The continuing true-story misadventures of an American in Dublin. Start with Part One and proceed at your own risk. Part Two gets so much worse. But it’s ok to laugh.
Things were happening. Some sort of conversation. I felt tired. I heard activity. People talking. I didn’t feel connected to it. I found it irritating. Leave me alone.
“Are you able to get up?”
I opened my eyes. I was confused. I didn’t feel well. I looked around.
I was back in the shared room. I was alive. I made it through.
“Can you get up and go to the bathroom to urinate?”
“Yeah, I think so.” I really had to pee. I felt groggy and worn out. There was a dull, queasy feeling deep in my stomach. The nurse raised the bed and I swung my legs over. I was still in my hospital gown — the kind that opens in the back. I was wearing hospital-issued socks. The IV was still in my arm.
I stood up, shuffled the IV caddy into the bathroom, and closed the door.
I stood in front of the toilet and pulled the gown aside. There was a thread about eight inches long dangling out the end of my penis with adhesive tape enclosing the far end. Hello. This was new. But no time for that now — gotta pee, gotta pee, gotta pee.
I lifted the thread out of the way with one hand, aimed with the other, and relaxed.
I was not prepared. They did not prepare me.
Fire and glass shards and lava and betrayal ripped through my penis and splattered crimson all over the bowl and the rim and the seat.
I cleaned up the Jackson Pollock as best I could and trudged out of the bathroom in shock.
The nurse asked if I had used the jug. What jug?
“There’s a jug in the bathroom. You’re supposed to pee in the jug so they can check your urine for stones,” she said grumpily.
I hated her. She was my enemy.
Alx and Peter came to see me. Alx was his usual goofy self, making jokes. Peter looked pale and uncomfortable. He must have been very worried. Or hung over.
I was a mess. The front of my gown had splotches of blood on it. I was sitting in bed facing them. I may have accidentally done a grim parody of Basic Instinct.
Alx and Peter regaled me with stories of their evening. It was decidedly better than my own. One highlight was a story from their cab driver.
“Did ya hair that Madowna was attacked?”
“Ya boyz, it’s all over the nooz. Oy guess it’s pretty bad. It happened in Toimes Square.”
“Wow, no we didn’t hear that.”
“Ya, and the crazy ting is it was a famous actress what did it. That Reese somethin’.”
“Naw mate, she used a noif!”
As an aside, I’ve been accused of conflating Irish and Jamaican accents. No worries. Ever’ting gawn be alright.
After chatting for a while, it became clear that we did not know the plan for the day. Like, what exactly comes next?
In the States I would expect a last examination where the doctor would check my vitals, look over my charts, say “hmmm” a lot, and pronounce me ready to be officially “discharged.”
But we seemed to be officially ignored. Like we were done with our lunch at a busy Greek restaurant, waiting for the check. But the wait staff were competing to see who could not look at us the most.
Alx went to find someone, anyone, who could tell us what was going on. A nurse tried to sneak past us, but Peter and I did our best “loud American” routine to get his attention. He grudgingly regarded us. Once you make eye contact, you’re committed and he knew it.
His answer was non-committal and confusing. But it seemed to indicate that we could just leave. No paperwork. No official discharge step. No official pronouncement.
No part of this made sense. Did they not understand there’s a process to these things? In fact I’m pretty sure this was just wrong. But he gave us an opening, and we were gonna take it.
Alx and Peter had brought my suitcase. So I went into the bathroom to change. Then we exchanged bewildered looks, gave a collective shrug, and made our way through the hospital.
This felt a bit like a heist. No — like a prison break. Alx hailed a driver via Uber and we made our way to an unguarded side entrance. We stood there nervously waiting for the getaway driver, knowing that every minute brought us closer to sirens and barking dogs and searchlights.
The driver pulled up. We had to load fast because this was a no-stopping zone. I gave the oppressive building one last glance as the car peeled away. There were no black SUVs trailing us. Good. That’s good.
We spent that night in a quaint flat in the suburbs. I was supposed to drink a lot of water and continue to clear myself out. After that first time, I was better prepared for the pain that came with urination. Instead of screaming now I just let out a soft whimper.
I don’t want to belabor this point, but my experience was not improving in any observable fashion. I wasn’t moving down the color wheel the way I would have hoped and expected.
We had takeout pizza. I don’t remember too much else about that night. I would forget my kindle there. I got it back half-a-year later, as Eoin deployed his extended family to retrieve it and shuttle it over to him. He gave it back at our next work trip.
