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Steven Burgess
Steven Burgess

A trip, and fall, in Spain leads to an anti-Disneyland experience Add to ...

Sometimes things don’t go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.

What’s the best part of Spain? For beaches? San Sebastian. For nightlife? Madrid. For emergency medical treatment? Based on my recent visit, I’d say it’s a toss-up.

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On my last full day in San Sebastian I was ambling though the park photographing local bug life. Trying to get back to the main path I struck on up a hill, through the woods. The ground was muddy, I belatedly noticed. Later I would also reflect that perhaps my 10-year-old sneakers with soles as slick as waxed skis may not have been the best footwear option. As I turned to head back down, out went my legs. I threw my hands down to break my fall and cut my palm wide open. My hand was covered with blood, mixed in with what looked like about half the forest floor.

People won’t look at a bleeding man. As I hurried down the road holding my dripping hand in front of me, people averted their eyes as though I was an annoying drunk, or perhaps an American. It was about a 10 minute stumble before I reached a restaurant where the nice staff hustled me into a bathroom, produced a first aid kit and bandaged me up, then called a taxi and gave me a free coffee. If you’re ever in San Sebastian, head to Bokado and order something expensive.

At the San Sebastian emergency ward I watched the locals come and go.

A young doctor named Paola, originally from Bogota, stitched me up. She struggled to convey vital information to me in broken English – what is the Spanish word for “pus” anyway? – but I got the point that I should keep an eye on the wound.

Next day I didn’t like what I saw. I was due for a six-hour train ride back to Madrid but went to a downtown clinic first. Infection, the doctor confirmed. He pointed to a little red line now creeping up a forearm vein, then pointed to my heart. “Sepsis,” he said. Good thing that word is the same. He prescribed antibiotics. “If this line gets shorter,” he said, “good. If it gets longer – hospital. Intravenous.”

The train ride was pleasant. I sat across from two young medical interns (one from Montreal) who offered to amputate with plastic cutlery if necessary. It was after 11 p.m. when I reached my Madrid hotel. Dog tired, I took off my shirt – to find the little red line had moved down my forearm, past my elbow, and halfway up to my shoulder.

Another cab ride and I’m off to check out the wild nightlife of Madrid at Hospital Jiminez Diaz.

Emergency wards are the anti-Disneyland – the unhappiest places on Earth. Almost everyone battling pain and worry, except perhaps the lucky few who are drunk.

It was 2 a.m. before I got seen to. And they suggested I spend the night while my veins would be flushed with bug-fighting juice. A night in a Spanish emergency ward, hooked to an IV – it’s always been high on my Don’t Kick the Bucket List.

Next morning the red line had retreated. And I had experienced an aspect of Spanish life that few tourists get to see. Not that I’m recommending it, exactly.

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