having a fever in the late night. I waited for a few more days, just like the first day, where I was almost cleared but not quite. This was infuriating as I felt so trapped.
On October 1st, Lily and her Thai friend celebrated my birthday with me. They brought me a teddy bear, flowers, a banana smoothie, and waffles. They hugged me and stayed in my room until lunch. We had a very stimulating conversation about the differences between our three countries and I was sad to see them go. My doctor said it was possible for me to leave that afternoon and I texted my host parents. However, the doctor later reneged his word and I vowed that I would leave the next day. I called Lily, my host parents, my advisor, and my real parents who all asked that I left the next day, despite the advisement of my doctor. He agreed, so long as I promised to check back in in a week and took medication daily. October 2nd came and I got up at the crack of dawn. I showered and changed into my normal clothes, which I rarely wore in the hospital. Lily and her friend arrived in my room at around 8 am to say goodbye. She gave me hospital merchandise and jokingly told me that she hoped she didn’t see me again, at least under these circumstances. We all hugged and I waited until my host parents came at around 10 am. I raced to get discharge paperwork done and we were on the road. I never actually found out what happened, besides that it was an unidentified blood infection. It was not any of the infections I had been vaccinated for or warned about, as we had tested them. For months, I was diligent about asking for the files of my blood work but even when I got them in December, it was difficult to interpret and no conclusion was drawn. My fever subsided that day and my arthritis continued on until late October.
Feeling the sunlight and sitting in the back of my car made me feel very comforted. I appreciated being able to walk, to speak, to eat, and to have control over my body like never before. I had a billion plans to run and write and read and devote more time to the things I really care about. Not to mention, I had a very special birthday to celebrate in two short days! While this was one of the hardest and loneliest experiences of my life, I am a much stronger person now because of it. I can now be more grateful for smaller but still very important blessings in my life that I previously took for granted. I also try to cherish every moment with my friends and family, even through hard times. I have tried not to look back too much on this but when I do, it is a good reminder of the strength I didn’t know I had and how much I love about my life.