I Am Not My Mother

I have been incomprehensibly exhausted and and relentlessly sick for nearly four weeks. None of it made sense. All I had been doing was sleeping, cooking, reading, and if I was really feeling up for it, walking down the street to sit at a coffee shop for a maximum of two hours or going to a restaurant to watch a Colombian soccer game. How could I still be feeling this bad? It didn’t add up but the exhaustion was constant and radiated out from the center of my being with such force that I was powerless to its will. While I knew that I was fighting a super virus and had some sort of infection, the exhaustion had to be more than just an illness. As weeks went by without improvement, it became clearer and clearer that the exhaustion likely had roots in emotions. I was tired of maintaining my old patterns.

One of my greatest attributes is that I am observant, often times to a fault. I am able to pick up information and cues from my surroundings and use that to act in ways that I think will keep me safe. Or whatever that means. Growing up, this skill was particularly useful in picking up on my family patterns, and through this, I learned how I was supposed to treat my mother. She was supposed to be taken care of, always, especially by her daughter. It was exhausting but behaving this way was better than the consequences of challenging the system. In my family, like many, I was conditioned to pick up on the cues to know how to behave in certain situations and then act accordingly by walking on eggshells. I learned quickly because if you failed at this dysfunctional game, you were punished, shamed or blamed. I could tell immediately when I displeased my mother. There would be a sudden change in the temperature of the room, a look in her eye and a higher tone in her voice. In the background, I could hear the whistling of a teakettle, slowly increasing in agitation and needing to be simmered down in order to avoid a disaster. I could pick up on my mother’s mood from the way she navigated through the kitchen or drove down the street. Any banging cupboards or slamming of breaks indicated that my guard needed to be way, way up. She wasn’t a yeller, not often, but body language was almost more terrifying.

I quickly learned that my mother is always the victim and her power is being pathetic. The perpetrator is always the one who falls out of line and challenges the system. In my family, the world revolved around women who were believed not to be capable of taking care of themselves. Except, they were capable. No one allowed them the chance to take responsibility for their experiences or mistakes. There is no room to grow when you are never called out for your behavior. And if you did call them out then YOU were causing problems, an inconvenience, stirring up trouble to make everyone’s life difficult.

When I left my mother’s house at the age of 19 and changed my role in the family system everything imploded. In asking for my mother to show up for me and my brother I was instantly transformed from the observant, obedient, and appeasing child to the problem child – at least in the eyes of my family. In speaking the truth about why I left, no one felt bad, not for the bullying in the household, not for my mother choosing her husband and stepchildren over her biological children, not for the promises made, and then broken, by members of our blended family. Nobody seemed to care about what I went through. All they knew is that I was upsetting my mom and therefore causing problems. I, the daughter, was blamed and responsible for the current turmoil in the family and my mother’s distress. And I, as the daughter, was responsible for fixing it. For the first time in my life, I refused.

My refusal to fall back in line was not taken well. In an attempt to get me back in the system, and to avoid the truth about what actually happened, my mother was painted as a weak damsel in distress. Rumors circulated and I was told that my mother was devastated at our limited relationship, confused as to the reason and that she would do anything to get me back. I had attempted to leave the system and yet by painting my mom as a victim and believing in her limited capacity, everyone was trying to suck me back in.

I bought into it. Full heartedly. Reluctant reflection throughout my healing crisis made me realize that I am still walking on eggshells. I am toeing the line, afraid of crossing it in fear of punishment. In the back of my mind, with every move I make towards self-liberation, capability and independence, I am picturing my mom’s reaction. I see her fuming in my head, slamming around the house, ticking like a time bomb waiting for the wrong move to make her explode. It makes me angry that after so many years a part of me is still afraid.

There is a part of me, larger and stronger than the fear that is so much reduced from when I was a child, that empathizes with her. I have been there. I know how hard it is to try to break your conditioning and be called out on your shit. I, like many, know the feeling of shame in the center of your heart, the very core of your being, when you realize that you have messed up. I know what it is like to be frustrated, time and time again, as you work to break your old patterns and yet keep falling back into them. I know what it is like and I can relate to the struggle of anyone going through it. My God is it hard. But, what I need to realize is that I am not my mother and I don’t want to be like her – a pathetic damsel in distress. I keep trying to pull away, distance myself from her, let go of my conditioned obligation but it is keeping me hooked.

