I haven’t finished covering our fall break yet, but I have to interrupt the ordinary programming with breaking news.
Wednesday morning my first bus was once again running late and I was anxious about missing the 7:00 bus that takes me to Ebes. No problem. As soon as the doors opened, I leaped out #32 and took off running. I haven’t been doing many aerobic workouts since we’ve come to Hungary, so I’ve been considering my bus stop sprints a form of exercise.
I jumped off a curb and dashed across the asphalt. In an instant, my sprint came to a crashing finale. Somehow I tripped, plunged forward, and my chin smacked the pavement hard. Very hard. I was aware of my glasses bouncing off my face and skidding across the road. My first thought was that they were broken, but they weren’t. I snatched them, thrust them on my face, jumped up, and kept running (slightly slower than before) to the bus.
I figured if I hurt myself while trying to get to work, I was damn well going to make it there.
A few tears trickled down my cheeks as I thrust my money at the bewildered bus driver. I managed a weak “köszönöm” when he handed me my receipt and hurried to the back of the bus.
As I settled into my seat, I realized that blood was trickling from my chin. I used my glove to apply pressure to my wound. No wonder the bus driver was looking at me weird. I had blood on my white shirt collar, on my jacket, on my scarf, on my gloves, and on my lunchbox.
I sat on the bus bleeding and crying, but none of the passengers paid any attention to me. I called Jesse and calmed down a bit. When I got to the primary school, I explained to my stunned coworker (sorry, Zoli!) that I had hurt myself and he took me to the school secretary, who supplied me with bandaids. I cleaned myself up and continued with the day as normal.
My students were very concerned about my injury. They gave me hugs. Fourth grader “Attila” frowned and said, “Oh, it is ugly” with the utmost sympathy. A fourth grade girl hugged me, shook her head, and admonished, “Oh, Ms. Rebman, no running!” in a very motherly way. My sixth grade boys reenacted how I had tripped by hurling themselves on the classroom floor. (This is the young male adolescent way of empathizing. At least we were communicating in English.) The lesson with the sixth graders ended up being the best lesson we’ve had all school year.
Thursday morning I woke up and felt miserable. My attempt to eat my cereal ended after one painful bite, and I felt defeated. I accepted that I could not go to work, and that I needed to see a doctor.
Jesse asked his coworker for advice (the same one who was very worried when I developed a cold during the teachers’ trip), and after strategizing for awhile, she sent Jesse home after the first two classes and gave him directions to the hospital. She called someone at the hospital so that they would be expecting us (although we never encountered this person), and gave Jesse directions.
I figured out which bus to take, gathered my health card and my passport, and we set off.
Hospitals are difficult enough to navigate in my own country where signs are in English. Jesse and I wandered around the hallways for awhile, and after half a dozen conversations in broken English-Hunglish-Hungarian, we finally ended up at the right desk. I handed over my medical card and my passport, and a man whose uniform said something like “Surgery Helper” directed us to a waiting area.
A man carrying his daughter disappeared into the doctor’s office, emerged a few minutes later, and called my name (I was called “Ni-co-la” throughout the day–Nicole is my middle name). The doctor wasn’t fluent, but he knew enough English that we could discuss my symptoms. An aide typed notes into a computer as we talked. He peeked at my chin wound and quickly determined that I would need x-rays and then a few stitches.
Up to that point, I really didn’t think that I needed stitches. As a kid, I spent most of time reading, and I never hurt myself beyond a few scraped knees. I’ve had stitches for dental surgeries, but never because of a wound. The thought made me queasy.
The doctor instructed us to wait in front of room #9, where they would call me for an x-ray. The man and his daughter, who became familiar faces over the next two hours, were waiting in front of room #9, as well as a group of two women and a man.
After about twenty minutes, a nurse emerged from the room and rattled off the names of four patients. She then took off at a swift pace and beckoned for us to follow, which was absurd given that all the patients needed x-rays because they’d sustained some sort of injury. The hallways of the hospital were full of patients in wheelchairs, on guerneys, and loitering family members. Jesse and I got behind the group of two women and the man, and we all lost sight of the nurse on the staircase.
When I become confused by a situation, it often seems that Hungarians are equally as bewildered. The man in the group was shaking his head and muttered to himself. We all wandered into the wrong corridor, retraced our steps, and the man finally found the right door. He looked at us and shrugged his shoulders, chuckling about the circumstances. I said to him, “Nem beszélek magyarul,” as if to account for my confusion. He nodded and said, “Nem beszél, ertem, ertem.” We all settled down in front of the x-ray room to wait some more.
It may not have been coincidence that the two women and the man were darker skinned than the other patients in the hospital. All three were elderly. The women had long, dark braids and wore long, patterned skirts with muted fall colors. The man wore a quirky hat. They seemed like tidy, polite, and friendly people.
I couldn’t help wondering–had the nurse intentionally left behind the gypsy patients (and the foreigners)? I guess that’s why discrimination is so painful–you often can’t discern when you’ve been a victim of prejudice, and it makes you paranoid. At least I was paranoid. If the gypsy man felt he’d been discriminated against, he didn’t indicate any anger. He shrugged off the situation with humor.
At last, the father and his daughter emerged from the x-ray room, and it was my turn. Afterwards, the x-ray technician sent me back downstairs to wait outside the doctor’s office. When I got to see the doctor again, he informed me that I did not have a jaw fracture. I was instructed to wait in front of yet another room, where they gave me stitches. Then it was back to the doctor’s office, where he gave me an appointment paper and told me to come back in a week to have the stitches removed.
I wish I hadn’t tripped, but now Jesse and I have had the experience of navigating a Hungarian hospital. No matter how overwhelming a situation might seem, if we stay calm and ask for help, we can muddle through.
From now on, though, I think I’ll be going to the bus stop at a more leisurely pace.