The Ugly American: 3 Foreign Medical Emergencies (Mis)Handled

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Number One

That time I got severe food poisoning in Santorini, Greece, and had to ride across the island on the back of a motorcycle to a tiny clinic that looked like a public toilet only to wait for hours on the stairs out front next to a wealthy newlywed who had scraped half her face onto the asphalt where she crashed her moped and, because she had yet to look into a mirror, she kept asking me, “Is it bad?” and I kept lying to her that it wasn’t bad when actually the whole left side of her face looked like raw hamburger with bits of asphalt in it. It was so bad that her new husband wouldn’t even cross the road to sit by her side. Then I had to assure her I wasn’t barfing in the bushes because the sight of her meat face made me sick, but because I had food poisoning, when really it was a combination of the two. When I finally saw the doctor he looked like a college sophomore and I had to wonder if he really was a doctor and why a breast exam was necessary to treat me for food poisoning, but in the end he gave me something that made me feel better. I survived.

Number Two

That time on a train in Mexico, when my bladder hemorrhaged—which, evidently, happens when you’re an idiot 19-year-old who, instead of water, drinks a bucket of margaritas every day for spring break—and I had to disembark in Juarez with a kind-hearted stranger who literally carried me to a dilapidated clinic attached to an even more dilapidated police station, where the doctor said there was nothing he could do, so the stranger paid a local to take us in his truck to the border town of Calexico, where a real ambulance met us and took me to a hospital, where I awoke the next morning, post-op and heavily medicated, and nobody could tell me who or where the man was who had helped me. I never knew his name or saw him again. I had to fly home in a hospital gown with a catheter bag taped to my leg.

And, Number Three

That time in Frankfurt, Germany, when I fainted at the airport on account of how I was on my eleventh day of some crazy cayenne-pepper, olive-oil and lemon-juice regime that my friend Grant had said was a new miracle diet. He himself had done the diet for 30 days straight and said he felt great, though he later admitted needing to throw away his mattress do to a side effect he described simply as “seepage.” I myself woke up in a wheelchair with my luggage in my lap while an airline custodian pushed me through the concourse, parting the crowd by yelling, ”Gehen sie weg! Toter Koerper heir!” which, roughly translated, means, “Get away! Dead body here!” At the hospital the doctor made me eat half a can of Spaghettios and I immediately felt fine, although I did miss my flight and my lips were solid white until the next morning.

Photo: Flickr/Sarah Nicole Phillips

Hollis Gillespie is Paste Travel’s The Ugly American columnist. She is a writing instructor, travel expert and author of We Will be Crashing Shortly, which is on bookstore shelves now. Follow her on Twitter.

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