Swine Flu!

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Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul
July 3rd 2009
Published: July 3rd 2009
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Let me begin by assuring you that what I post on this blog in no way represents the views of the State Department or the Critical Language Scholarship program.

Dear H1N1,
Oh, the time we’ve spent together! You first saw me in DC, and found me to be irresistible, though it would take you a full week to work up the courage to introduce yourself, you coy little devil, you. You yawned through our meetings in DC, and made not a peep as we passed together through airports, crossed an ocean, and visited no fewer than three continents. Mum was the word as we attended champagne parties in Beyoğlu, cruised the Bosphorus, and wandered the bustling streets of Beşiktaş closer than I ever could’ve imagined. Even in class you let me do the talking. But the excitement was building and after a week you just couldn’t contain yourself any longer. You simply had to introduce yourself to me…

“I’m already seeing someone, and, well, I’m really not interested in you” I told you frankly. But your ardor was not to be deflected so easily. The fiery embers of your passion kept me literally simmering for days, against my will. You demanded that we go somewhere really private to talk about it all. “Really, there’s no way this can work between us” I reiterated. Your enraged response was like a hammer continuously banging inside my head. You put up such a fight that I no longer had the strength to even get out of bed. “Leave me!” I demanded. A few times I tried violently to expel you, but to no avail. “If I can’t have you, no one can!” you screamed with a psychotic look on your face.

Things were getting ugly, and the authorities got involved. But you, with your stealthy way, would not compliantly show your face now that things had gotten out of hand. Instead, we’d have to search the holes in my face, my blood, and so on. Knowing your day was numbered, you decided to go out with a bang. I would suffer the full force of your obsession until Tamiflu finally talked a bit of sense into you. The agony was excruciating. For days and days you would try to hold on. I could not get near anyone else for a solid week out of fear that you might turn your obsessive gaze upon someone else.

After all we’ve been through, I can’t honestly say that there are no hard feelings and that I wish you all the best. It was not a healthy relationship, and I feel that I’m the one who paid the price. I don’t want to hear your voice anymore. We’re most certainly through.

Your misused host body.


Şişli. I saw 3 different doctors, each of who told me it probably wasn’t swine flu, but that we’d have to check at Haseki Eğğitim ve Araştırma Hastanesi, just to be sure. I would go there in an ambulance for my “comfort.” - indeed, nothing makes a person feel more comfortable than when two women dressed like astronauts show up, strap a surgical mask on his face while barking orders in rapid Turkish, and toss him in the side of a van.

Upon arrival, one of the many doctors I would meet in the coming week, examined and questioned me thoroughly. He also said that he didn’t think it was swine flu, but that the test was necessary and that I would have to stay at the hospital until the results came the next day. After a quick nasal swab, I was tossed into a reasonably comfortable if rather dreary room. A window slightly bigger than a sandwich was in the door at the end of the room and during the coming week it would frame the occasional face and make ponder whether or not a running wheel and drip water bottle would soon be installed.

Word of my incarceration got around and my phone started ringing off the hook. I was flattered that people were taking an interest in saying what might have been their final words to me, though I was in such excruciating pain that even talking was barely tolerable.

It took the hospital 12 hours to bring me food, and they did so only after I marched down the hall (which freaked everybody out) and demanded it. Of course the walk took so much out of me that I was too nauseous to eat when the food finally showed up. Like every other meal that was to follow, it seemed that it was designed to send me straight from the horror-movie-exotic-disease-ward to the cardiac ward.

Later that evening I found that I had actually been locked into my room. I summoned whatever reserves of energy that I had and nearly broke the door off the wall, an episode that was possibly heard throughout the entire hospital. I was livid. The doctors came in and talked to me and nobody tried to lock me in again after that.

No blankets. They’re not allowed. The room was ice cold.

As the night set in, I noticed that the ezan (call to prayer) reached my window in about equal volumes from 3 different mosques, creating an interesting polyrhythmic layered effect. It’s rather pleasant, if not quite soothing.


They took troubling amounts of blood today. I feel like the end is near. I don’t remember a headache of such magnitude before in my life.

In the evening I got my results: positive, swine flu. This would mean at least another 5 days of quarantine. I started Tamiflu immediately. My imprisonment would have to be weathered without a blanket as, despite my continuous protests, I would not get better with a blanket.

My worries about everyone else I might have infected deepened. Turkey is in the kissing-hello/goodbye-part of Europe, and I feared that all my friends in İstanbul would soon find themselves in rooms like this one. Worse yet - how many people had they passed in onto?! I was the epicenter of an outbreak in this teeming city. (I later learned that only the people I contact with right before my symptoms showed up and after that were really at risk, which turned out to be very few people. They were given Tamiflu as a precaution)

Dinner: eggplant cooked to the point of exhaustion served in a broth of grease and sorrow. Again.

