This past week I was on a super fun jaunt through living-abroad-when-a-family-member-dies ville.
That town sucks. I in no way suggest visiting, even for a day.
But that’s not what this post is about. I’m sure I’ll write that blog entry one day, but (as Aragorn would say) it is not this day.
No, today I’m going to tell you about when I was sick and my Korean boss and two Korean co-workers came to visit me in my apartment (pre-hospital visit).
On Tuesday, December 17th, in the aforementioned 48 hours between my first visit to the hospital and my overnight stay, my co-worker Han sent me a text telling me that my principal/boss, Kathy, my other co-worker Sunny, and Han herself would be by around 9pm. I texted her back with a laugh, thinking that something had been lost in translation. There was no way that they would come over when I was that sick. As far as I knew, no one had ever been visited at home by Kathy before, sick or no. So when Han sent me another text telling me that Kathy was worried and was bringing me tea and juk (rice porridge), I responded with, “Wait, seriously?!” And then proceeded to panic.
You see, when you have enteritis as badly as I did, you kind of turn into a hot mess. Which means, hrm. How can I put this delicately?…
Nope, can’t do it. I know I’m a girl and I’m not supposed to say these things, but I’d been pooping. All. Day. No, that’s not right. I had spent a lot of the day sleeping. I had only really been conscious for 9 hours that day, and had gone to the bathroom roughly 30 times. Disgusting, I know, I lived it.
I felt like hell, my apartment was a giant mess, and my BOSS WAS COMING OVER. My very KOREAN boss, who is very sweet and yet slightly terrifying (which I think is normal for Korean bosses).
Also, I wasn’t entirely sure that I didn’t smell, at least faintly, of diarrhea.
I was terrified. And super sick. I actually didn’t have the energy to freak out as badly as I wanted to, which was good. But I did try to tidy my apartment as much as possible and make myself a little presentable (I mean, as much as a crazy-dehydrated nasty mess can be presentable).
Then, I waited. Hoping and praying to all of the gods that anyone has ever believed in that I could hold in whatever was trying to race out of my body (at this point, my money was on not-so-vital organs. I thought I’d seen something distinctly spleen-like at some point…) long enough to not have to crap in front of my boss.
It’s a very small apartment. They would have heard.
When they arrived, my boss, Kathy, swept into my little apartment and immediately started saying “no, no, no”. Over and over again. She then strode around my small studio, pointing to everything in sight and speaking in rapid-fire Korean. She refused to meet my eyes, and wasn’t speaking in English, but I gathered that the two biggest problems in my apartment were my bed and my space heater. Han was translating to me as this was happening, and I was bobbing my head and trying very hard not to cry.
You see, when you’re that sick, you tend to be slightly emotional. And I was away from my family and, frankly, miserable, so to have someone come in and swoop around like my MOTHER left me feeling both incredibly touched and absolutely mortified.
So just picture this for a second. Kathy is walking around my apartment, pointing and directing, Han is translating to me as I stand there in my plaid poncho and try desperately not to cry or shit my pants, and Sunny is waddling around, following as best she can with her very pregnant belly (and, really, whose bright idea was it to bring the super pregnant lady into the sick girl’s apartment?!).
The gist was that my bed was not in the right place. Too close to the window. Josh (my 23 year old, strapping-male co-worker) was being offered as a solution for moving my bed if I could not do it myself. I did not have enough blankets, and using a space heater to heat my apartment would both kill me in a fire and significantly raise my heating bill.
This last part was the best, because when Han told me that I should turn on my floor-heating (which is how the Koreans heat stuff), I tried to whisper to her that I had no idea how to work the damn thing.
In my defense, it is in Korean, and hadn’t been all that cold… maybe. Or I’m just weird about asking people for help. Whatever. You live, you get enteritis, you learn.
She gasped, related that bit of information to the other two ladies, who gasped in the exact same way, and then my heat gauge/controller was immediately surrounded by all three, pressing buttons and talking in Korean.
Han told me how to work it, and seeing them all there, with so much concern for my welfare, finally broke the dam. And I started bawling.
Not, like, cute tears down the cheeks kind of crying. No. The ugly hiccoughing, chest spasming, nose-running kind of crying.
I was even more mortified than before, because I felt ridiculous. Standing there, with them in my entryway, just crying my face off. I kept apologizing and thanking them, over and over again. Kathy turned to Han and said something in Korean. Han then turned to me and succinctly said, “She says to stop crying”. Wonderful.
I would have laughed if I wasn’t crying so hard. But I couldn’t stop. It’s just that it was so close to having my momma there, and I was so thankful for that much human compassion and care, but so embarrassed that I couldn’t hold it back.
They decided to leave pretty soon after the waterworks started.
I found out later that Sunny and Han had beat such a hasty retreat because they both started crying as well, but Kathy (in true, just like my mother form) just clasped my hand tightly in hers, looked into my eyes, and repeated “Okay okay, Okay okay”. Over and over again, to settle me. And it actually worked.
They left, and I collapsed into the floor for about five minutes before running to the bathroom. Again.
I went to the hospital the next morning, and we know what happened after that.
Now, fast forward a month. We’re zooming past my recovery period, my Great-Aunt dying (not taaaaaaalking about it! Can’t maaaaaaake me! La-la-la-la-la), and my winter intensives schedule: we come to today.
I came to work for my morning class, and after break, Kathy comes up to me and tells me to wait in the hall. She goes into the back room and comes out with this:
That, friends, is a microfiber throw blanket. In my favorite color. Bought from a pricey department store. It is big and soft and comfy.
She handed it to me and I didn’t know what to do. Honestly. I was so amazingly blown away by the gesture and completely unsure that I could accept the gift that I just stood there, gaping. It was my turn to say “no” over and over. She pushed the bag at me until I took it from her, and finally chased her into her office to give her a thank-you hug.
The image of her feeling my blankets, making a disapproving, clucking sound rushed back to me. I, once again, felt overwhelmed, and retreated to my room to rub my face on its amazing softness and attempt to breathe and not cry.
It’s been a really rough week. The not-sleeping, emotionally screwed kind of week. But, this one act of kindness has me feeling unbelievably better. And I might sleep a little easier with my super soft, warm blanket insulating me against the cold. And it might be corny, but I feel wrapped in care, insulated from my own grief for the first time since last Friday.
Now I’m listening to some Foghorn Stringband (the original), and just feeling that much more human.
And if I know anything, it’s that I owe my boss some chocolate and a coffee (or seven).
Thanks, Kathy. Thanks, Universe.