Once, while I was living in Korea, I thought I was going to die.
Okay, that’s not true. Several times while I was living in Korea I thought I was going to die. On two separate occasions the public transit I was riding crashed. The air raid sirens went off every other day the summer North Korea sank the Cheonan. Once a guy on a moped gently rolled into me at an intersection. “Gangnam Style” happened.
However, only once in the ten and a half years that I lived in South Korea working as an English teacher, did I ever directly beseech the Lord to end my life. The night before I ended up on a gurney in one of Seoul’s many fine public hospitals, I had
eaten Mediterranean food with three friends. I lay the blame for my hospitalization squarely at the feet of the tzatziki sauce, since the two lactose intolerant friends had spent the evening playing nursemaid to their lactose-tolerant brethren.
I’d spent all night puking, we made it to the hospital without having to ask the taxi to pull over. At the hospital, however, the smell of antiseptic and floor varnish and other sick people overwhelmed me, and I resumed forcefully heaving into a 7-11 bag, my strained abdominal muscles reminding me this was the most strenuous physical activity I’d done in weeks.
I sat on the edge of an exam table, my puke bag beside me should it be needed, while a doctor stood in front of me, quizzing me on my symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, and the chills, if you must know). He then inserted an IV shunt in the top of my hand, and said, “We will take some blood,’ moving to insert a syringe into the shunt.
Nauseous dread washed over me, and I pulled my hand back slightly. “Sir, could you please wait? I think I’m going to throw up.”
The doctor scowled at me, and held a palm up in my face, the universal signal for stop right now. “Hey,” he barked at me, “calm down.”
There are many things in the world that can calm down, but, friends, I am here to tell you that vomit is not one of them. I turned my head to the side, in the direction of my puke bag, since, you know, I was about to hurl everywhere. As the first wave of bile began inching up my throat I thought to myself: Oh, no, Tristan. You had warned him. I turned my head back to the doctor and proceeded to projectile vomit directly onto him.
“No,” he yelped, jumping backwards. Not far enough back to save his shoes, but he tried. When my life becomes a movie script, Movie Tristan (played, if I have any say in the matter, by Shannon Purser) will be clever enough to tell the doctor, “Hey, calm down.” As things were, however, I merely doubled over and made a sound like a cassette tape of Gregorian chants slowly unspooling.
An hour later, hooked up to an IV of fluids and anti-nausea medication, I felt no better. In fact, I felt decidedly worse. Instead of a private suite, I was in a long room with about twelve hospital beds separated by thin curtains. The man across from me appeared to be vomiting blood into a bucket.
My IV stand wouldn’t fit into the single closet bathroom the patients shared, so the door was ajar with my fluids parked outside. Even if the door had closed those final three inches, ensuring me relatively more privacy, it wouldn’t have prevented my fellow patients, not to mention the hospital staff, from hearing the mournful, off-key trombone wails my body produced as it expressed my liquefied organs in a fiery jet from my ass. Concurrently, my head hung limply over a trashcan, as I continued to weakly heave up thin strands of bile.
It was at this moment that I asked God to end my life. The exact words I used were, “Look, Jesus, I don’t care if you cure me or kill me. But you’re gonna stop dicking me around like this. Better or dead, those are your options.” I intended to tack on a
reverential amen, but was interrupted by gagging up another mouthful of cucumber-yogurt backwash.
I stayed in the bathroom for about fifteen minutes, until there was literally not another bit of fluid for my body to wring out of itself. Though no one would meet my eyes as I shuffled to my cot, I finally began to feel the effects of the medication. I fell asleep, and when I woke I felt well enough to slowly shuffle back to my apartment, where I spent the next two days eating Gerber rice cereal (yes, the kind for babies) and waving in and out of consciousness while watching episodes of Supernatural.
Round about Sammy and Dean’s third dispatching of the monster of the week, I realized a profound truth, something that has guided my life to this day: No matter how dire your circumstances, no matter how awful things seem, if you can
find the strength to dig down and be petty as hell, you have the strength to pull through and persevere.