I. Am. Not. My. Mother.

I owned my mistakes and am working through my shame. I have admitted the ways in which I betrayed my dad and Maureen, threw them under the bus, and kept living my life thinking of no one but me (and my mother who I was trained to give up the last piece of my soul to protect). I apologized to my brother for the times that I bullied him when we were children and am working, consciously, to never fall back into that pattern again. And with my sister, Marae, we’ve talked, several times, about why she can’t trust me. I don’t blame her. And I am working, again consciously, to have my actions meet my words to prove to her that I am someone who she can trust. Honestly, I make mistakes ALL THE TIME. And it drives me crazy and takes me straight back down Shame Lane. But, when I fuck up, I own it (at least most of the time) and take responsibility by changing my behavior. THAT is working on it.

My mother doesn’t own it and therefore can’t change her behavior. She has never admitted that her house wasn’t safe. She has never told me that she understands why I left and removed myself from an unhealthy situation, even though while we were living in the same house she told me several times that she was worried about how Hunsicker children’s behavior impacted my brother.

My mom acts like she still doesn’t understand what happened and I continually fall into the same trap of believing her. I continue to behave in the same way that I was trained to behave since I was born: take care of your mother. Rationally, I know that isn’t right nor normal nor healthy. And yet, the more I mentally distance myself from the behavior, the deeper part of me still feels tied to that old emotional pattern. I hold onto it like a lifesaver floating in the ocean, believing that it is saving me even though it might be better for me to let go and drown. This pattern does not serve me anymore and I choose to let it go. Rationally. Emotionally, I need to find the key to unlock my stronghold grip. It is safe. She is capable and it isn’t healthy for either of us if I keep holding on.

And as I write this, the piece I knew I have needed to write since I realized my illness was not going away on its own, I am starting to breathe again. The exhaustion, tension and pressure that has been consuming my body for the past several weeks is easing up.

Through this reflection, I realized that my mother chose to lose her relationship with her children rather than see the truth and make the changes she needed. I was tired. Tired of my old patterns. Tired to a point where it consumed me in an exhaustion the likes of which I had never experienced. So I sucked it up, processed and started to let go of old stories. I had believed that my mom was not capable, believed that she was trying her best, believed that she really wanted to change. I don’t believe that anymore.

Mom – if you wanted to change you would have held your stepchildren accountable for the way they behaved in your household. If you wanted to change you would have made space for Charlie and me in the house that we grew up in. If you wanted to change you would have admitted that you made mistakes and named them and apologized with all of your heart and stopped continuing to behave in your old patterns. If you wanted to change you would not have allowed the lies and stories spread about Charlie and me in the community. If you had really wanted to change you would have risked conflict with your new family in order to save your old.

If you wanted to change you would have never told me that you have empathy for what I went through in your household. Not after you stood by and watched it all happen without saying a word. Not after watching your children pack up their rooms never to return. Not after your unwillingness to make the changes needed to welcome us back into your life, the life we so desperately wanted to be a part of. I have empathy for you. For growing up in a system that taught you that you weren’t strong, brave or capable. For being conditioned to take care of your mother and then, when you brought me in this world to take care of you, I failed at that job. You paid your dues and were never compensated. I have empathy for your fear of standing up to your husband and his children because he might not like it and leave you. I, too, am afraid of being abandoned and alone. I have empathy for the terror you must feel at changing the patterns that you have lived in for 51 years of your life. I really do. I, too, was terrified to change and I only started when I was 19 years old. I have empathy for you but I do not feel sorry for you anymore. I know you are capable. I know you can do better. But do you?

