It took a long time for me to tell this story. But after a year and a half, I think it’s time to share. As a travel blogger, it’s important to be transparent about the good, the bad, and the ugly of traveling. The situation I’m about to detail for you hindered my travel and my travel writing a bit but it also made me stronger as a human being. My desire to write this past year wasn’t as strong as it was when I first started and hopefully by the end of this blog post you’ll understand why. This is a long and graphic story so readers beware.
Something happens to you when you get sick while traveling. All of a sudden, traveling doesn’t feel as adventurous, spontaneous, and exciting as it did when you first started. It feels scary and uncertain, like taking back an ex after he cheated. You love him, but your heart is broken by the betrayal. In my case, the betrayal was getting sick while I was in South Africa. I don’t know how I got sick. It could’ve been the lady who sat next to me on the way to Abu Dhabi and placed a bag of her bloody tissues (from her nosebleeds) on my leg while I slept or the coughing man across the aisle, on the way to Johannesburg.
Side Note: Traveling is not as glamorous as the photos make it seem.
All I know is, I got sick on the second night that I was in Johannesburg. We were headed back from a wonderful dinner, eating different meats from The Carnivore restaurant when I felt an itch in my throat and a chill. That night, I took a shower in hopes that I would feel better, but I got worst. There was a small chance that I caught the flu. As sick as I felt, I pushed through. I didn’t want the opportunity of being in South Africa, an absolute dream destination, to pass me by.
Unbeknownst to me, you should never fly on a plane when you’re congested and sick. I had an upcoming flight to Capetown and I had to take it. While the flight began to land, my ears felt like it was exploding. The pain was excruciating. I thought I would be able to swallow and get my hearing back, but after we landed it never did come back. I had one great night in Cape Town, unable to hear in one ear but amazing nonetheless. As soon as I got off the plane, I headed to Mzoli’s which you can read about here. From there, my friend and I explored Capetown, had Cuban cigars and just lived it up. We were in South Africa for God Sakes.
The next morning, we hiked Table Mountain. Halfway up the mountain (ie. 1500 feet) I felt like I was going to die. Doing what no one else in the history of this mountain has ever done, I decided to walk back down. I was getting sicker by the minute. I asked my Uber driver, who I flagged down randomly, (he literally picked me up from the side of the road… using hindsight I understand how crazy this was) to take me to a pharmacy. I picked up some medicine in hopes that it would alleviate my sickness. When I got back to the hotel, I FaceTimed my friend who told me I looked terribly sick and urged me to see a doctor.
After our conversation, I rested but soon enough, we had another tour scheduled to visit the Western Cape and Boulders Beach, home of the African Penguins. In the tour van, my body continued to grow weak. I tried to keep up with the others, but I was dying inside. When the tour was over, I was scheduled to meet up with my other friend who was staying with me during the trip. We had a new hotel that we would be staying at and I said my goodbyes to my friends, not knowing I would never be the same again. When I arrived at the new hotel, I asked the front desk to get me a doctor ASAP. I almost collapsed at their desk. Someone helped me to my room and I took a shower because my fever was getting worse. I felt like I was on fire. Upon my friend’s arrival, he urged me to go to a doctor. The concierge told me the price for the doctor to come to me and it was out of control. I planned on just seeing how I felt the next morning.
By now, I was in South Africa for a week, and I had three more days to go. When I woke up the next morning, my pillow was covered in blood and mucus. It seemed like overnight my ears started to drain. I’d never been so frightened in my life. I didn’t even know your ears could bleed (ears actually can’t bleed, the blood was coming through my ears from somewhere else, I later learned). It was time for my friend to take me to the hospital. My hearing was gradually deteriorating and I was so weak my friend had to carry me. When we arrived at the first hospital, there were hundreds of faces staring at me. Some were ailing in pain, others sat patiently, waiting for their number to be called. We walked into a small room where a frantic doctor and nurse, overwhelmed by the crowd of people waiting to be treated, told me they could not help me. They said they had so many other sick people and there was no way they would get to me. These are the times, you appreciate America and its health care system. As messed up as we think it is, other countries are far worse.
I walked out of there so faint, that I couldn’t stand on my own, let alone try to find another hospital. My friend took me back to the hotel and went on a search for doctors, pharmacies, and anyone with knowledge that could help me. I continued to sleep and my ears continued to drain blood. It was absolutely disgusting. My friends back home suggested that I go to the U.S Embassy in South Africa and tell them about my situation. Thank God it didn’t have to come to that.
