I've been all out of sorts for the last two weeks. Totally discombobulated.
Here's what happened: I was enjoying a normal Canadian Christmas with my family. Lots of snow, negative double digits in Celsius, familiar holiday stuff. Then, I hopped on a plane for just three hours and found myself in tropical, Socialist, stuck-in-the-late-1950s Cuba. Startling, right? There's no way Cuba should be only a three hour flight from Toronto. It should require some kind of steam-powered, time-travelling ocean liner to get there.
Cuba was very disorienting. Besides the sudden hot weather, it was quite a shock to move too quickly between the environs of our all-inclusive resort and the regular Cuban world outside. Crumbling buildings vs. glitzy tourist hotels. Food rationing vs. all-you-can-eat buffets. What a trip.
Then, somehow during this balmy Varadero Beach vacation, I got really sick. The slight cold I brought from Toronto turned nasty and my asthma got involved. My lungs were full of gunk, I could hardly breathe and I lost my voice. I went to the Varadero Clinica Internactional to see a doctor. The doctors in Cuba are famously well trained but, they are lacking the supplies and technology most of us are used to. The doctor checked me over and sent me for an old-school chest X-ray. "Bronchial infection, inflammation", was the diagnosis drawn from the blotchy, shadowy image of my lungs. She prescribed me three medications but first, asthma drugs and an I.V.
Did you know Che Guevara was also an asthmatic? I'd like to think I've now experienced the same vintage asthma treatment Che would have had. I'm used to being given Ventolin via a plastic mask with the diffusing oxygen coming from an unknown source built into hospital walls. At the Cuban clinic, the nurse put the Ventolin in a glass bulb which was then directly attached to an industrial-sized oxygen tank. The delicate glass bulb has to be held at a particular angle just beneath the mouth in order for the medicine to vaporize properly. I had some trouble doing this because I was simultaneously being given an I.V. Remember what I said about supplies being lacking in Cuban hospitals? It seems that there's a shortage of I.V. bags and tubes but there's no shortage of trained nurses. The I.V. was manually administered by Nurse Jose, who loomed over me with an enormous needle. Yeah, picture a needle with the same girth as a beer bottle. With an even hand, he injected the I.V. fluid at the same rate as a drip bag. Nurse Jose's skills aside, this hurt a lot. The needle tip was huge, and thanks to my tiny veins, he had to inject both of my arms. Ow. Ten days later, the bruises are still visible. At one point, while I was being injected with the giant needle as I struggled to breathe deeply from the fragile bulb of Ventolin, I started to feel very faint. I couldn't say anything since I had lost my voice and I don't speak Spanish, anyway. I was going to pass out and there was nothing I could do about it. Luckily, Jose noticed I had started to slide off the chair and he brought me 'round with a blast of pure oxygen straight up the nose.
Here I am, definitely not at my best, with Enfirmiere Jose, who administered the I.V. and prevented me from fainting onto the tiles. They let me take the X-ray home and it is by far the best souvenir I have from Cuba.
We got home from Cuba very late last Sunday night. On Monday, I stayed home sick - I slept the whole day. Tuesday, I went in to the office which was pointless because I was not up to it yet. I saw another doctor and learned that I had bronchitis but the original problem may have been pneumonia. Wednesday, while the city was topped up with more snow, I stayed home and slept the whole day again. I've now used more sick days in the first week of 2009 than I used in all of 2008. Thursday and Friday, I worked but the two day week was a real confusion. The weekend came as a surprise. Now that I've had an almost-normal weekend, I'm feeling much better and I'm ready to start off this Monday as if it were the new year. Actually, my new super-powerful corticosteroid inhaler has made me very foggy headed and stupid. I'm still bewildered and befuddled by everything, but at least I can breathe.