I felt bad, believing what everyone told me – you were trying and would do everything you could. But were you? You were given countless opportunities to change. Countless opportunities to have Charlie and I back in your life. The more you resisted the worse things got and the harder it would be for you to recover. Each time you talked us out of our experience, discounted the trauma we experienced in your household and tried to trick us (or bribe us) into coming back into the dysfunctional system, you set yourself back. We told you what we needed. Several times and in several ways. We asked you, clearly, for things that shouldn’t be so hard for a mother to give and yet there was always a catch that left our heads spinning and our hearts broken. I do not know if you realize how detrimental it was for you to try to skirt around the issue and walk on eggshells. You tried the easy fixes and it just made things worse. The hard stuff, the stuff that we told you that we needed, was pushed aside. Just like I have done throughout this month-long illness as I resisted my diagnosis and eventual antibiotics. However, when my poor health put in doubt my ability to stay in Colombia, which I so desperately wanted to do, I stopped resisting. And I got better. You, despite losing your children who you supposedly so desperately miss, continue to resist.

I do not know what was said about me to your friends, John’s friends, Maddie, Jack, Caroline and Helen’s friends but I have heard things. I heard that I abandoned you, that I left the house without explanation, have avoided conflict, disinvited you from my graduation and have been, overall, mean. And people believed these things. I, your daughter, was made the villain for leaving your house and removing myself from your toxic household. You have created a world where you are a victim. When I speak my truth about what happened I still get approached, frequently, with excuses like you are trying, you are in pain, you don’t understand. Can’t I just talk with you? Can’t I just explain what is going on? Can’t I just grow up and spend time with you and your family, at least for the holidays? CAN’T I JUST…

No. I am not the daughter who care takes her mother and waits patiently for the time when I can get married and have a husband and children who take care of me. That will not be my life. I deserve more than that and you deserve more than a daughter who sees you as weak, pathetic and unable to take responsibility for your own actions. It is not loving, it is not kind and it is not fair for me to treat you in the way that you conditioned me to treat you. Just like it is not fair for anyone to expect me to fix a problem that is beyond my control. And me continuing to believe that you are not capable of doing anything more than what you have done is exhausting. You may not choose to do it but you sure as hell have it in you.

So I am done. Done believing your stories, done listening to the pleas of your family, done sitting in an apartment in Bogotá exhausted and done being sick. I am breaking free of this system and my conditioned behavior.


Letting Go of Lucy

For some reason, my family likes to name people after the Peanuts cartoon characters. It’s not on purpose, in fact, the Lucy and Charlie naming scheme in the Bell/Hartwell family is generations old and started way before the creation of the cartoon. The coincidence, though, is something I have always found amusing. In my immediate family alone, I am Lucy, my brother and father are named Charlie and had he been a girl, my brother’s name would have been Sally. We might as well have named our cat Linus and our dog Snoopy just for kicks.

There is a shtick in the cartoons where Lucy holds out a football for Charlie Brown. He always goes eagerly and with full trust to the football in an attempt to kick it, but at the last minute, Lucy pulls it away. Charlie Brown subsequently falls on his face. Every. Single. Time. In another strange coincidence, that is how my mother operates. Like mother like daughter, I learned to torment Charlies (my dad and brother among others) just the same way. What a coincidence that my name is Lucy, eh? One morning, still sick and struggling in Bogotá, I woke up dreaming about Charlie Brown and the football.

There is something particularly cruel about asking someone for what they need and then not following through. As children, both Charlie and I went naïve and with full confidence to our mother and assumed that she would support us, follow through, and keep holding out the football. It was consistently pulled away and we consistently fell on our faces.

This was a pattern in our childhood that led to disappointments that I barely remember, however, one incident in particular is clear in my mind. Charlie and I hadn’t lived with our mom in about six months having left due to her refusal to set boundaries in her household. Despite not living with her, we still kept in regular contact. Charlie and my mom came out to visit me in Miami and during one dinner out on South Beach, she communicated to us that she was really committed to keeping our family, the three of us, together even if it meant keeping us apart from her husband and his children. “What do you both need?” she asked us in regards to the upcoming holidays. This was one of the first times we heard these words come out of her mouth. After years of putting the needs and comfort of her new husband’s family above the needs of her children maybe she was changing. We told her that we wanted some time at her house on Christmas morning without the Hunsicker kids. She said promised that she would make it work. We were thrilled. The football was very visibly in place and like innocent children blind and trusting towards their mother, we ran to it.

