L’viv for the Last Time; or, Surviving the Plague.

As my final days are winding down, something I was most looking forward to was spending a few days of my Fall Break hanging out and shopping with my friends in L’viv! L’viv is a beautiful city in Western Ukraine, and its one of my favorite places. I was going with some of my closest PCV friends, and we were renting an apartment and celebrating the end of our service together.

So Saturday dawned, the day of our departure, and all I could think upon waking was, “oh crap, I’m sick.” I had felt like I was coming down with a cold all week, but I’d been drinking orange juice and trying to sleep it off, hoping my body would know I had big plans and didn’t have time to succumb to illness. Well, this cold (turned plague) had no regard for my plans or feelings on the matter, and Saturday morning I felt like death warmed over. But the tickets were already purchased, the plans were already made, and I couldn’t bring myself to bail on my friends, especially as this was our last trip together in Ukraine. So I packed my backpack, drank some Theraflu, and stopped to see Olha on my way out of town.

She took one look at my pale face and said “what are you thinking? Go home to bed now!” I laughed at her and told her (in my sick, manly low voice) that I’d be fine in a few days and there was no way I was missing this trip. She did the mothering thing, and claimed she felt a temperature. In my experience, Ukrainians tend to overreact to illness, so I thought she was exaggerating to get me to stay home. I thanked her for caring, and told her I’d call and give her updates on my health.

I took a bus to the city of Chernivtsi, where I met all my friends for a yummy Indian meal. They expressed concern, but I told them it was a cold and I just needed to sleep. We hung out until our train left the station at 1 in the morning, and as soon as I laid down in my bunk, I was out. I woke up at 6 the next morning, because our train was arriving in L’viv and it was time to go. My head and throat hurt, but I figured I just needed more Theraflu and cold medicine. The apartment we rented wasn’t available until 10am, so we found a cafe and sat down to wait it out. I spent some time on the Internet, checking my email and assuring my Mom in America that I just had a cold and would get over it soon.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. It was not just a cold, as I found out shortly after getting to the apartment. I laid down to take a nap, and woke up groggy and dizzy and feeling like I was going to be sick. I made it to the bathroom, where the room was spinning and my heart was racing, before I realized that something was really wrong. I called for Michelle, and barely made it out of the bathroom before falling to the floor in the hallway. I think she must’ve caught me, but the next thing I know, I was laying there moaning about how hot I was and how much my pounding head was hurting. Michelle was holding my head and looking really scared, which in turn scared me, because she said I was freezing to the touch. Janira and Erin whipped out a cell phone and called the Peace Corps doctors, and Sarah just looked upset.

The Peace Corps doctor listened to all the symptoms, and sent my friends to the pharmacy to buy my medicine. Michelle helped me move to the couch, where the hot flash subsided and I started shivering. I don’t think I’ve ever been so sick, and I was scared to death. I had no clue what was wrong, but the Peace Corps doctor thought I was dehydrated and fighting either a sinus infection or a viral infection. I know she was right about the dehydration, which probably caused the dizziness and swooning, because we all stopped drinking before getting on the train to L’viv the night before. We always try to avoid having to use the bathrooms on Ukrainian trains, and I didn’t think what a bad idea that was if I was sick. The Peace Corps doctor also said I had to stop drinking Theraflu, because it dries you out and probably contributed to the dehydration. She didn’t know if it was a viral infection or a sinus infection, but was prescribing antibiotics. The Peace Corps prescribe antibiotics for every illness, which I’m not really a fan of, but I was in so much pain that I had to take something.

Erin returned with the medicine and some water, and I remember her making a joke that the horse-sized pills had to be taken anally, and I thought she was serious. I moaned that I couldn’t do it and they all assured me it was a joke ; ) For the next two days, I pretty much did nothing but lay there and pray it would end. My head pounded and the dizziness lasted for most of the illness, so it was a pretty rough time. But my friends took such wonderfully good care of me, I only felt an incredible sense of love the whole time. No one was angry that I came or told me I should have stayed home; in fact, they took turns sitting with me and rubbing my head when the headaches were so bad I was in tears. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so loved in Ukraine.

Monday I tried to get up and get dressed, but I quickly realized as the world span around me that I was not up to leaving the apartment with my friends. I laid down and fell back asleep, and when I woke up at lunchtime, I discovered they had returned with carryout from my favorite Ukrainian restaurant (Puzata Hata!). I was so touched then, but now just remembering it brings tears to my eyes. What wonderful friends I have 🙂

My cell phone had died at some point, and I had forgotten to pack the charger, so I asked to use Erin’s phone to text my parents in America. I told them I was really sick and needed to talk to them, and hit send. But they never called, and I felt bad, thinking they probably tried calling my Ukrainian number instead of the one that was texting them. By Tuesday, the day I was finally up to walking and leaving the apartment, we stopped at a cafe with Internet and I could tell from the emails that they were worried sick. So I signed into Skype and called and reassured them that I was alive, just fighting a nasty illness. I promised I was being taken care of and recovering slowly but surely, and I apologized for worrying them. I just wanted to talk to them while I was laying in the apartment feeling miserable, and that was why I sent the text!

Tuesday was such a long day, because I wasn’t healthy yet but we had to leave the apartment because someone else was renting it. Tuesday was also rough because Erin got sick too, with nausea and a terrible headache. I assume she got whatever I had, but we all made jokes about it being the apartment we were staying in, trying to kill us ; )

We did a little shopping Tuesday, and both Michelle and I found beautiful boots and bought them. Mine were a steal at 200 griven (= about $25), but Michelle’s were genuine leather a cost a bit more 😉 That night, we had dinner at a new Tex-Mex restaurant in town that was opened by an American, and we enjoyed a taste of Mexican food! My dear friend and language teacher Natalia, who lives in L’viv, came to join us after work, and I was so glad we got to see her one last time. Saying goodbye to her was on my list of things to do in L’viv, and I’m so glad it happened. She was one of the nicest people I met in Ukraine, and someone I hope to keep in touch with the rest of my life. I apologized that we hadn’t called sooner, but the plague had derailed most of our L’viv plans :/

That night we took the train back to Chernivtsi, and the next morning I caught a bus back to Sokyriany. For the rest of Wednesday, (and a good chunk of Thursday) I slept, and I finally started getting better. I think this was the sickest I’ve ever been in Ukraine, and I hope I get over it soon. This weekend is my last weekend in Sokyriany; Monday afternoon I catch the bus to Chernivtsi and then the overnight train to Kyiv! So I really need to get over being sick so I can pack, say goodbye, and then leave. Scary thoughts.

That’s all for now; I can proudly say I survived and that our trip to L’viv proved (if there was any doubt) that my friends are the best in the world. Thanks for keeping me alive guys 🙂

Here’s a picture of us, at a cafe in L’viv our last day: 

Me, Janira, Erin, Sarah, and Michelle.

And in closing, a quote from Walt Whitman that sums up how I feel about these wonderful ladies: “I no doubt deserved my enemies, but I don’t believe I deserved my friends.” ❤

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