My second October as a Peace Corps volunteer and my second month into a new relationship, I got sick. Very sick. I must’ve had the flu, but I never received a proper diagnosis. Bulgarian friends and coworkers said I had The Grip, which this website tells me is the flu.
(I’ve written about this before, but it seems timely nonetheless.)
My then-boyfriend, now husband of 23 years, saved my life. I don’t doubt this at all. I quickly went from “I don’t feel well. Go to dinner without me.” to unable to lift my head. He came back from dinner, saw me, and called for help.
Peace Corps came to get me. They had to drive several hours to my town, and they had to try and carry me (I’m over six feet tall and not easy to carry) to their SUV. It was 3 am. I kept going from sweating to shivering. Every joint hurt. That’s not an exaggeration.
Most of the next few days are a blur, bur a few moments are etched well into my memory.
I was in the back seat of the Peace Corps administrator’s massive black SUV. We were maybe halfway through the drive back to Sofia. Panic suddenly overwhelmed me. I had to get out of that vehicle. I’m sure they didn’t want to, but they stopped in the middle of nowhere. I stumbled out of the car and dropped into the grass. It was 4 am or later. No lights dotted that Bulgarian highway in 1995. We’d stopped at the edge of a field. I guess it was a field. It was a pit of black as far as I was concerned. There was the headlights of the SUV and darkness. And of course us. The driver staying at the wheel. The administrator waiting in the passenger seat. My boyfriend kneeling next me. And me, holding the grass. And I had the dramatic thought of–this is how sick people get before they die.
I’m not sure how long we stayed there, but the feeling of delirium and nausea subsided. I crawled back into the SUV and fell asleep, waking up to the sunrise as we reached our destination in Sofia.
I was too weak to shower. Now, one thing about me is that I shower every single day come hell or high water. The idea of not showering and staying in my pajamas all day is torment. Just getting to the bathroom was so exhausting, I needed help. My boyfriend propped me up so I could throw up. This is when I knew he must’ve really liked me.
They forced me to drink homemade pedialyte, which made me gag. I drank almost two liters of it, crying and whining the entire time. I was a brat about it, but my boyfriend stood there refilling my cup, calmly making sure I drank every drop.
I was staying at the administrators apartment. She had an extra room. Three days in, a new administrator arrived from out of country. He poked his head into my sick room and introduced himself. I hadn’t been able to eat. He asked if I could eat chocolate and if I liked M&Ms. He gave my boyfriend five M&Ms to give. I let each one melt on my tongue. They were the best M&Ms in the world.
And I didn’t throw them up.
It took months before I could walk any distance without running out of breath. And by any distance I mean down the hall.
Out of everything that happened in those days and weeks of sickness and recovery, what I remember most vividly is the darkness all around while I clutched at the dry grass.
I was 26.
Thanks for reading. Stay healthy. Stay home.