You try to prepare for anything when you travel, but you don’t really count on coming down with a cold. My hubby woke up ill on vacation. Later in the day, we determined that we should go out and find some cold medicine.
That’s when it got complicated.
Objectively, I feel that we are very lucky this is the only thing to have befallen us. All sorts of things can go wrong on holiday.
In fact, our first night out, we had just sat down to dinner when an elderly man fell on the pavement. He was alone. The waiters of our restaurant ran out to help him, offered him a seat (which he refused) and probably would have brought him water, called him a doctor, or anything else he needed. We’re right down the block from a hospital, after all.
He did what a betting person would assume an elderly British gentleman would do. He waved off all offers of help and limped off on his own. He probably would have done the same even if he had a crocodile attached to his leg.
Fortunately, all we had was one case of common cold and one case of man-cold.
We walked to the closest pharmacy to see what they had in stock and test my language skills.
This is one of the toughest parts of travel. Not only do you not have the terminology for anything you didn’t explicitly study, but your cultural and commercial assumptions only apply sporadically.
At home, we knew exactly where we would go to buy our preferred cold medicines and how to take them. We’d just go to a large grocery store and buy some NyQuil. Maybe they have the same brands?
Answer: No they do not.
At this pharmacy, even the vitamins were kept behind the counter. Almost the entire store revolved around skincare, shampoo, and baby stuff. We checked the grocery store later, and they don’t even sell bandages or aspirin.
We didn’t recognize ANY brand names or packaging.
Cover me, I’m going in.
My Spanish is pathetic. I mean, I have successfully bought train tickets, gotten directions, ordered food, and made change, okay sure. But there are probably junior high school kids who have covered more than that in their first term. I feel that as an adult person who has spent weeks in Spanish-speaking countries, I have no excuse for not trying harder, studying more. Practicing with my many Spanish-speaking friends. Preparing.
It doesn’t help that I am shy, and my embarrassment at my sloppy efforts makes this worse.
I’m going to leave out punctuation and accent marks here, because if you heard me talking, that is how it would sound.
Hola, mi hombre esta enfermo.
The pharmacist looked extremely professional and intelligent. She raised her eyebrows.
I nudged my husband and had him hold up his phone, where we had looked up “translate Spanish common cold.”
‘Resfriado comun,’ it said.
“Ah,” said the pharmacist, and gestured, holding her hand in front of her nose and mouth. She had two drugs to offer, one for cold symptoms and one for dry cough. That certainly simplified things. She told him (me) to take it three times a day.
We bought the cold medicine, and then it got slightly more complicated.
We were only a couple minutes from our hotel. I started reading the package of the medicine, looking for instructions. While I realized that this would be a powder to mix with liquid, there were literally no instructions on how much to mix it with.
This has got to be one of those vernacular things. Like when we buy tablets or capsules and we know that you just swallow it with whatever helps you wash it down, unless you are a chaos magician and you dry-swallow. A lot of countries sell their over-the-counter medicines in this powder form, and people probably figure out their preferred delivery method in childhood.
Like, don’t mash up headache tabs and put them in jelly. To this day I think raspberry jam tastes like aspirin.
My husband, an engineer, shrugged and poured the powder into a glass of water while I was still puzzling over the instructions.
My reading comprehension is really pretty good when it comes to jargon like this. Most of the key words are Latinate and medical terminology is similar everywhere. I was able to read through the list of contraindications. “Be careful if you’re lactating,” I tell him, and he replies, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The one thing we couldn’t figure out was whether this would be a wired-and-tired drug or a knockout drug like our friendly neighborhood NyQuil. The answer to that came a short time later, when he descended into a two-hour nap.
The next day, the maid came in. I had waved her off the previous day. “Mi marido es... sick.” (I haven’t been feeling that well either). She cleaned around us. After she left, I realized that she had brought us a pack of tissues, a very thoughtful gesture and not on the regular checklist.
Then I realized that she was checking IN, making sure that these strangers to her country were alive and kicking. I have no doubt whatsoever that, if she found us passed out or in distress, she would have taken the appropriate steps. She unlocked our door with purpose.
We had all sorts of plans when we came here to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. They definitely did not include lying around feeling ill or testing our language skills at the pharmacy.
You know what, though? Like most shared adversity, this is helping us feel closer. We’re taking care of each other, somehow throwing together hot meals, pouring juice and tea, knowing that everything could certainly be worse. We’re safe and friendly people are looking out for us.
Here’s hoping we’re over the worst of it before our dinner reservations, or at least our flight home...
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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