Holy crap, I’m alive.
It felt pretty awesome. I marveled at its veracity. I said it aloud a few times just to make sure.
I found myself all tangled up in a child-size stretcher, still a little disoriented. I pulled the oxygen mask away from my face. My arm hurt intensely. I quickly recalled all the vigorous tourniquetting and vein-slapping conducted by the nurses when they’d brought me in. It was probably necessary. Me veins are prone to invisibility.
There was a packet of rehydration salts and a bottle of water on a little table next to the stretcher, which felt like finding a chocolate fountain. I called out a couple times, to no response. I waited.
It had escalated pretty quickly. I started feeling a bit weird in the morning in New Delhi. By the time I was in the metro on my way to the airport to catch my flight to Leh, I was half-hallucinating cups of tea. I then proceeded to vomit spectacularly the moment the elevator doors opened to let me out. No one asked if I was ok. I staggered to the bathroom to get my shoes cleaned up. The plane left at 4 AM. I still had the whole night ahead of me, which was spent shivering vigorously on an airport chair.
To be honest, I didn’t really realize how seriously ill I was becoming. As a native Mexico City dweller, I had the naiveté to believe that the potential internal disaster prompted by a suspicious-looking choice of meal in Pahar Ganj could not apply to my chile-lined Mexican stomach. I figured I’d just get over it, even though there was no evidence to make me think that way.
Still, somehow I managed to spend the whole flight with my face pressed against the window, awestruck as we flew over the Himalayas. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and my sickness only accentuated its overall oneiric sensation. I got momentarily pumped from the excitement. It was overwhelming. I even cried a little during the ride from the little airport to the bus station. Somehow it helped me focus my strength on quickly finding a hostel and then sleeping off my sickness.
I wound up at the door of a homestay near Karzu pond. Sami, the owner, gave me a room on the second floor and invited me into her living room for a cup of tea. She’s a native Ladakhi with a bachelors in art history. Her English is great, and she was very pleasing to talk to. I told her I wasn’t feeling too well. She offered to make some tea and rice for me, which I heartily accepted; I hadn’t eaten in over a day. As I sat waiting on her floor rug, I started to take in my first impressions of Leh. The vibe there was so astronomically different from what I’d experienced in New Delhi and Varanasi. The cold, and the quiet, and the whiteness gave me somewhat of a truce with my worsening condition. The smell of her house was cozy and comforting. It was cold, though. Should it really be this cold? I started shivering again. Is it just me? My heart is pumping. I’m short of breath.
(Then, I passed out.)
After this, everything is whirring fractals.
Sami’s brother helping me onto the car.
Laying with my face on the floor outside the doctor’s office, so many people waiting, all Indian, everyone staring at me with a mixture of concern and curiosity. I can’t sit straight anymore. My eyes are rolling out of focus. The cold is getting worse.
What if I don’t get proper treatment? What if I don’t get treated in time? What is this anyway?
Me estoy muriendo.
There is a silent agreement of letting me go first when the doctor comes in. He lifts up my shirt, and touches my back. Acute mountain sickness, he says. I babble something about it starting in Delhi. He seems confused for a second. He and Sami’s brother have a quick exchange in Ladakhi. I stumble out of his office. We’re going to the hospital. It’s food poisoning.
The atmosphere at the hospital is more agitated. I’m being checked by another doctor, and then I’m in an office, half-sitting with my head completely surrendered against the wall. A current of people who come and go. Plump Ladakhi ladies with silvery diadems come and go and sit next to me, touching me, they put their hands on my shoulders and my legs and they grab my hands and I’m thankful for their heat. I start to have a very real and urgent worry that I might die soon. Someone asks my name. I’m slurring. Carla Rivarola. Caralola.
Then it’s to the small white room, and the little stretcher, past a Japanese guy with lots of tatooos and a broken leg.
And finally it’s vein-slapping, IV-ing and oxygen.
I learnt two very important things that day.
1: I might be young and Mexican, but that doesn’t make me immortal nor immune. Never, ever underestimate the seriousness of getting sick in a foreign country. Specially if you’re travelling by youself and there’s no one to drag you to see a doctor.
2: I’m still alive because of the kindness of the people who helped me in Leh; because they reacted to get me medical attention, to diagnose me, to share some heat and smiles with me and finally to slap an oxygen mask on my face and a needle in my arm. Leh won my heart over completely in the first few hours. Realizing the stretch of my irresponsibility only accentuated my thankfulness.
And all for the striking sum of 200 rupees.