Thursday, November 26, 2009


Today I bid a fond farewell to the game of “this time last year I was…” I had planned on spending my Cambodian thanksgiving eating roast chicken and maybe an apple pie with friends. Instead my only distinct memory of Thanksgiving Day 2008 is of waking up at 2 am and being flooded with relief seeing my dad walk in. The rest is a blur of that six days in the hospital in Singapore: IVs, the attacks on Mumbai and the take-over of the Thai airport on CNN, the cleaning lady who helpfully pointed out that my legs were the color of beet root, the nurses who were always trying to get me to take Tylenol (which, like pretty much everything I ate, I would throw up 15 minutes later) and the doctors who kept promising that my condition would dramatically improve in a day or two.

I spent the month of December reassuring people – that while I had been seriously miserable, I hadn’t been seriously sick, and that dengue would have no lasting effects, that I was fine and that what I experienced was far less dramatic than what most people picture for a med evac. I was so focused on trying to keep a brave face that the emotional force of it had to sneak up on me.

The truth is, I was rooting to be evacuated. Even before I got sick I was at the lowest point of my six month internship, tired and dreading having to balance host family politics in expressing my gratitude and saying my goodbyes. I felt a wave of relief when I heard that my platelets were just too low to stay in Phnom Penh, that I would be on my way to Singapore less than six hours after going in to the SOS clinic. I thought that because I had been so eager to leave Cambodia it wouldn’t hurt. I was surprised, then, to end up in tears trying to talk about the end of my internship, and to have recurring dreams that I was back in Cambodia but couldn’t find the neighborhood I had lived in.

While my fever was over before I got back to the US, dengue lasted longer. After a month of Harry Potter and West Wing I had recovered enough to function at school, but it was months before my physical energy caught up with the rest of me. My hair started falling out in earnest in February, in sufficient quantity for my mother to suggest buying a wig. If I pushed too hard during my last semester I would start to taste the same exhaustion that got me wheelchairs all the way back to Chicago.

Laying in my hospital bed a year ago, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to predict how I’d be spending this Thanksgiving – taking an Amtrak train to central California, with dirt still under my fingernails from harvesting veggies for Thanksgiving dinners for hundreds of people. I can only guess at what part of the world I’ll be in this time next year. But I’m thankful.

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