The Anatomy of Early Withering

Youth is deceptive in the way it makes you feel invincible, so perhaps disease is a constant reminder of your inherent programmed obsolescence.

Things started going wrong for me in a major way in Jakarta, the year 2010, when I was in and out of the emergency room for UTI, which has been with me since I was a baby and I had to be wrestled (according to mom) by four male nurses just to get the IV needle in. So, really, it was like reviving a childhood friend you never thought would be a recurring character in your life.

For anyone who hasn’t had an infected urinary tract, this is what happens. You start to feel a warm, fuzzy but nevertheless uncomfortable feeling in your lower abdomen. This heralds more-frequent-than-normal bathroom trips that disappoint because you sit there, waiting for the whoosh that never comes. And then it starts to hurt.

If you let it fester long enough, you’ll worry about going to public places with no prior knowledge of where the restrooms are because you suddenly can’t control your pee. You start to bring a plastic bag with you at all times, just in case. You lose all muscle control, the one you so carefully cultivated on long drives and bathroom lines, and you tend to leave a big yellow puddle in your shoes or in the fiction section of the local bookstore, involuntarily marking your territory in front of all your cherished authors.

It was at this stage of the crisis that I found myself hobbling from our apartment in Taman Rasuna to the hospital about two blocks away, and telling the doctors I knew what I had, so no need for that urine test, which, other than the high concentration of nitrites and bacteria and leukocytes, showed I was pretty healthy in terms of glucose. (10 points!)

My favorite question from the ER doctor was, “Do you have preferred drugs?” In my mind, I said yes, but they’re at that club a 30-minute cab ride from here.

Antibiotics become your best friend. Indonesian doctors like to prescribe tranquilizer-grade ones, which are perfect for work because you are basically high while you do your job and then at the end of your shift, you have this handy excuse (and the pale yellowish sheen) to leave early. The antibiotics are fine, but the really bad ones — the ones that make your throat constrict and your stomach churn just on the anticipation of its metallic, evil taste — are the painkillers and bladder suppressors that you take in conjunction.

By the time I got to Hong Kong, I was well-versed in the art of coping with UTI. The first time the burning sensation came, I ran to a small clinic in Tsim Sha Tsui, just off Carnarvon Road, which was cartoonish because they show you a menu of doctors and the prices they charge, and they seem to dispense the fast-food version of medical advice.

My doctor, who had a pageboy haircut, a generous helping of acne and an almost comically ovoid shaped head, essentially sat me on a swivel chair and invited me to diagnose myself. I rattled off my symptoms, said I knew what I had, he agreed, and then told me to wait outside for his cocktail of pills, enclosed in tiny Ziploc baggies with my name, instructions on taking the dosage, and an emergency number printed on a sticker in the front.


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