After all of his research, my friend finally found a doctor for me. This doctor was very different than the one that I went to the day before. His practice was located in a very upscale neighborhood in Cape Town. To put it into context, my friend and I were the only black faces in the vicinity. The doctor told me that I had a severe ear infection and that my eardrum ruptured while landing into Capetown. This is where I learned that flying while congested is very serious. I honestly had no clue. He put me on meds to hold me over until I got back to the States.
I remained in bed for the remainder of my stay. My ears gradually started to get worst. I was beginning to lose hearing in both ears (only hearing the mucous swishing inside). Walking made me feel dizzy and nauseous. My friend had to carry me everywhere or walk very slow. I vomited every 10-steps. I also had to keep cotton balls in my ears and replaced them every 5-minutes because of the draining.
Traveling back to the States was a nightmare. That 20-hour flight with a layover in Abu Dhabi was hell on earth. Sometimes I thank God for his mercy over my life because I wouldn’t wish what I experienced on my worst enemy. When we finally landed in New York, I went straight to bed and the next morning my mom rushed me to Urgent Care. I couldn’t walk without throwing up and I also walked very slow, like a baby taking his/her first steps. I still had a fever and was uncertain about my fate. Eventually, the doctors gave me strong medicine, stronger than what I took in South Africa and referred me to an Ear doctor.
By this point, I could hear nothing around me. If people screamed, I couldn’t hear them. When I went to the ear doctor I learned that 50% of my hearing was gone. They did hearing tests on both ears and the verdict was bad. The doctors worried that they would have to operate if my ears didn’t get better. After a week, my hearing was still gone. The medicine they put me on was not strong enough. Before his last resort, which was surgery to drain my ears, the doctor put me on steroids.
After 2-weeks, I started to feel slightly better. I was still struggling to hear, but my ears gradually began to pop, and when I say gradually I mean gradually (to this day they still pop and I do not have 100% of my hearing back, probably around 90% but I praise God every day for what I do have). After 3-weeks of being out of work, I was finally able to return. Everyone couldn’t believe my story, nor could I. My boss was nice enough to pay for me to get to work and go home in a taxi every day because he knew I still had trouble walking and balancing. Finally, one day, I could hear clearer than I did the day before and each day after that, it progressively got better.
There was one specific time that stuck out to me the most. I was on the elevator just coming from the ear doctor, in which he gave me bad news, that I could not go back to work and the initial medicine he put me on did not work for me. I was sad and defeated but also afraid to go home by myself because I couldn’t hear anyone if they talked to me (my aunt who accompanied me to the doctor had to go to work). I put in my headphones to give off the façade that I was listening to music. When I got into my building elevator, instinctively, I took off the headphones and not thinking, stood by the floor buttons. Someone asked me to press a floor for them. I didn’t hear. They asked again and I still couldn’t hear. So I pointed to each button until the person, bewildered by my actions, said yes, I’d chosen the correct floor 19. I cried when I got home. This is how deaf people feel every day. They’re present, but they are missing such a vital sense and others might judge them as being incapable or non-functioning. I cried because of the privilege I’ve had for so long, not even questioning what someone who is deaf might be feeling, how alone and isolated they might be. I became more aware. I became more grateful.
I finally felt like myself again exactly a week before my 27th birthday. I decided to celebrate like it was 1999 (literally, I had a 90s brunch) because what I’d been through was grounds for a party. God is good. I now understand that this is something I had to go through. It was humbling. It made me more compassionate. And believe it or not, even though I couldn’t hear the outside world, I heard and talked to God the whole time. He knew what he had in store for me and how he was going to change my life, he just wanted me to be still and wait for him. I thank him for this time in my life. As scary as it was, he spared my life so that I could tell my story today; a story of resilience in the midst of adversity and strength. It was hard not hearing, but I learned so much during that period.
Getting sick and losing my hearing while traveling changed my life in a way that I’d never expected it to and being able to share this story now, helps me to heal. A lot of people ask me if I would ever go back to South Africa, and the answer is yes, in a heartbeat. I love everything about South Africa; the culture, the people, I can go on and on. I don’t blame South Africa. I blame my ignorance of flying when you are sick or congested. Be very aware of this and avoid it if possible. Now, whenever I travel, I make sure I am prepared for anything and I mean anything.