Over Thanksgiving break I made a quick stop at my mom’s house to say hi. We were sitting on the main staircase in the front hall when she told me that she couldn’t make the Christmas plans work. “Emily (John, her husband’s, ex-wife) won’t change the schedule and take the kids in the morning,” she explained. I was disappointed. After hearing this and informing my dad and Maureen, my dad made a rare call over to Emily. She said she had never received a request from John or my mom asking to change the schedule. Of course she would be willing to do it. My dad, who seldom intervened with affairs in my mother’s household, relayed this information over to my mother. She responded with a phone call to me and clarified. She misspoke (aka lied) during our first conversation, she and John had no intention of asking Emily for permission and they would not displace the Hunsicker kids or make them change schedules even for my or Charlie’s sake. My heart dropped. Charlie and I said what we needed to a mother who said she would do anything to get us, and our trust, back. We ran to the football and, like always, it was pulled away. We fell flat on our faces. I cried for hours that night next to the trust in my mother that lay shattered on the floor.

My mother wasn’t named Lucy but she sure acted like the girl in the cartoon. I learned about the football from her and became a master. Throughout my early childhood, I held the football and without knowing the impact of that terrible power, loved it. I was Lucy, the resident child bully, and my poor younger brother Charlie, like in the cartoon, was always on the receiving ends of my tricks.


This picture pretty much sums up our childhood…

As children, Charlie and I both loved to act. A common hobby of mine was to put on plays or create movies with my friends. Sometimes I would invite Charlie to join. Years later, I always thought that these were moments that we enjoyed together but this past summer after watching family videos with him, I realized how wrong I was. In the video we watched, we were up at our family cabin putting on a show. My parents were still married and both watching and filming. In one scene Charlie was in front of the stage, playing an air guitar and putting on an incredible show. I barged in front of the screen and pushed him aside. The force of my push led him to fall to the ground. Neither one of my parents said anything. Boundaries didn’t exist in the house and my inappropriate behavior was tolerated. Plus, I was just mimicking what I learned from my mom anyways. The show went on. I stayed in the spotlight and Charlie, having gone for the football and agreed to play with me, stayed on the ground.

He didn’t trust me for a while. Why should he? Why should anyone? Like my mother, my words said one thing but my actions said another. I was Lucy. I was a bully.

This past year, Charlie was a director for University of Wisconsin’s Humorology. He helped write, choreograph, cast and act in a twenty minute musical production to raise money for local non-profits. He put countless hours and immeasurable effort into this production. Conveniently, around the weekend of the performance, I was in the process of leaving my job preparing to visit my parents before transitioning down to South America. Maureen threw out the idea of me stopping by Wisconsin to meet up with my dad at Humorology’s Parent’s Night. The timing aligned perfectly. It sounded like a great idea, my dad would be there and I would be able to watch all of Charlie’s long hidden creativity come to life in an environment in which he was thriving. What an incredible opportunity. However, I checked the flight prices and they were expensive, the routes were obscure and the flights were long. Getting there wouldn’t be easy. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to go and purchased a ticket to visit Maureen, and later my dad, in Florida instead.

Days after making the decision, Charlie and I talked on the phone for the first time in months. As we talked, my crazy mind kicked in. I haven’t asked him if it is important to him that I go. If I ask him if it’s important then that will be including him and that would be caring. He might say no then I wouldn’t have to go. I have a flight, even if he says it is important I can just use that as an excuse to not go. But overall, it will seem like I care. Honestly, right now as I am trying to write this I am struggling. I can’t even fully remember what I was thinking at the time nor does the thought process make any type of sense. I hope that means I’ve moved past it, that I cleared that pattern, that throughout these past two months my brain has slowed down its spinning just a little bit. I hope I will never play anyone the way I tried to play him, and had played him the majority of my life, again.

