Sunday, February 20, 2011

Saturday nightmare

No trip abroad would be complete without at least one horror story. I choose to share this now as to not frighten the folks back home while I was still abroad. Since it happened so early in my trip I also wanted to avoid dwelling on it too much at the time.

In general, I’ve had really good luck travelling abroad. There are those people who like to tell you whenever you mention taking a trip abroad that VERY BAD THINGS happen to people in foreign countries, don’t you know that?! This is usually followed up with a tale of their cousin who got mugged in Paris, their aunt who had her passport stolen from her hotel room in Italy or their really good friend Claire Danes who ended up in a Thai prison (oh wait…).  And though I usually have to stifle a little eye roll a at these warnings—after all VERY BAD THINGS can happen to you in your own country— it’s true that the idea of getting into trouble in a place where you don’t understand the laws/ language/ customs is a scary proposition. I have always aimed to tread the line between cautious and paranoid.  
My very first Saturday night in Buenos Aires, I went out in Palermo with my new friend Ninna. We had a lovely late dinner and went out dancing at a nearby nightclub. We were drinking—as young ladies out on the town are wont to do—but we were drinking like two responsible thrity-ish gals who know their limits, not like some crazed nineteen–year-olds who fear they might never be allowed to drink again. I mention this to put what happened next in its proper context.

After we’d been at the club for a few hours, Ninna left the dance floor for the ladies room. She told me where she was going and I nodded and kept on dancing. A little while later when she still hadn’t come back I set out to look for her. I looked in the bathroom, on the first floor and the second and there was no sign of her. I figured perhaps she’d decided to up and leave (not something Ninna would ever do, but I’d known her for about three days at this point so I had no way of knowing this) so I went outside to try to call her and then head for home myself.

When I walked out of the club I noticed a concerned looking couple standing over a girl who was in tears and slumped up against the outside wall. It took me a second to realize that it was Ninna. I went over to her and she was in near hysterics (I would find out later that she had partially lost consciousness in the bathroom and then been tossed out by the doormen, thanks guys!); she was barely coherent and couldn’t really explain what was wrong. I got her into a cab and we headed for my apartment. After getting out of the cab we only made it a few steps before she passed out cold in my arms. Fortunately, Palermo is a nice neighborhood and there was a security guard in shouting distance. He called the police and they in turn called an ambulance. Thus began a very long night of trying to explain in Spanish what I knew about what had happened. I almost lost it on one of the EMTs when it seemed he was laughing at us until he explained to me that he was only laughing about the fact that about nine policemen were on the scene when he showed up, which did seem a bit overkill for one passed out girl.

Things did not improve once we made it to the emergency room. I explained over and over again that I did not think that the problem was that Ninna had drank too much but that she’d been drugged, she was drifting in and out of conciuoness and complaining of not being able to see (a side effect of a common date rape drug, I’ve learned since). I’ve been with drunk friends before (really drunk friends), this is not what it looks like. Apparently two foreign girls are not considered credible sources in an emergency room on a Saturday night because they were not having it. They hooked her up to an IV and left us.
There wasn’t really anything to do but stay with Ninna and wait. She wasn’t really coherent for most of the night, which quite frankly I think I would have preferred given the choice.

Initially we were sharing a room with a woman whose ranting and ravings probably wouldn’t have made sense to me in my first language and who was bleeding profusely from the leg and flailing around in such a way that the tile wall beside the gurney she was on was covered in blood, horror movie style. At one point the doctors left the room and the woman, for reasons clear only to her and the methanphetamines , got out of her bed, grabbed some thick plastic thing and chucked it at my head. I had my back to her so I wasn’t able to anticipate the assault. I wasn’t badly hurt but I burst into tears anyway as the doctors rushed back in. Don’t worry, they told me, we’ve put her in handcuffs now. Great! After she’s already thrown something at me.

Things only got more surreal as the night went on. The situation went from bad to Monty Python when a doctor in a long coat came by with a clipboard and asked me what the trouble with my friend was. I explained it for the umpteenth time. ‘Well does she have any cuts?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘not that I know of.’ ‘Well,’ he scoffed, ‘there’s nothing I can do for her then. I’m a surgeon. This is not my patient.’ 
He might’ve been searching for our next roommate, a woman who was wheeled in shortly after gushing blood from her elbow and screaming for her mother. Once they got to work on her they finally booted me to the waiting room and I happily complied. Later they moved us both to a room with only ONE derelict in residence and a curtain between him and us that did not really prevent his flehgm from occasionally flying across the room.  

Sometime around 9am, a doctor finally came back around to check on Ninna who was still out of it but conscious. The doctor scolded us gently about drinking. I wearily explained once again to her what had happened and that it had not been alcohol. ‘But nothing showed up in her blood test,’ she told me. ‘Don’t a lot of the drugs used not show up in blood tests?’ I asked. ‘That’s true,’ she said, ‘the three most common ones don’t show anything in a blood test.’

We went back to my apartment together to sleep off the traumatic night and watch some bad television. I couldn’t help but think as we walked past my doorman—both of us still in our cocktail dresses and heels—that it probably seemed like we were on our way back from a whole different kind of wild night. In the end, no lasting harm was done and Ninna and I have a good story about how we got to be friends and the kind of bond that can only come from a night spent dodging the body fluids of strangers in a foreign emergency room.

So remember kids, keep an eye on your drink, keep an eye on your friends and most importantly, keep an eye on the lunatic lady spraying blood on the wall: she definitely can’t be trusted with blunt objects.
Any tales of trouble abroad to share? 

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