Monday, May 21, 2007
isla del tesoro
By mid-March studying abroad began to stress me out, as I never expected to have to actually study. So for the first weekend since I arrived in Madrid in January, I stayed put to get some work done. On that Saturday my roommate, Lisa, and I decided to go to Isla Del Tesoro, a vegetarian restaurant, for lunch. Around two in the afternoon we headed over there in anxious anticipation of a healthy meal. After two weeks of an unwelcome chill in the air, my face appreciatively soaked in the fickle sun. Inside, the restaurant’s blue ceiling had a hanging fishnet tangled with twinkling lights that made me feel like I was underwater. The food was excellent. All was peaceful. Then we went to leave.
“Yeah, that was a door,” Lisa said to me after I ran face first into the clear glass. Within the 30 minutes it had taken us to eat lunch I had forgotten that there were two doors I needed to open before returning outside.
“Ow! I seriously think I just broke my nose,” I said as I stumbled out the second one. I put my hand up to my face and took it away. Red. “Shit!”
Lisa pointed out a farmacía across the street. I had both hands over my nose, every few seconds removing them to shake them dry. The beginnings of rain fell, and a polka-dotted mix of blood and water Jackson Polluck-ed my shirt. The look on the pharmacist’s face was enough to make me want to avoid seeing the damage, but she led me behind the counter to the employee bathroom and told me to wash myself in the sink. I saw my reflection in the mirror and, horrified, looked down and shoved my hands under the faucet before splashing my face several times. The nice lady handed me a paper towel and gave me a piece of gauze to press on the small cut on top of my nose. “Esta roto?” I asked her if she thought it was broken, and she said she didn’t know but that I needed to go to a hospital. We walked back to the front of the pharmacy. “Muchas gracias,” I said, embarrassed, as she bent down to wipe a ruby spot off the floor.
Lisa and I hopped in a cab that was parked right outside. I started laughing as I slouched against the car door, thinking about how I am, generally speaking, a klutzy individual, but this takes the cake. A few minutes later my whole face started throbbing, and I forgot what was funny. I closed my eyes, absorbing every bump in the road.
At the hospital I sat in a chair, while Lisa went into a different room to register my name with the receptionist. A man came in with his wife, and I watched through the window as he tried to reason with the same woman Lisa was talking to behind the Plexiglas. The receptionist repeatedly told him to wait in the other room. The couple pushed through the swinging doors and the woman sat in the chair next to mine, while her husband’s concerned face looked from his wife to a security guard.
“Feel her heart beat!” I guessed he said. Reluctantly, the other man did, but told him he was not a doctor.
I hoped I didn’t have priority over her just because I arrived two minutes prior. Our names were called at the same time and we parted ways at a fork in the hallway. I sat down, still holding the bloody gauze on and the paper towel under my nose. Lisa contemplated the English translation of the sign next to the large entranceway: OTORRINOLARINGOLOGIA.
“Can you smell that?” she asked me.
“Oh you’re lucky you can’t. It smells like shit.”
Only briefly did I panic that I might have lost one of my senses because it was then a man in blue scrubs called my name and saved me from my paranoia. I followed him through the entranceway and into an examining room. With a practiced mix of sign language, Spanish, and English I explained to the doctor at the desk that I ran into a door and made myself laugh a little, avoiding eye contact. A sympathetic smile crept across his face as he jotted some notes and two minutes later sent me back into the hall. He walked close behind me and told Lisa, who was acting as my translator, that I needed to go to Radiology to get my face X-rayed.
Lisa and I rounded a few corners and came to the third waiting area. A family stood somber around a bed on wheels, a man in the bed covered with tubes looked from person to person. Once we made eye contact. I couldn’t stand still and got really fidgety. I hate hospitals. I opted to sit down with my back to the family. I’ve been in their position too many times and know that it doesn’t help to have people with fewer problems watching you. From the other direction, a young man rolled in a wheelchair in which an ancient, shriveled woman sat uncomfortably. She looked like a skeleton trapped in a thin layer of brown skin. Her frail hands trembled beneath multi-colored gloves.
I jumped up and went into the X-ray room with the girl who called my name. She tried to tell me to do something, but in Spanish, and I looked back at her, confused. She pointed to where I should stand, then physically turned me to the side, put a magnetic board in my hand, and pushed my elbow up until the board was next to the side of my face. She took the picture then told me to wait outside. A few minutes later she brought out the developed image.
Back in the previous waiting area I got to examine the X-ray of my skull for a minute or two. “I can’t decide if this is neat or creepy,” I said to Lisa. “But it’s funny how far my lip sticks out past my teeth…Oh and there are two of my fingers where I was holding the board!...I hope I get to keep this. Best souvenir ever… ” A female nurse came and took the picture from me—it served as my golden ticket in to see the doctor.