Charlie called me back a couple of days later, after thinking about it, it was important for him to have me at the show. Of course, he knew that I already had a flight and understood if I couldn’t change it but, if I could, it was important for me to be there. Perfect! I thought, There is my out. I checked online just in case but, of course, the flights hadn’t gotten any cheaper or any less complicated since the first time I looked. I had a message drafted to him with a bunch of useless rationalizations for a promise that I never intended to keep. I wanted to keep it, I really did want to see and support him, but a part of me, the part that is attached to my old patterns and clouded by a scarcity model, was holding me back.

However it happened, my parents became tuned into the mind fuck that I was currently executing with Charlie, and thank God they did. A conversation with them, where they completely kicked my ass, made me realize the cruel game that, despite thinking I had forfeited, I was still playing.

What message was I sending him? Though he said he had forgiven me for my behavior as a child, he still didn’t trust me. Not fully. Little by little I was showing up for him more but I was still on thin ice, dangerously close to messing up again and irrevocably jeopardizing our relationship. Here I was holding the football in front of him saying that, this time, I’ve really changed, and with the awareness and desire to actually keep it there and support him, but instead, I was getting ready to pull it away and let him fall on his face for the millionth time. Lucy, the generations old bully, still lived inside me.

Crying, but knowing without a doubt what I needed to do, I called Delta and changed my flight. I was going to Madison. I called Charlie to let him know and heard the shock in his voice when he realized I was coming. I don’t really know if he ever believed that I would go.

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When did you learn how to dance like that…?

A week later, I was in Madison watching him perform. This time, nobody pushed him away from the stage. Instead, with his cowboy hat, incredible stage presence and exceptional dance moves that certainly did not come from anyone in our family, he owned it. I got to sit in the audience and watch him absolutely thrive. He put up with so much bullying, from me in his childhood, from the Hunsickers in adolescence, and from our mother his entire life. He hid for so long, afraid to take risks, put himself out there or do anything remotely creative. Here he was, though, starring in a show that he helped create, completely vulnerable and completely shining. I could not have been more grateful to be there for him. This moment was priceless, I could have spent hundreds of dollars more or countless more hours in the airport and it would still have been worth it. The football, while it wavered, stayed in place for the first time in my life and Charlie, though he ran to it cautiously, kicked it and stayed standing.


Next to the most talented cowboy I know!

My name is Lucy and it will always be Lucy but I will no longer follow in the footsteps of my mother or the girl in Charlie Brown. Like Lucy in the cartoon, I will strive to be sassy, to be bold, to speak my mind, but no longer do I choose to be a bully, nor will I allow myself to be bullied.

***Charlie has been working on some new projects lately check out his latest video The Recordist and his promo.

Next Stop: Emergency Room

“Va a estar cuatro de seis horas para ver el doctor,” the nurse said. She looked at me as if she was trying to scare me, daring me to stay in the emergency room and wait that long. I had no fever, my vitals were normal, and yet I felt horrible. Dammit, I thought, I’m in for a long day.

So far, the day had already been long. After fighting an illness for ten days with worsening, rather than improving symptoms, I decided it was time to get checked out. I had chest pain, a painful cough and a general shortness of breath. Though I had finally surrendered the fact that I was sick, I was still in a hurry to get better so I could get back to exploring. At this rate, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Carolyn, who was generously hosting me in Colombia and looking out for me when I was sick, and I had arrived to the emergency room in Bogotá nearly two hours before. She dropped me off so that I could start the registration process while she parked the car. Approaching the entrance, there was a security guard checking the IDs of the crowd of people congregated on the other side of the doors attempting to get into the waiting room. The guard resembled a bouncer in a nightclub, the kind of club that is strict on IDs with a long line and an exclusive VIP list. The inside of this exclusive club, though, was dirty, overcrowded and definitely not resembling anything of prestige like the crowd outside suggested. Even I, a patient, had a hard time getting through to check in. I had to explain that despite my healthier than most looking manner, I was sick and it was an emergency. I shoved my passport in the guard’s face, kept saying “estoy enferma,” and eventually, he reluctantly let me in. I gave the registration desk my information, took a triage number (there were 70 people ahead of me) and waited for Carolyn. I saw her, minutes later, arguing with the same security guard. I went up in an attempt to explain that I didn’t speak Spanish, which I’m sure he picked up on given my less than convincing plea to enter the ER, and that she was my translator. Had my language skills been better or had Carolyn’s Spanish been worse I might have been alone, and that terrified me.

