What it's like to be sick overseas

Sunday, December 18, 2016

So it is now mid-December, and officially the second time I have been violently ill in a month. Let me start by saying, this is not the first time I have complained about being sick in a foreign country, and it probably won't be the last (actually, god, please don't let me get sick again I've paid my dues). However, I do feel like I can give some unique insight into being sick in a strange place.

From fab to drab in a matter of hours

What sucks worse that being sick in a different country is being sick and having none of your family or friends to take care of you. I'll admit, I'm one of those cry-baby friends who wants to be pampered and taken care of. I will make having a common cold seem like I'm actually laying on my deathbed. Being in a foreign country makes everything seem ten times worse. No one is here to bring me soup? Fluff my pillows? I don't even have a TV to marathon Friends on and have my boyfriend come change the DVD when it's time. It's honestly hell.

Another thing I quickly discovered is the difference in how health care works. Don't get me wrong, health in the UK is amazing, and it's free. However, it is just so different from back home that I usually walk out of the office wondering what just happened. The first time I went was about a month ago. It was the first time I actually got sick since moving here, and it was a walk in clinic that took patients on a first come first serve basis. I was seen within 20 minutes (though I've heard this isn't the norm). I walked into the office, and the doctor had a desk? And I sat behind the desk and just talked to them. Then they came around and checked my lungs and throat, but there wasn't a big table to sit up on. No awkward paper clothes. No rolling chair for the doctors and nurses. I didn't even see a nurse the entire visit. It was bizarre. And at the end they essentially said, 'eh, you've got a cold, come back if it's not better in a few weeks'. At which point I went home to continue my suffering. Alone. 

My second time seeing a doctor here was just a few days ago and it was wildly different. I woke up feeling dizzy and almost passing out, causing a huge panic attack. I called the NHS hotline, which is honestly the most amazing service I have ever heard of and every country should have it. Anyways, after about 10 minutes of talking to me and making sure I wasn't having a heart attack, they booked me an appointment at the closest Urgent Care Centre to my house and told me I could see a doctor 30 minutes later. My mind was blown away. I called an Uber (because honestly who wants to walk to a bus when you're feeling sick), and I went to the office. An hour later (after staring confusedly at the weird desk again), and I was stumbling out in my fever induced hell dream to get my prescriptions and return home to roll into a coma in my bed. 

Overall though, there are things you don't realise are 'comfort' for you when you're sick until you don't have them. For instance, I always drink orange Gatorade when I'm sick. It helps keep me hydrated, and it's what my dad always bought me when I was younger. I associate it with getting better quicker, and I always have it on hand when I'm not feeling well. Of course, Gatorade is impossible to find here. The closest store I know of that sells it is a 30-minute tube ride away, and of course it's the blue kind. I have yet to be successful finding the orange flavour, so I suffer my illness without it.

Everything about living in a city alone becomes all the more daunting when you're sick. Want to eat? You have to walk to the supermarket and then cook it yourself. No one wants to do that. I don't want to do that on a normal day, let alone when I'm sick. So I obviously end up order way too expensive takeout and crying as I look at my bank account while I curse my immune system for doing this to me. 

All I've eaten today and it was delicious

Required to go to class/work? Guess what, you don't have a car- oh no, you have to walk, catch a tube, a bus, and then walk again. And then do it again to get home. I actually had a paper due this past weekend, which I woke up to with it half finished and a temperature of over 38 (100 if you're an F person). It took hours of emails back and forth with professors and sending in proof to get an extension, which I was luckily granted. However, the final straw was when they sent me paperwork to sign for the extension and it needed to be printed. I tried to laugh but I ended up crying because the closest place to print something was a 10-minute walk away and I hadn't even bothered to put on pants that day I felt so horrible. It took me about five minutes to say 'screw it' and e-sign the paper using Microsoft Paint. They didn't even question me on it. 

As you can probably tell, I'm sick of being sick. I feel like Pocohantas when John Smith brought her to England, and I feel like their stupid germs might kill me too. I can't tell if I keep getting sick from the public transport constantly bombarding me with germy people, the stress of my school work, or the dreary England weather, but one thing's for certain, I'm going to continue wallowing and dreaming of a day when I can breathe again without coughing up a lung.

I realise that all of this complaining comes from a very privileged place. I have had amazing opportunities which have allowed me to explore the world and live in one of the most diverse cities in modern history. While being sick sucks, I know there are thousands who suffer every day from chronic illness and illnesses much more severe than a little fever and a sniffle. I thought you would enjoy my little banter about having the head flu all alone here in London, but I am grateful for how healthy I am overall in my life. 

If you want to see more melodramatic ramblings about being sick overseas, you should watch my video about being sick in London below.  

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