This story could also be titled ‘the time I got a HUGE needle in my butt’ or ‘the reason I became a vegetarian.’ Any of these would work, but, I’m going with the hospital theme. This, my friends, is the tale of one of my weirdest, most terrifying travel experiences that has now become an absolutely hilarious travel story…
It’s 2012, Matt and I are living in London, and have booked ourselves on a tour through Turkey. We’re broke, as per usual, travelling on a shoestring. So the group tour is absolutely perfect for our budget. The first few days of the tour go really, really well. It’s one of those rare situations where everyone on the tour is actually really cool! You don’t mind who you sit with, everyone’s really friendly and lovely and the whole group are getting on like a house on fire. It’s awesome!
After a particularly long day on the bus, we arrive in Kusadasi. Over the last few days, we’ve been working our way south through Turkey, from Istanbul, toward the coastline. As promised, Kusadasi is beautiful. It’s a gorgeous seaside town and our hotel is right on the water. It’s quite run down and there’s no water view from the room, but having signed up for a budget broke-ass tour, we can’t complain. We run up to our room, throw our stuff down, then scurry back to meet up for dinner in the hotel restaurant.
I grab a plate and dig in. At this stage, I’m still a rabid meat eater, so I throw a few pathetic-looking salad leaves on my plate and a broccoli floret for good luck, then pile on the meat. Chicken? Yep. Beef? Yes, thanks. Lamb? Mmmm, well, it looks a little suss but…. it’s on the buffet and I’m starving so… YES! Get on my plate, lamb.
We all sit down to eat dinner and have a few drinks. I finish my plate and lean back in my chair, full to the brim, contemplating undoing the top button of my jeans. Everyone decides it’s time to drink and starts ordering large amounts of beer and cocktails. With my full belly, I decline. It’s only 6pm but I’m suddenly exhausted, the day on the bus finally catching up to me. We have an early 8am departure tomorrow and I don’t want to be hungover on the bus, so I tell Matt I’m going upstairs for a shower, some Foxtel movies and an early night.
As soon as I get to the room I start to feel a bit funny. It starts with chills. My body goes ice cold from the inside out and my skin prickles with goosebumps. I can feel every hair standing on end and I’m freezing cold inside but sweating and hot outside. I start to shiver. At this point, I realise I’m probably in for a night glued to the toilet seat. As a frequent traveller, it’s not really a shock anymore and while I know it’s going to suck, I know it’ll pass and I’ll be okay in a few hours.
My fever rages and I’m in and out of the bathroom while my poor body tries to purge itself of the demon bug that has infiltrated our borders. As time goes by I feel worse and worse. I try to break my fever with cold showers and turn the air-con to stun. It’s the worst fever I’ve experienced and without realising it, the dehydration kicks in and I lose control. I’m delirious and confused and give in to my fever. I bundle up in blankets, put the heater on and lay in bed shivering.
Some hours later Matt rolls in and sees a very sickly Phoebe rolled up in the blankets like a plump, pale sushi roll. I’m totally out of it and can’t explain what’s wrong, only to say, “I’m cold.” Inexperienced with these things, poor Matt jumps into bed and spoons me to help warm me up, unaware he’s fuelling my fever and dehydration.
By the time morning comes, I know something is seriously, seriously wrong. I wake up at about 4am, having spent the night shivering and in a great deal of pain. I gingerly pull the blankets off my weak body and crawl from the bed to the toilet. I pull myself up and throw up. When I look down, I see that it’s mostly blood. Panic sets in.
I yell out for Matt, my stomach winding itself into terrifically painful knots, and start crying uncontrollably, my aching body winding itself into knots. He runs over, concerned, terrified and completely unsure of what to do. Our tour leaves in 3 hours and if we don’t get on that bus, we’re stranded in the middle of Turkey, totally alone.
Matt sprints out of the room down to the front desk, yelling for a doctor. I don’t really know if this is luck or smart business on their part, but it turns out the hospital is literally on the opposite side of the street to the hotel. Maybe they saw what was being served up there and knew they could cash in on sick tourists?