Thankfully, after registering, two chairs became available. I sat next to Carolyn, holding my little paper slip like I was waiting at the DMV. This is one of the few times in my life that I can honestly say I would have preferred to be at there as it undoubtedly would have been a more pleasant experience. Around me, every inch of the ER was filled. There were crying babies, distressed mothers and elderly people, the majority of whom looked worse than I did. People were collapsed in the chairs and flooding the floor. We continued to sit watching the never-ending list of names appear on the screen above. Finally, over an hour later, the name Lucy Mac, as apparently my middle name, MacPhail, is unpronounceable in the Spanish language, was called. After the less than helpful encounter with the skeptical nurse in triage, Carolyn went to check with admission who assured us that the wait to see the doctor shouldn’t be that long.


The overcrowded emergency room waiting area

We spent a total of six hours waiting to get seen by the doctor. Initially, we stood, as all chairs were full, and the floor was covered with people, spilled drinks and trash. Eventually, though, I was feeling weak and Carolyn was tired, so we joined the masses on the floor. Carolyn went up repeatedly with my passport to check on my status in line. The number of people ahead of me fluctuated. First there were three, then two then one, then back to two, then three again. Apparently, cases were presented to the doctor in order of emergency and those with higher priority were able to jump the line. It made sense but I knew that despite feeling terrible, my lack of fever and unalarming triage exam meant that my turn would likely never come. Still, Carolyn kept going back. She told them how long we had been waiting, three hours, then four, then five and a half. Finally, the woman in admissions called the doctor to inform him that there was a sick American who had been waiting for hours. My name was called minutes later.

We went through another security guard and down a series of winding halls to the doctor’s office. I explained my symptoms, he asked me questions and Carolyn translated when I didn’t understand. He informed me that he thought that I had an infection and that something was obstructing my lower lungs. He read off a series of treatments and exams that I would go through before leaving, told me to find him if I got lost, and left Carolyn and me at the nurse’s desk. Finally, after a six-hour wait, I felt like I was in good hands.

Carolyn dropped me off at my first stop, respiration therapy, and then left briefly to check in with her son at home. Momentarily alone, I was hooked up to a giant nebulizer where I was given a series of three medications over the course of an hour. As soon as the oxygen tank was turned on and the nebulizer began I felt better. So much better. For the first time in over a week I felt like I could breathe. Though I had spent nearly eleven days in bed resting, this was the first time that I truly felt relaxed. With each exhale my pain faded and my breath got stronger as vapor flooded the room like a dragon breathing fire. It was freaking awesome.


Loving life during respiration therapy 

Every twenty minutes, the nurse switched out one medication for another, and while my lungs felt lighter and my breathing felt easier, I had no idea what was being put into my body. After an hour, a woman came into the room, looked at me and rattled off a long-winded question in Spanish. She spoke so fast that I didn’t understand and the machine was covering my nose and mouth so there was no way for me to respond. She looked at me like I was stupid and repeated the question until the nurse who had been helping me approached and explained that I was a foreigner. Immediately, her tone softened, and she explained, slowly, that we were going to get my IV.

