Sick While Abroad

Lemme just tell you, you have not fully experienced living abroad until you’ve caught the flu or some kind of virus overseas during the winter---your first winter. Of course, there are worse things that could happen (like contracting MERS) but just hear me out for a second.

Alright, so I’ve had mild symptoms for one day, and then I finally get it, a fever. It’s probably a cold. I had been home just lying on my bed trying to sleep, but my body was having chills. Okay, so it’s below freezing outside; I just need to turn up the heat. I turn up the floor heating and put on sweats and a jacket. Once my body hits a certain temperature, the virus gets killed, and I’m back to normal in no time right? Wrong. I thought I knew how to play the fever game. I was drinking lots of fluids, but I was making my room too hot. How was I supposed to know what was too hot!? I didn’t have a thermometer. My body doesn’t even know if it’s hot or cold and my room’s heating consul is in Celsius. I’m American, and I was still trying to get the hang of it. 0°C was the freezing point and if I set my floor heating past 30°C, it could kill elderly people. Despite all of this confusion, I had one thing to be happy about.

This good ol’ ‘murican brought over some top quality pharmaceuticals from the US of A. I popped two generic ibuprofen liquid caps after I munched on some bread and in 30 mins I was completely normal. You know what that called for? Re-establishing my social life of course. I needed to get some fresh air and human interaction. I met a friend, ate, grabbed coffee, chatted, and then cabbed back home feeling accomplished for the day. When I got home, I took off my coat and sat down in front of my laptop. That's when the meds wore off and I was back to where I started.

Back to shivering in my bed.

I had two more hours until I could take more meds. It felt like a day. My head was pounding so hard I didn’t wanna open my eyes, and my body was shivering so much I was throwing every extra sheet I owned on top of me. I wanted to fall asleep so that I could skip out on the pain for a bit, but no, that wasn’t an option. My “time to take medicine” alarm goes off, and my zombie self arises from the bed and hobbles over to the sink. This time, I was going to try Nyquil. That would definitely make me sleep and ease the pain. I finish the last bit of pastry I had left and take the meds. Waiting for it to kick in, I retreat to my bed and realize my phone is going off.

“Keoni”
“Where are you”
“Come out”
“Where are you”
“Hellooo”

It was from my Korean friends. Apparently, a bunch of them were free and about to meet up for dinner. Now, usually, as an extrovert myself, this is the point where I would pull myself together and head out, but I already overdosed on ibuprofen to head out for lunch that day, and I now felt unable to get out from under my covers until my Nyquil kicked in. I told them I was sick and knocked out. One hour later I wake up shaking again. Really Nyquil? Really homie? Apparently that was as long as the Nyquil was able to knock me out for and it was still a long time until morning. Heck, it was a long while until midnight. So, I got on my laptop and did what any other guy my age would do if he can’t sleep.

I streamed South Park episodes. I could barely hold my shivering self together to watch it, so there was a cycle: listen to it with my eyes closed and head on my desk, sit up for a minute to watch for a bit, head down, repeat. The clock strikes 11pm, and my phone goes off again. This time they are phone calls. One friend calls, then another. Usually this would be tempting. All my friends are having a great time and they want me to come out. But tonight, it was not in the least bit appealing. I didn’t even want to open my door let alone go outside in the cold.

The rest of the night was painful. Tossing and turning. Shaking. Drinking water. Repeat. I’m pretty sure I boiled my brain and deep fried my organs because I had no concept of relative temperature, a lot of clothes on and my room was HOT. I barely slept all night but the next day when I got up in the morning I knew that I had to see a doctor.

Best freaking decision ever.


I nibbled on some food at home, popped in some ibuprofen and walked over to the campus health clinic. Within minutes the doctor came to the conclusion that the fever is my body reacting to tonsillitis. She prescribed meds to take for three days. The doctors visit was free because I was a student, and the charge for my three days worth of medication was 5,000 won ($4.50). Four dollars and fifty cents. America, please.

I grabbed dinner with a friend and then took my meds 30 minutes after my meal, just as the doctor said. Only an hour or so after dinner I was feeling better. I guess Korean medicine isn’t weak after all? That’s what I thought until I woke up at midnight. When my eyes opened and saw the time I think I just started swearing. Swearing at the universe. Another sleepless night under these conditions was going to be horrible. I waited and waited. But no, sleep never came. I was running out of options. I was sleep deprived and I had to go to my internship the next morning. After reading a bunch of advice from nurses online, I developed my plan of action. I set up my laptop so that I could watch it from my bed. Normalized the room temperature, took a shower, changed into some loose fitting clothes that weren’t too hot, put my blanket on the side, and found a good light sheet to snuggle under. Most importantly, I filled up a pot with some cold water and got two small towels to dip in and apply to my forehead, back of neck, or body.

I found a site that streamed The Simpsons, fluffed my pillows, arranged the pot of cold water, towels, and everything else I needed next to my bed and got comfortable  with a cool wet towel on my forehead. I wasn’t shivering relentlessly, my headache was somewhat bearable, and the endless episode marathon was actually making me nod off. At last, I fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up feeling a little bit better than the day before. I dragged myself to work and took my medicine throughout the day after eating. Little by little my symptoms became less severe and I was able to fully recover. Although I don’t think I can watch The Simpsons or South Park without having painful flashbacks, I’m proud to say I’ve survived the wrath of a virus during my first winter overseas. Getting sick while facing difficulties such as language barriers, unfamiliar medical facilities/products and having no parents or family to support you---it’s not ideal. To whomever is overseas this winter, eat healthy and exercise to keep your immune system strong, and may the odds be ever in your favor.