Lions and Tigers and Blood Transfusions, Oh My!

Oh hey there! It’s been a while. I’d use the “busy” excuse, but we all know where that one can go. I’ll just be honest: keeping a blog is hard. Props to you people who can stick to a schedule. I, on the other hand, suck at this.

Anyway, this one goes out to all my “fans”. Hope the wait was worth it.

The final month of this crazy 4-month adventure with Remote year is now almost over and I’ve barely written about the last two. This is not to say that Croatia and Prague weren’t filled with beautiful moments—in fact, quite the opposite. Croatia is one of the most travel-blog-worthy places I’ve ever seen. I mean it was unreal and I feel so fortunate to have experienced (and worked from) such picturesque places IRL. Sparkling bodies of water, glowing caves, SO-MANY-BOATS. I’m definitely going to miss my 1+ boat ride quota a week (ugh, I sound like such a princess. That’s Princess Marissa to you though). And don’t even get me started about Dubrovnik. It was like being in episode of Game of Thrones without everyone you love dying—but with way more tourists.

Prague was like a dream as well, but more in the de-ja-vu realm. As soon as we landed I felt as if I had been there before. Even when I got back from having been in Italy for 6 days (which was a glorious pasta and gelato-filled fat-kid dream), it felt as if I was coming home. It was beautiful. It was comfortable. In fact, it was probably way too far inside my comfort zone. And that must’ve been why the Universe was like “Marissa, you’re doing great with this whole digital nomad thing, but, like, try this...”

Unfortunately for me what the Universe had in store was an insane 25+ hour travel day with what I thought was the flu. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t the flu.

This 25+ hour period was a hoot though. It had everything: Extreme nausea, stomach cramps, a 101 degree fever, dizziness, shortness of breath, a frustrating conversation with the staff at the Dubai airport about how I should’ve reserved a wheelchair in advance if I wanted to get to my gate without passing out (W-T-F), a 1:30AM trip to the emergency room in the Dubai airport for a quick IV fluid hookup (with the help of a travel buddy who I can never repay...seriously she kept me sane and alive), a brisk, breathless walk to the gate after the last drip of “hydration” made it into my veins in order to catch a 9+ hour flight to Cape Town at 3:30AM. Like, I said, a hoot.

But the Universe wasn’t done with me yet. 

That asshole.

Plane lands. I suddenly feel a burst of energy. 

“The IV worked”, I think to myself. 

Said burst of energy quickly disappears after going through customs. 

I arrive at my apartment and just crash. 

“All I need is rest in a real bed”.

Or so I thought...

Fast forward to the evening (we landed in the early afternoon). One of my other lovely travel companions checks in on me and offers to order food. I had been sleeping for hours and still felt like shit, but was finally hungry and my nausea had gone away for the moment so food sounded like the logical next move (at this point I hadn’t eaten more than half a cracker in 5 days) so I accept the offer.

As I shovel Pad Thai into my mouth, I have a glimmer of hope. Just some liquids, a shower and a full night’s rest and I’ll be on the mend in no time. Because, after all, I thought I had the flu and you just ride that shit out. No pun intended.

But nope, the Universe had other plans.

I wake up the next morning only to feel just as weak, but am able to make it down to a welcome meeting which happens a day or so after our arrival in each Remote Year city. I still wasn’t feeling great, but tried my best to human. Meeting wraps and we’re set to take a five-minute walk to explore the workspace. I muster up all my energy, head outside and attempt to keep up with the group. However, their slow stroll is like a sprint for me. A block in I lose steam and the world feels as if it’s caving in. I can barely hold a conversation and begin to get light-headed. I quickly turn around and bolt back to my apartment. Something is wrong.

So I sleep.

And sleep.

And I don’t get better.

5PM rolls around and I realize it’s time to see a doctor. I think about making an appointment for the next day, but the advice nurse suggests I go to the emergency room so I follow instructions and go (with the support of another awesome travel companion).

4 1/2 hours, one IV and a glass-of-the-most-disgusting-charcoal-drink later, the nurse says it’s time to go home.

[Insert premature happy dance]

Remember when I told you the Universe was an asshole?