I sat down in the small room and attempted to start a conversation as she prepared my IV. Carolyn hadn’t returned yet but I wasn’t concerned. All it was an IV and while I hated shots, I knew I could tough it out. “Estoy nerviosa,” I said, “no me gusta…” and then I realized I didn’t know how to say needles. She looked at me concerned and I smiled and tried to reassure her I was fine, even though my confidence in my medical Spanish skills without Carolyn’s presence was falling at the same rate that my heart rate was rising. The nurse couldn’t fine a vain the first time she tried, and then when she did, she couldn’t draw blood. I was poked and prodded, flinching every time the needle struck my body despite her constant scolding to “no se mueven”. Finally, my blood was drawn. She then inserted my IV and started injecting random liquids into it. My whole left arm was cold. I asked if that was normal, she shrugged yes, and continued to inject things through syringes into the tubes in my hand. At that point, my heart rate was through the roof. I started to feel weird sensations throughout my arm and, my overactive mind started to panic. She inserted the last one, held up the syringe, said dolor the Spanish word for pain, and pointed at my lungs. I didn’t put two and two together until minutes later, after settling in the IV treatment area where I met up with Carolyn, I had a laugh attack. I still don’t remember what was so funny. Actually, sitting in the small room with several very sick people around me, nothing was funny. I don’t know what medicine was running through my body as I didn’t fully understand what the nurse had been explaining to me at the time of insertion, but what I did know, and what Carolyn could evidently see, is that I was high. So there I was, the young foreign traveler, having a senseless laugh attack in the middle of the emergency room. So much for not standing out.


Getting injected with unknown medication

Apparently, at this point, my presence in the hospital was known. I was the extranjero, the foreigner. When Carolyn left the hospital to check in at home, she was warned by our doctor that they might not let her back in due to overcrowding and prohibition of patient guests in the ER. Upon her return, however, there was no trouble. She didn’t even need to explain herself as apparently she was already known as the extranjero’s translator. The front bouncer recognized her immediately and escorted her through the masses outside and the hectic waiting room to the second door into the actual emergency room.


Hanging out in the IV treatment room

We sat for two hours as I went through the IV treatment and then Carolyn went to find the nurse for my X-Ray. After a while, I went out to wait with her in the hall and realized that the Colombian Copa America soccer game was on in a small open room off of the hallway. Every seat was filled but I edged my way into the corner of the room. I was still hooked up to my IV, wrapped in cords and holding the fluid sack in my right hand, trying to avoid bumping the needle inserted in my left. The room overflowed with sick Colombians, hooked up to IVs just like me, coughing and wheezing but clearly more concerned with the game on the TV in front of them than their health. I was enthralled and momentarily more elated than I had been on the pain medication. The patients in the room were smarter than me. I wished I had thought of coming here sooner.


Colombian soccer games were one of the few things that would get me out of bed when I was sick

Reluctantly I left the game and went to get an X-Ray. Surprisingly that process was easy. Six hours after finally being admitted to see the doctor we returned to his office. He looked at my test results and rattled off a diagnosis. Viral bronchitis, no antibiotics. He gave me an inhaler to help with my breathing, anti-inflammatory medicine and pain medication. All were to manage the symptoms. The illness was viral so the healing I would have to do by myself.

Carolyn and I left and headed towards the billing station, my IV still hooked up to my hand. I was shocked to see that the bill was barely over $100 USD. In the states, a six-hour ER stay, series of tests and treatments would have cost thousands of dollars. Finally, after paying, the nurse removed my ID and at 11:00 p.m. we were able to go home.

Throughout the day I was grateful. Grateful to know in the States the process would have been faster and I wouldn’t have spent nearly six hour sitting on an emergency room floor, grateful that in all other health situations in my life I have been able to speak English and understand what was happening to me, grateful that, in general, I am healthy and get to avoid hospitals altogether.

Most importantly, though, I was grateful to Carolyn. She had provided me a safe place to stay in an unfamiliar city and welcomed me into her family home. She believed that I was sick and, though I had my doubts about getting it checked out, supported me. She understood the complicated situation of having health problems far from home and the challenge of navigating a foreign hospital and attempting to understand medical terms in a second language. She didn’t leave me, despite the long wait, her children, and countless other things she could have been doing. She stuck with me all day. I was grateful for her patience, her advocacy and her translation.

After 12 hours in the emergency room, I left completely elated, my lungs invigorated, and my mind intoxicated by yet another new experience, though given the long, mostly frustrating day, I am pretty sure I was still under the influence of the hospital drugs. I was comforted by the care of the ER doctors and a diagnosis and mistakenly under the impression that I would get better in a couple of days. Little did I know, I wasn’t even halfway there…