My alarm goes off, another Sunday morning beginning at the crack of dawn. In a haze, I walk to the bathroom for my morning ritual. I’m caught off guard when I take a piss that doesn’t feel normal. I don’t think much of it. Maybe the spaghetti bolognese I ate last night had old tomatoes in it, I think. But then I go back to take another piss and a sharp pain accompanies a dark yellow liquid. What the fuck? I think to myself. I look down and see traces of blood, and I start to panic.
“I’ll have to catch up with you later,” I say to my roommate that’s patiently residing on the couch. The embarrassment light flicks on. I quickly sift through all possible explanations in my head, doing my best not to Google bloody urine and then self-diagnose myself with stage 4 bladder cancer. But then I relent, and soon after am informed by WebMD that I indeed might have malignant particles permeating my body.
I take a deep breath, trying to calm down but at the same realizing that this isn’t something I can just sweep under the rug and ignore. I scroll through memory lane, trying to think if there was a moment where I endured irreparable weakness, but I can’t pinpoint such a time. Karma must be catching up with me. I begin negotiating with a higher power I don’t believe in, convinced that if this turns out to be nothing, I’ll swear off women and quit my unadulterated behavior. But that’s all engineered atonement I don’t plan on carrying out. I’ve found myself doing this in the past: pretending that if I get through this part of my life unscathed that I will give up my vices and fall more in line with the values that our society expects. In reality, change only happens when it’s force-fed.
I heard a bible verse recently, and because I’ve never read the bible I can’t recite it verbatim. But my more religious-based readers could probably help me out. It went something like this: there is a difference between knowing what’s right and having the willpower to actually follow through on what you know is right. Everyday I look in the mirror and see a person that knows the difference between good and bad, but carrying out that narrative is another challenge entirely. There are times I think I’ve turned the corner, that maturity is soon to follow. The lightbulb is flickering, but I can’t quite turn it on.
On this day, my pride had to be swallowed, so I went to the hospital. I arrived and was greeted by a friend that speaks the native language, but after we entered the hospital I felt as if I had been dropped into a scene out of a war movie. People lined each side of the hallway, IV bags draped above their shoulders. Attendants gradually made their way from patient to patient with little urgency. I felt as if I was in god’s waiting room. It would have only taken a soft scream from an ailing person to make me want to vomit.
We made our way to the main hall to “check in.” I was fortunate to be accompanied by a native speaker, or else the situation could have been much worse. But after doling out a couple hundred dollars, I was allowed to see a doctor. I thought that meant I’d get an intimate meeting where we would go over everything that had occurred to that point. Instead, my friend and I walked into a room filled with one older doctor and three younger doctors that looked like they were just there to observe.
As my friend translated, the older doctor looked back and forth at me with a look of concern. He wanted me to pull my pants down. The lone female doctor stopped parsing through her phone to direct her gaze, perhaps thinking she’d be in for a nice surprise. After undressing, I could see the disappointment in her eyes, mediocrity so clearly not what she had in mind. I could only silently chuckle to myself. I am what I am.
Surprisingly, I began to feel better. I filled up a small cup with my urine and brought it to a woman behind a counter. She looked at me in disgust. This is what’s so beautiful about human beings: her and I did not speak the same language, but her look transcended dialogue. Her nose wrinkled and her eyes rolled to the back of her skull. “What the fuck are you doing?” she said without saying. I contained a smile and looked right back at her. “I have no idea,” my shaking head responded.
You have to be able to laugh at yourself. I learned that from a young age. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re going to be in some hurt because the reality is we all are going to do very dumb things in our lifetimes. For me, this continued when I was instructed to put my urine in a different container. So after slowly trudging from the bathroom to this desk with a cup full of piss, I now had to casually pour it into a different container, over a garbage can and five feet away from the lady that had just ridiculed me with her gaze.
A few more bathroom breaks later, the redness had disappeared. As the doctor and my friend spoke, I felt like a science experiment, patiently waiting for an answer I could not predict. “You’re good,” my friend said, and then the doctor gave me a thumbs up. “Drink more water,” she added.
I had, and still have a million questions. Is it something I ate? Are Chinese condoms not as quality as those in the United States? But I will likely never receive those answers. A thumbs up will have to suffice. There is no moral to this story. I can’t advise you to not get sick because that happens to us all, but if you get sick in a foreign country, you might begin questioning your life’s trajectory.
Want more Quentin Super? Buy his debut book, The Long Road North