This is the point in the story where I amend that statement to “FUCKING ASSHOLE”

The doctor walks in and tells me that based on my blood tests he has to admit me.

My jaw drops.

Well, fuck. Day 2 in Africa and I’m going to be admitted to the hospital alone. At this point I’m with a friend who has spent the last 4+ hours waiting with me (solid human right there). She’s in shock, but I somehow stay calm and hand them my credit card (you have to pre-pay to be admitted I guess?). I make a joke that at least I’ll get Chase travel points for the charges. Then they roll me away.

[Insert nervous laughter to mask internal crying]

I guess the Universe figured “go big or go home” for my first-ever hospital stay because I was sent to the High Care unit (one notch below ICU). Apparently my hemoglobin/iron levels were so dangerously low that any nurse who walked into my room would gasp while looking at my chart. I think they were just surprised I wasn’t passed out.

“Shame” they all would say. 

I heard that word a lot in the hospital:

“Oh, you’re from California and you have no family here? Shame!”

“Oh you want to go to the bathroom alone. You can’t. Shame!”

“Oh your IV is making your hand feel like someone is holding a flame directly on your skin? It’s just the medicine and we can’t do anything about it. Shame!”

Don’t get me wrong, the nurses and doctors were absolutely incredible, but I was alone and sad and scared and tired and confused so hearing that word over and over again was pretty overwhelming.

I honestly can’t even tell you exactly what was wrong with me, but for those interested, the CliffNotes version is a very complicated stomach infection (that was not the flu), coupled with my existing anemia that turned into major anemia, I guess.

I’ll spare you the details of my 5-day stay, but I will tell you a few things I learned:

  • It’s terrifying when the doctor tells you they’re still not sure what’s wrong because you’re not responding to medicine and you are in fact getting worse (hence the reason why I was kept so long).

  • It’s also terrifying and heartbreaking to tell your parents such news from so far away (sorry for the heart attack Mom and Dad).

  • Blood transfusions are NOT speedy like in the movies–3 units of blood took almost 18 hours. Yes, you read that right I had a blood transfusion. Yes, it was crazy, but I have South African blood now (a pretty cool consolation prize if you ask me).

  • 4am wake up calls for a daily blood test are the fucking worst .

  • It’s impossible to sleep while hooked up to heart rate monitors, IVs and a blood pressure cuff (the beeping alone is fucking torture).

  • It really sucks to ask have to ask permission to pee...or shower.

  • Always be nice to nurses because they are fucking rockstars­­—and you may end up having to take a supervised shower with one of them.

  • Actually just be nice to ALL of the staff. Shout out to Sheila, the lunch lady, for hooking it up with a midnight snack when I finally got my appetite back.

  • ALWAYS GET TRAVEL INSURANCE. Trust me on this, just do it. You don’t want to learn the hard way. Thankfully I was prepared.

  • If a friend of yours is in the hospital, please visit them. It’s so lonely in there even if you’re not thousands of miles away from home like I was. By day 4, the only thing I looked forward to besides my cranberry juice box was visiting hours. I feel so fortunate to have met such wonderful people on Remote Year who took time out of their day to keep me company in such a terrifying situation. I don’t know what I would have done had I been completely alone.

This definitely wasn’t the “Welcome to Africa” experience I expected, but like I mentioned in one of my previous posts, expectations have no place on a trip like this. And instead of dwelling on the fact that my fellow Remote Year crew was climbing mountains, petting cheetahs and frolicking on exciting side trips while I was getting poked and prodded in a foreign country a million miles away from home, I’ve chosen to laugh about my little “side trip” to the hospital and my new African blood (seriously hoping it gets me a passport because I don’t want to leave this place).

And although I think the Universe can still be an asshole, it gave me a different perspective of the city I’ve now called home for almost a month which will forever remain in my heart, it introduced me to some of the most lovely people I have ever met and it reminded me how important health is no matter where you are.

So cheers Universe, you win this time, but also, fuck you.


TL; DR (Too long, didn't read)

  • Spent 5 days in a hospital in Cape Town

  • Had a blood transfusion

  • Didn’t die