Leaving your Heart (or Appendix) in Madrid

While abroad, I encountered surely one of the greatest challenges that could have come up for a study abroad student. I thought everything would run smoothly during my time here in Madrid, but life always throws curve balls when you least expect it.

In short, I got appendicitis. I remember walking to the private hospital nearby because the pain wouldn’t go away and I knew something was really wrong. I walked in and immediately felt culture shock because I could only speak a little Spanish. How on earth was I going to explain my situation in another language? Luckily, the ER had several translators who helped me along the way. I also had some friends tag along to help me understand certain words and communicate my own questions to the doctors and nurses. I had to stay in the hospital for two days after my appendectomy, which wasn’t too horrible because all of my friends from the CEA program stopped by to visit and make sure I was alright and the hospital staff and medical attentiveness were amazing.

Some of my friends brought me a five star meal while I was in the hospital!

I wish I could tell you that everything from here on out got easier but, little did I know, it was just beginning. I was released two days after my surgery and was sent home with instructions on how to take care of my stitches and antibiotics I would need to take. My brother came to help take care of me while I was recovering, which was very helpful. He helped get me situated back into life, but it was still difficult for me to go to school because I was pretty weak.

A few cards from my roommates to help me feel a bit better about being in the hospital

Six days later, I wasn’t getting better and ended up back in the ER with an infection. This turned into another week in the same exact hospital room. This was definitely frustrating. I was confused, angry, upset, and sad. I did not understand why this was happening to me and why it had to happen, of all times, while I was abroad. I was missing everything: meeting new people, furthering my relationships with friends, missing school. This experience shattered my idea of what study abroad was supposed to be: a glamorous time, full of adventures, the best days of my life.

My week in the hospital was challenging, every nurse I had spoke little to no English, so I was really put to the test. There were times I got extremely frustrated because I couldn’t communicate with the nurses how I was feeling or ask detailed questions about my situation. I was behind in school, talking with family, I missed out on a trip with my program, and my entire eating habits were completely out of whack. I also couldn’t walk around the city as well as I used to because all my muscles had fatigued while I was in the hospital. I felt like my body had hit re-start and I had to built everything back up again.

This was my hospital room in Madrid (my point of view)

My actual meals while being in the hospital, Spanish style!

But I came to realize, that these challenges were actually making me stronger and helping me learn a pretty valuable lesson. I was forced to practice my Spanish with my nurses and try to speak with them. I had to get out of my comfort zone and also trust them. The moment I knew that a language barrier could not fully build a wall between my nurses and me is when I had about three different needles poking out of my arms. I remember laying in the hospital room feeling homesick and not understanding what was going on and I just started to cry. My nurse next to me looked at me and said, “Please don’t cry, it will be ok,” and she wiped the tears from my eyes. These few words are exactly what I needed to hear in my own language to know that I was cared for and that I would be alright.

Not a bad view

During that week, I was able to talk with some of my friends back home work as nurses currently and I told them what was happening to me and what I was going through. I had a friend specifically tell me a story in which she had a patient who did not speak one word of English. My friend wanted so desperately to just speak to them and tell them what was going on, but couldn’t. She reassured me that coming to Spain in order to learn and practice the Spanish language will be so beneficial for my career in the medical field. This put everything into perspective: me being a patient in a hospital in a foreign country and not knowing how to speak the language with the nurses etc, and one of my future patients being in a foreign country and not knowing how to speak the language. I know what it feels like now to feel confused and helpless in a foreign country where not everyone understands you. This experience in the hospital and being unable to communicate with the doctors and nurses really showed me the importance of learning the Spanish language (or any language). It reassured me that my purpose in Spain was much greater than what I thought and that a small setback in the hospital needed to teach me and open my eyes to the value of knowing a foreign language.

You’ll experience a lot of unexpected circumstance during your time abroad, maybe some as intense as being in a foreign country’s hospital. But know, there are so many resources for you: translators and your CEA directors are there to help. The friends you meet while abroad will be right by your side to help you through whatever you face. The langage barrier is frustrating but is truly meant to teach you. Be patient, have faith and you’ll be alright, I promise.

Lauryn H, is the Fall 2017 MOJO Blogger in Madrid, Spain. She is currently a Senior studying Exercise Science at Belmont University.

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