Sick on the Side of the Road

“We don’t have any water and we can’t run any tests, but we can give you an injection,” the nurse said.

I didn’t want to insult my host country, but I wasn’t going to let her stick a needle in me no matter how sick I was. And I didn’t know yet how sick I was going to get. “It’s against Peace Corps rules for me to have injections,” I said, making rules up as I went. “I’d be fired.”

on a spring picnic
on a spring picnic

It was Wednesday afternoon and by Friday I’d be right as rain for when my new boyfriend came to stay the weekend. But by the time he got off the train, I still felt strange–too tired and my stomach aching. By 10 pm he was on the phone to the Peace Corps office. “Come and get her,” he insisted even as I mumbled I’d be fine.

Every joint burned. Even in my fingers. My head spun. I’d sweat and then freeze. I couldn’t sit up. At 3 in the morning a Peace Corps administrator arrived, and my boyfriend and the driver got me to the SUV. Weeks later I’d learn that this even was in the local paper a couple days later–American carried off in the night. Near Death.–or some such crazy headline. Oh, my 15 minutes of fame!

Halfway to Sophia I felt mad. Mad in the way my dad always used the word–people get angry, dogs get mad. I’d have jumped out while the SUV was moving if I had to. I wanted to tear at the roof. I wanted to tear at anything within reach. My boyfriend got the driver to stop.

And so at 4 am the SUV pulled to the side of the road. Being Bulgaria in 1993, there were no working lights along the highway. There were no other cars. There were no pinpoints of house lights in the distance. There were our headlights.

I spilled onto the ground and crawled into the overgrown grass. The air was cold. It was late October. The darkness stretched out around us was a relief and I wanted to stay there curled up into a ball all night.

My boyfriend held onto me while I threw up, lifted me to my feet, and piled me back into the car. By sunrise we were in Sophia at the administrator’s apartment, where she gave me her spare room. I stayed over a week. My boyfriend stayed as long as they allowed him to. We been dating a month.

The Peace Corps medical officer brewed up homemade pedialight–so many part sugar and salt. She ordered me to drink a liter of it. I wept and gagged as I drank the stuff.

For a month I couldn’t cross a room without needing to rest. I lost close to 15 pounds and couldn’t finish any meal I started. No one ever told me what the illness was.

Another time I’ll describe adventures in the Bulgarian hospitals, but this is enough for tonight. I try to remember how life felt back then, because it keeps this writing life in perspective. I didn’t have to take the mystery injection. I could call Peace Corps. I could’ve been medivaced if necessary.

Now I can sit in my pleasant apartment and write about it. What a luxury that is. I need to remember to put the angst away and appreciate the work. Even if my writing is rejected a thousand times, I’m lucky to be able to whine about it.

What do you do if your negative feelings about your work threaten to overwhelm you? What convinces you that a writing life is not so bad?

5 thoughts on “Sick on the Side of the Road

  1. I’m still not convinced I have a writing life. Is that what you call this? 🙂

    Seriously, though… You haven’t (er, have you?) said anything here about a writer’s workshop or group or whatever. It’s another time commitment, which always makes it a problem for people who’ve already got real lives. But it IS a great way not just to strengthen your work — at least to think about that — but to be reaffirmed in the ways in which your work doesn’t need strengthening. If you’re in a good group, and get those reaffirmations (and critiques) enough, you may find your armor growing. (Too often people think of armor in a passive protect-me-from-the-world sense. It’s also something that helps you to stay ACTIVE.)

    I haven’t been in a workshop/group for a number of years now. My own response to negative feelings about my work is, well, not to ignore them exactly… But I hear them about as often and as loudly (or softly) as the internal boosterism; the two tend to cancel each other out. As long as I keep on writing (counting blogging), it seems the momentum carries me past the rough spots.

    Even if my writing is rejected a thousand times, I’m lucky to be able to whine about it.

    Exactly. As long as you’re whining about it by writing the whining down. Which I mean only half-kiddingly.

  2. I don’t think I’ve gotten to the point where I thought the writing life was bad. It’s kind of as if I HAVE to do it.

    Oh, wait. Yes I did. I thought writing was selfish and whiny and that was when I decided to become a teacher, and within a couple months of teaching, I remembered why stories were important– life saving, even– and within 5 years, I had committed to writing again, over teaching. I might still teach down the line, but I want to give this writing life a chance to see if it can work. And then, maybe also rejections now don’t mean that there won’t be success later. Writing is great that way, the more life you have, the better your writing gets.

    I need to step out into the world of getting rejections, actually. The few I have received, I look at as accomplishments, because they mean that I was trying, putting myself out there, being BRAVE.

  3. Pamela

    Find your own joy in writing. My grandpa wrote and recited poetry. He had such joy in his face when reciting each poem. After he died, I realized he didn’t write any of them down. I couldn’t even imagine why not. All of them were long. None of them were particularly memorable…except for one. Well, it wasn’t all his own work. I hated Humpty Dumpty growing up. Oh, I loved the charater, but hated the story. “All the kings horse and all the kings men..” No one could save him? I’m not sure if I ever told my grandpa that. But I will tell you I grew up with him telling me the story which ended poetically with Humpty Dumpty being reincarnated.

    A poet, a writer, he was to me.

  4. For a time I had strange jobs and boring jobs to support the writing life, but it was a given between us that no matter how strange and boring they were, we were not going steady and there was no future in our relationship. When negative feelings about my work threatened to overwhelm me, I took immediate refuge in another work.

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