It started as a tickle in my throat. Just a little soreness, a small discomfort. I ignored it. Told myself there was nothing to worry about. Lots of people feel funny after flying, and I had taken a long trip over the Atlantic Ocean to spend a week in Europe with my best friends. (Our first trip all together!) No doubt I would feel better soon.
But after a week, I felt worse. Much worse. My sore throat turned into a head cold, which then wormed its way down and made a home for itself in my chest. I started coughing and hacking and sneezing in public – you know, that person who you shoot annoyed glances at and stand far, far away from.
Worst of all, my home was on the other side of the planet. I couldn’t curl up in the coziest spot of my couch with a book and a blanket and my dog. I couldn’t hide from the world until I felt human again. Instead, I was stuck in a stranger’s apartment, which my friends and I had rented in lieu of a hotel room. The city outside our windows was cold and unfamiliar.
Of course this was the one time I had decided to pack light and leave my “just in case” meds at home. At first I thought I could tough it out, but it quickly became apparent (to my friends, if not me) that I would need some pharmaceutical assistance. Best friend and co-columnist Angie Liang dragged me to a little grocery store in Berlin, where I used my smartphone to look up “cold medicine” in German and bought a box that had those words on it. Erkältungsmittel, if you’re wondering.
Unfortunately the Erkältungsmittel didn’t do much. We later translated the rest of the package and discovered that I had basically purchased a natural supplement full of thyme. (Apparently thyme is a very popular herb over there.) It didn’t even give me a good placebo effect.
At this point my condition was sliding from “a little under the weather” to “completely miserable and useless,” so I gave in and went to an actual pharmacy. (Throughout most of Europe, this is the only way you can get real medicine.) A kind-faced pharmacist supplied me with extra-strength cough drops and nasal spray, plus a few travel packs of tissue “as a gift.”
Now properly medicated, I was ready to vacation in full force — or so I thought. But my body was not quite up to the challenge. Fortunately my friends were careful not to let me over-exert myself. They made me bundle up against the chilly spring air. (Angie even forced me to wear her coat.) When I ran low on energy, they urged me back to the apartment for a nap. They rearranged our schedule, delaying the most interesting attractions until the end of our trip, giving me time to recover. They made hot tea and cooked for me. They even let me have the single bed so that I could toss and turn and cough and snore all night, in privacy and without reservation.
Nothing they did could cure me of my cold — only time would do that. But knowing that I had such good friends, who were so thoughtful and generous in taking care of me? That made me feel better in a different, possibly more important way.
During the second half of our trip, when I was too weak to explore Copenhagen with them, I had a lot of time to think about how lucky I was. Yes, even sitting alone in a strange apartment in a foreign city in the middle of the day, I felt lucky. Because I could look outside and see tall, narrow apartment buildings in all shades of pastel, their windows shuttered and trimmed in white. I could watch people whizzing by on their bicycles with fresh fruit and baguettes for dinner. I could hear children playing in the courtyard, and neighbors laughing as they went down the stairwell.
I had the privilege of exploring two beautiful, magical cities with two beautiful, magical friends. Being sick was nothing in the scheme of things.