By the way, I was wrong about Eoin being at the conference. He was supposed to be there. Something got screwed up, and I don’t remember exactly what. Unreliable narrator.
The next day we flew to Amsterdam. We got an Uber and went straight to the meeting. It was overcast and a bit cold. There were bicycles and speed bumps everywhere.
The street was designed with bicycles and pedestrians in mind. Left with impossible navigation, cars seemed to ignore societal conventions. Our driver was navigating the outback in a Jeep. Painted lines, curbs, and medians were not prohibitions, but simply rough terrain to climb. A challenge. We may have driven on stairs at one point.
We were late. And we were absolutely going to the wrong place. If the address existed, it seemed to be 200 yards into the ocean. Alx finally reached someone at the company and we learned they had recently moved to a new office. Off we went.
My condition had not improved. Maybe they got the plumbing wrong. Their metric tools didn’t fit my American system. They hooked me up to the wrong line. I was worried enough to call the doctor.
Rushing to a meeting in the back of an Uber with two workmates is not the best time to discuss intimate medical details. But I was eventually put in touch with a nurse. I explained that I was still basically peeing blood. She asked what color it was. I think she expected I was noticing a bit of red. I said “No, ma’am this is just blood. It’s not like it’s a little pink.”
There is perhaps some karmic justice to this. Back in college my buddy Chuck and I would joke about going to the college clinic to troll the trainees. Normally my pee is just a light pink, but lately it’s been coming out a deep crimson. Is that anything to worry about?
She said “a little bleeding is normal”, but she clearly thought I was exaggerating or hysterical. I was not. She said she would tell the doctor and he would call me back if he had concerns.
I ended the call and looked at Alx and Peter. They were a little pale.
We arrived and were ferried into a big meeting room. We talked about international capabilities, fraud management, programming APIs, different ways our companies might work together. Lots of things that would probably bore you to tears.
They knew about my little adventure and were shocked that I made it to the meeting anyway. I did my best to appear stoic, clearheaded, and strong.
Maybe they would think I was tough and formidable. Or maybe they would think I was a frail old guy who gets kidney stones. More likely they wouldn’t think about me two minutes after I left the room. Get over yourself, Bob.
I did a decent job keeping my head in the game. At least I didn’t have one of those out of body experiences — where I’m in the middle of a meeting, someone is droning on and on, and my perspective shifts to an outer frame, watching myself in the situation like a rat in a maze. Is that just me?
We got a lot of questions answered. We took more notes. They offered us some beers. It was Friday afternoon. You would think Heineken, right? But for some reason I think it was Stella Artois.
Stella Artois is the Miller Lite of Europe. It’s beer for people who like water. Or water for people who dislike beer. I yearned for my urine to be more like Stella Artois.
We shared a beer with them, but we didn’t overstay our welcome. It was the end of the day on Friday and they were ready to celebrate some good news. We said our goodbyes and thanked them, and then we left. I heard music and cheering as the door closed.
We made our way to the hotel, checked into our rooms, and dropped off our stuff.
Finally I wasn’t in charge of anything. I had no meetings, no expectations. I didn’t have to be “on” anymore. I could breathe a sigh of relief. The only thing I had to do was make sure I made my flight the next morning.
At this point we were three guys with nothing to do on Friday night after a very stressful week. And I was still dealing with pain. If only there were something Amsterdam could offer that would ease my pain and help us relax.
You know where we’re going.
So we made our way to the local “coffee shop.” I think I may have actually ordered coffee and pastry. But that was only to accompany the joint that we shared. Alx picked it off the menu, assuring us it would be mellow. We only got one.
There was some oddness to the layout of the shop. I think they had a double set of doors. You had to be buzzed in past a certain point. I’m pretty sure we were supposed to consume on the premises. There were only a handful of spots. Another group left and pointed us to their small wooden table with three seats. It was cramped. We could see out the window to the street. It was just like a tiny mom-and-pop coffeeshop at home.
I wanted to be careful, so I just took a few puffs as we passed it around. We talked about the week. I could hardly believe the past couple days. What a wild ride.
We laughed as we recalled everything that happened. I drank my coffee. We talked and talked.
I noticed that we started talking past each other. Little miscommunications. It was funny. I laughed about the miscommunications. Alx and Peter laughed.
At one point I realized we were not laughing about the same things. I thought they understood me, but they didn’t. What they were saying didn’t make sense.