I asked for pain killers. I was told “sure, right away”, but they never came. Again.

Hours later I worked up the strength to walk down the hall and ask for them “Oh, you didn’t forget about that yet?” was the response I received. I later warmed up to the few members of staff who didn’t treat me like I was made out of rattlesnakes and gunpowder, but I was never fully pleased with some of the ways things work around here.


Trying to finish up with contacting everyone I’ve had contact with since June 24th, I finally got in touch with a friend who lives in Üsküdar, who had been out of town over the weekend. Understandably, she had some questions for the hospital, but the doctor did not want to speak with her. After I insisted several times, I was told “OK, give me her number.” I did. He never called her.

Food seems to arrive now on a reliable cycle, but utensils are another story. Drinking water is also hard to come by.


I look like Amy Winehouse the day after her birthday. The nurse came back today and took enough blood to paint a fire engine. Perhaps this is a logistical move - they assume that by now my heart is under enough stress from the greasy food they serve me that they don’t want it to have to work very hard, so it is pumping the bare minimum.

Breakfast: don’t even get me started…
I’m livid.


Breakfast was the same today as yesterday. Anyone who has had Turkish cafeteria food is familiar with the round, individually-wrapped, single-serving breads that are meant to accompany any and all meals (the intention is that they are to be reasonable substitutes for the fresh loaf bread that much of the country gobbles down daily, in copious amounts). After you eat your first thousand of these, they sort of get rather old. I believe by the end of my time in Ankara last year, I was avoiding them all together. Well for two days in a row, they have been the centerpiece of my breakfast. Yesterday, my bread was served with packets of lousy honey and cheese - today, with lousy jam. And they’re stale here.

The thing that struck me about this for two days in a row was the logo on the packaging. The words “One Ekmek” with the word “Normal” below it are circled by a ring of wheat grains - a rather optimistic attempt perhaps to deceive the diner into believing that some actual natural ingredients at one point came near this distant cousin of the Twinky. The word “One” is the largest on the package, in case there was any doubt about the quantity of “Ekmek” (“Bread”) in the little plastic pouch.

Furthermore, “One” is in italics, perhaps to highlight the clever use of an exotic foreign word. If I’ve learned anything from Turkish-made t-shirts, it’s not WHAT they say that’s even slightly important, it’s THAT they’re printed in English (sometimes the results are quite funny). Anyway, as I gazed down in disappointment, disgust, and anger, I started to read the “One” in Turkish, as “O ne” (“What is that?”), which seemed to fit even better, even if that wasn’t the intention. In that case, the word “Normal”, which varies slightly in pronunciation from the English and hardly at all in meaning, seems to have been put below just as a reassurance: no worries, this is a perfectly “Normal” main course for your breakfast, “Afiyet olsun.”

I was on my laptop when the nurse came in to check my temperature and give me my morning Tamiflu. “You’re listening to Sezen Aksu?” she asked, as if her ears were deceiving her. “Do you love Sezen Aksu?” I replied, as if it were even a question. “Of course” she said, jamming the thermometer thingy in my ear. “Everyone loves Sezen Aksu” I continued. “Yes, she’s just like Madonna” she replied. “But not EVERYONE loves Madonna. It’s not quite the same…” I responded, but she was out of the room moments later and would offer no more debate on the matter. That will probably be the longest conversation I have with any member of the hospital staff for the rest of the day.


A man can only lose so many games of chess to his laptop before it starts to take its toll. Well, at least I have the thing, even if there isn’t any internet access here. I’ve watched at least ten movies this week and done a fair bit of reading. Thank you sooooooo much to all of my friends who brought me this stuff, along with clean clothes, bottled water, Sprite, snacks, flowers and so on. It’s made the week tolerable. I’m told that I’ll be released into the wild tomorrow, if I pass inspection, and it won’t be a minute too soon.


Breakfast… lunch… why am I still here? I’ve called the doctor and the nurse - no answer from either.

I'm a free man now and I'm not going to spend one more second with this laptop.


3rd July 2009

I am the happiest mom on the planet! Thank God you beat it, Jim. I love you!
3rd July 2009

My Goodness!
Oh Jim! I am glad you pulled through such misery! That is so crappy! My mom read your blog and just kept shaking her head saying, "Oh, that poor, poor, thing!" I do love reading your blogs (even under such yucky circumstances), and I especially enjoyed your creative letter to H1N1. I hope you continue to recover and hope you can accomplish all things things you originally intended to accomplish during your visit. Best Wishes! Christine
7th July 2009

swine flu oh NO
Jim so sorry to hear about your unwanted mistress, hopefully you have ditched her 4ever.
7th August 2009

god bless you!!
i am happy that you overcame that illness!! thank god you are with us HEALTHY and happy! :)

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