Now what was I supposed to look at? Every two minutes a man with a bandaged nose and a protruding potbelly hobbled to the garbage can in the corner, made a nauseating hacking sound in his throat, and proceeded to spit up a downpour of blood into the neon green plastic bag.
“Look at that guy’s hair,” Lisa whispered and directed me with her eyes.
An older man stood beside the row of chairs across from us. The only hair he had grew like folded gray wings on the sides of his head, while some sprouted out his ears. The remaining bald top reflected the florescent lighting, and his worried eyes watched his seated wife; her nose was busy ruining a pink hand towel. The man next to her sat with his head back, holding an ice pack to his bloody nose. There was so much blood flowing in that one small hallway, I imagined all of us paddling out of the hospital in a red river on a voyage to find the world’s biggest Band-Aid.
I need to get out of here, I muttered under my breath.
And like an answered prayer, my name was called. I trotted into the same room with the doctor from earlier. He had me sit in a large examining chair, then stuck his head out the door to call down the hall for Lisa to resume her job as a Spanish-English dictionary. With gentle fingers he squeezed the sides of my nose. This made the wound reopen, but that aside, he repeated “Buena nariz” to me several times. I never considered my nose to be “good,” but I hoped that meant it wasn’t broken.
“Tranquila,” he said in response to my flinching, as he came towards my face with a miniature metal speculum. He stuck it up each nostril for one final check, then looked over the X-ray briefly.
While the doctor walked across the room to retrieve an array of bandages, the man with the winged hair appeared in the doorway and stuttered that his wife was waiting to be seen with the same problem. I looked at him and tried to apologize with my eyes when the doctor told him he had to wait his turn. Sometimes I don’t want to endure getting old, I thought.
I drew my attention back to the medic as he approached me with his handful of goodies. First he put a piece of medical tape horizontal over my cut, then a white thin spongy strip running vertical, making a cross. Then the best part—a huge contraption that doubled as a nose brace and a bandage. No need to go on a search for the world’s biggest Band-Aid anymore—it was on my face!
He sat down at the desk and explained everything to Lisa. My nose was not broken. Amazing. I was to keep the bandages on for four or five days and take 400 mg of Ibuprofen every eight hours. No problem. That I understood. My mom’s a pharmacist, but with all the drugs she deals with, her cure-all has always been Ibuprofen, He handed Lisa the prescription, a sheet explaining the signs of a possible concussion, and the X-ray of my skull.
“The X-ray,” Lisa began, pointing to the three items. “How do you say ‘keep’?” she turned to me and asked. I shrugged. “Guardar!” she declared. She asked if I could keep the X-ray. He said everything was mine. “You get to keep it!” she said excitedly.
As we gave the receptionist my release form to be stamped, I glanced down at the little information Lisa had given her an hour prior. My name, my birthday, the address we were currently living at…
“Sexo: Male?!” I exclaimed.
“The ‘M’ stands for ‘Mujer’ dumbass!” Lisa scolded.
“Or Moron,” I added.
We took a cab back to our apartment and tried to sneak me past Maria, our Señora, so she wouldn’t freak out and start speaking speedy Spanish. We successfully got me into our room and shut the door.
And then the inevitable: Knock, knock.
Lisa had already climbed out the window to smoke a cigarette on the balcony, so I opened the door a crack.
“Don’t look at my face,” I told Maria, attempting to hide the monstrosity with my hand, and let her into the room.
Her concern lasted only momentarily before she went on to rant about how every Tuesday she is going to clean our room and it doesn’t matter that we’re students, we still need to live in an orderly fashion. Then she looked at my face and laughed. I rolled my eyes. Nice to know what she takes seriously.
Jackie, our other roommate, and I joined Lisa on the balcony. They lit a joint to share.
“Man, if I was going to smoke pot any time, it should probably be now.” But I didn’t. Instead I gave Lisa a thank-you hug and left the apartment to call home and tell my parents another tale about their clumsy older daughter.
“Were you drunk?” my mom asked.
“No!” I said, offended at first. “Actually…I wish I had been. At least that’s an excuse! But hey the good news is, apparently all urgent care in this country is free. So we don’t have to worry about insurance or anything like that.”
That night I reached to turn off the lamp next to my bed and realized my X-ray was still on top of it. I had put it there to protect it from clumsy feet, but forgot about it when I turned the light on to read an hour earlier. I grabbed for it only to find a large brown circle where the heat had almost burnt a hole through the film. I managed to destroy the only thing worth showing from the whole adventure. A perfect ending to an imperfect day.
A week later Lisa returned to Isla Del Tesoro.
“You are never going to believe what they did,” she said to me when she returned from lunch.
I had no guesses.
“They put a fucking Bull’s-eye on the door!”
And sure enough, next time I walked past there I saw the large red, white, and blue circle, and it was exactly even with the tip of my nose.