October 17, 2008

Riga, Latvia

My first stop in Riga? The hostel (barely). My second stop in Riga? The pharmacy (barely). My third stop in Riga? The hospital (gladly)…. welcome to Riga, Andriana!
After six months of tremendous traveling health, with no infections, stomach-flues, parasites, broken bones or even fatigue, I found myself recalling, all too often, the unrealistic “I am indestructible” feelings of my youth which were brought to an abrupt halt at the Vilnius bus station when I lazily lifted my heavy winter pack with my upper shoulders and not my full body and heard the lower vertebrae of my back make a sound that would make Kellog’s company proud…Snap, Crackle and Pop, baby!
Not exactly the position you want to be in when traveling alone and about to sit on a bus for five hours, just enough time for all the muscles to stiffen into stone, and arrive in a new city, whereupon, you will have to smother your new, incredibly painful injury with a super-size-me backpack and walk about a mile to the hostel. It was either pure survival skills or a more humbled view of personal suffering after seeing it globally on such grand scales, that I managed to get out of my seat and almost fall down the bus stairs, walking while still in sitting position because my back wouldn’t calculate any new movements, and throw what seemed like the weight of the world on my crippled spine and hobble, step by painful step down cobblestone streets, to my accommodations. Luckily there was a pharmacy down the street that I could get my rickety body to (barely). Unluckily I was in a country where you needed a prescription for aspirin, it seemed, and the only thing the Pharmacist could offer was a useless cooling cream. Luckily that Pharmacist happened to be Stella; a young and compassionate Latvian girl who, after calculating the expression of shear pain on my face, asked to leave her post at the store so she could walk me, arm in arm, down the street to the doctor, who had unfortunately already gone home for the weekend by the time we arrived. The only option was the hospital and I agreed quickly, dreaming of the moment I would finally be swallowing some type of pill to relax the muscles a bit. Stella escorted me to the taxi and told the driver where to take me and when she opened her own wallet to pay him I almost fell down in my spot, not from the injury, but from the amount of human kindness being directed toward me from this woman I had just met; while I had my own money, Stella’s act of good will comforted me for hours through the long and empty corridor’s of the old Latvian hospital.
My diagnosis was fairly simple – I threw out my back, but the extra careful doctor on my case wanted to make sure that I didn’t have a slipped disc that, in her estimation, would need surgery and so, she came to my bedside with her recommendation, “The x-ray good, but it better to get MRI. Riga people wait much time for this, but if in hospital maybe less time for you. Stay here in hospital weekend and Tuesday we hope for scan.” Being that it was only Friday and I already had suffered this same injury a few years back and knew it just needed some rest to get better, I replied, “You are kind. Write paper for drugs and if not better Tuesday will come back to hospital and wait for MRI. Now drugs good. Thank you.”
Being pretty much immobile for a few days was easier with the two new friendships I was lucky to have made at the hostel. Balraj and Christina, refreshingly close to me in age, were as helpful as they were interesting and the three of us formed a little muskateer pack that remained in place for the rest of my stay. With Christina, an American-Polish-Australian med student debating residency in Latvia and Balraj, the Indian-British local Latvian expat, acting as our guide and also, at times my sherpa, lugging me on his back over the uneven streets, I was able to see most of Riga from a comfortable stationary aerial viewpoint at the Skybar while nursing warm mulled wine and good conversation as the setting sun cast it’s electric light on the brightly colored roofs of the city. While I managed to visit the close-by Occupational Museum documenting this county’s years under Russian rule, tour a bit of the old city and hobble downstairs to the restaurant below the hostel when I was hungry, I spent most of my time displaying my distorted body in the common room and staring at the mattress of the top bunk while I rested on my back for a good five days. But, when surrendering expectations of what you want things to be like in your head and accepting reality as it is, I let my fast pace of travel and desire to tackle all the sights of Riga melt away and instead found a simple peace in an itinerary packed with rest and friendship.

1 comment:

sand said...

hmmm, well at least you were not out on the outer Mongolian banks six days on a donkey's back from medical help. Find your blessing where you can. The photo on the gurney is a keeper. More mulled wine please.

xo Sand


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