Matt launches himself through the hospital doors and yells out for help. A doctor and nurse grab supplies and run across the street with him, up the hotel stairs and into the room. They put me in bed and set about assessing me. The doctor and nurse talk among themselves, while I sob on the bed, incredibly scared and feeling very pathetic. At this moment our tour leader comes into the room, thank goodness, and acts as a translator. The concerned look on his face does little to comfort me, he turns and says, “You have to go to the hospital right now, Phoebe. You have to stay here. The tour can’t wait for you, we have to leave without you. I’m sorry.”
It’s one of those moments where you can’t quite wrap your head around it. I’m dehydrated and exhausted, bloody terrified about what’s going to happen to me in the hospital. I’m unsure of what’s wrong with me, painfully aware the doctor doesn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Turkish, and that we are about to be stranded in the middle of nowhere.
The doctor is done waiting. He instructs Matt and the tour leader to help him carry me to the wheelchair waiting downstairs and into the hospital. I’m transferred onto a bed and they wheel me through the corridors and into an elevator, taking me down to the very bottom of the hospital. My stomach is in excruciating pain, tied in a never ending series of knots, filled with knives, that feel like they may tighten more and more and never unravel. I’m crying like a baby, Matt is pushing the hair away from my face trying to reassure me, but I can tell he’s freaking out too.
I want you to take a moment and picture if you will, what you imagine a Turkish hospital to look like. Reach deep into your nightmares and pluck out an image. Got it? Yep, I can confirm, that’s exactly what this room, in the basement, looks like. No windows, nobody in sight, prime organ-harvesting space.
Then I see it. The biggest effing needle I have ever seen in my entire life. The doctor is making the ‘flip over’ signal with his hands. I know, instinctively, that needle is going in one of my ass cheeks. It’s a real life low point for me. He sticks me with Godzilla-the-needle, hooks me up to some fluids, pops in a few other things (presumably A-grade painkillers) and scurries off. Matt says he has to go for a little while too, to make sure the hotel don’t think we’ve abandoned our room and get rid of our stuff. Our cameras, passports and everything else are still there.
I pass out, woken later by a friendly, smiling face. He’s a Turkish doctor and he speaks English better than I do. I’ve never been happier to see a medical professional in my entire life. He’s my saviour. He explains I’ve got some very bad bugs in my system and they’ve ravaged my stomach and bowel. He apologises for the terrible room in the basement, but the hospital has been full and they’re going to move me now. I need to stay for a while, but it’ll be okay.
A beautiful and very lovely nurse comes to help him and they move me to the most incredible hospital room I’ve ever seen. The hospital is on a hill and the room has windows on 3 of its 4 walls, opening up to panoramic views of the sparkling, blue ocean, the sun dancing off the waves. They open the windows, letting the fresh sea air in. It smells so good and I close my eyes for a moment, breathing it in. It smells like home.
The doctor and nurse are amazing, they explain everything to me and check in regularly. They’ve already told Matt what’s happening and are helping him sort out the hotel and work out our travel insurance and all the other technical stuff.
Two days pass and I start to feel well enough to travel. The tour is a few cities over by this stage, but there’s still a week left of it. It cost us quite a bit, our flight home leaves out of Istanbul in a week and we’re halfway across Turkey. It’s decision time. Do we bail and head back to Istanbul, book a hostel and hide out for a week and wait for the flight or try to catch up with the tour?
Matt finds a local guy on the street who says he’ll drive all day and night to help us catch up with the tour. We agree. He picks us up outside the hospital, I hug the amazing nurse and doctor, and we jump in the waiting car. The driver is a young local guy of about 24 or so, with bleach blonde hair carefully crafted into spikes, think Backstreet Boys circa 1999. He has 5 cans of energy drink on the seat next to him. He pops on some Deep House, turns up the volume, slams down the first can of energy drink then takes off. We travel like this for hours and hours until we reach the town our tour group is staying in. Everyone is shocked to see us back, especially given the last time they got a glimpse of me was my crying, pathetic carcass being rolled off to hospital.
For a few months after that, I could really only eat lentils and bread. Even now there’s a very long list of things I can’t eat, which is how I ended up vegetarian. It turns out that damn dodgy piece of lamb was the last bit of meat I ever ate and it single-lambedly turned my Turkey trip into one of the most terrifying and wild travel adventures I’ve ever had.
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Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.