Then I realized maybe I wasn’t making sense. Were they laughing at me? Was I not part of the group? My skin began to vibrate. A switch flipped.
It occurred to me that I was in a foreign country, I didn’t know the language or the laws, I hadn’t paid attention on the walk over to this place, and my brain was coming undone.
I was definitely not mellow. I had a short window of opportunity to get safely back to my room. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed and hide from everyone and everything.
I told Alx and Peter that I had to get back to the hotel. They did not feel the same way. I said something to the effect of “Everyone else can go to hell for all I care, but I am going back to the room.”
I was resolute. I had to get back or else I would surely wind up dead in a ditch. A Dutch ditch. What would my mother say?
They walked me back to the hotel door and I said goodbye. I walked in and got into the elevator. There were a few people in the elevator with me. They were younger, and clearly had been partying. Loud Americans. Was that all they had in Amsterdam?
The elevator ride lasted forever. I was terrified someone would speak to me. My eyes were fiery red pits. They knew. They had to know. I prepared possible responses in case I had to talk. Tried to remember the mouth movements to make person noises. Not mellow. Not mellow.
I exited the elevator and turned towards my room. I judged myself to be upright and walking fairly straight. I was surprised at my ability to find the right room. I tried my key card and it worked! My mother would be proud.
I entered the room and it occurred to me that this was a weird room. Everything was white. White walls, white sheets, white pillows. White.
Was that a staircase? Why were there stairs to the bed? The bed was in some sort of nook. An alcove. A white cave.
I crawled up and pulled myself into the bed. I was safe. I put my head down.
No! No, no, no, no. No. There is no chance I will wake up in time for my flight if I fall asleep like this. None. My phone was nearly dead.
I focused my willpower and melted down the stairs, found my charger and carried it back up to bed with me. I plugged in my phone and set several alarms.
Safely in bed with alarms set, I laid back and let the room spin.
I saw the artifice of language and culture and I became stripped of pretense. I wrestled with my mortality. Rat in a cage.
I couldn’t escape my mind. I fought with my own psyche for what felt like days. How could I be here, so far away from home? What kind of father was I?
I was a stick figure dissolving into a vast nothingness.
I awoke and it was dark. I checked the time — around 9:30pm? In a mild panic, I checked the date. Still Friday. Good. Good Friday.
I was starving. I had some mixed nuts in my carryon bag. Gnomf. Need moar food.
I tested the waters of my brain. Was I prepared to interact with people? Existential terror — reduced. Limbic system — within tolerance levels. Hunger — motivating.
I splashed some cold water on my face. I looked like a regular person. Or as much as I normally did.
I made my way to the elevator and pressed the button for the top floor lounge. The lighting was soft. There were lots of people sitting in comfy chairs and couches chatting. There was a shop where they sold snacks, but it was closed.
There was a vending machine filled with munchies. This place knew what was up. I bought a giant rice crispy square with a credit card. It was probably $100 but I didn’t care. Yeah, they knew what was up.
I found a spot where I could be by myself. Just me and my rice crispy square.
Peter and Alx tumbled into the lounge like cartoon characters. Their time had been markedly better than my own. They told me stories of their evening. I helped Peter work the vending machine. They opted to go out to the balcony to feel the cool night air.
We got a notification that our flights were delayed. This was a problem for their connections, but not mine. My capacity for sympathy was at an all-time low. Alx called the airlines to figure out new plans. It began to drizzle. I wore a hood and a scowl. They would later describe me as “super grumpy.”
This, Dear Reader, is where Part Two shall close. I wish it were on a more positive note. But this is a true story, and that’s not always how the world works. Empire was the best Star Wars anyway.
My return flight was uncomfortable but uneventful. And I was joyful to get back to my family, as they were happy to have me home safe and sound.
I did eventually make my way down the color wheel to a thin Stella Artois. I had a follow-up surgery in the States about a month later to remove the rest of the stones. That may be worth a post at some point. I also wrestled with insurance companies and billing from different providers. I’ve learned a lot about healthcare and I have strong opinions about the pros and cons of the US healthcare system. That also might be worth exploring.
Alx, Peter, and I laugh now when we talk about that trip. And heck, we laughed then too. I mean, you can see us in the photos. A lot of this stuff is pretty funny. And isn’t it better to laugh?
I suppose the most useful thing I could offer is advice to avoid this fate for yourself. Drink the heck out of some water. Every day. That’s the biggest change I’ve made and my regular checkups have shown me to be problem-free.
If I can teach you nothing else… hydrate.