In hospital, I was fed 4 times a day. The food was brought to each patient in a big grey rectangular tray made of thick plastic. On top of the tray, was a lid that fitted extra snugly, always proving difficult to remove. Taped to the lid was a small rectangle of paper with the patient’s name and the type of diet they were eating; vegetarian, bland etc. Underneath the name, was listed the contents of the tray. It became a ritual that before every mealtime, I’d first read the label and imagine what the meal would look like, and then I’d unwedge the lid, moving it in small movements from side to side and lifting at the same time, until the contents were revealed. First, there was breakfast, which was always bread, little packets of jam and butter, and a lukewarm milky coffee that was served in a blue plastic cup with a lid which resembled a toddlers sippy cup. Next was lunch: usually, something cooked such as a starter of Spanish vegetable puree, which is a thick green soup consisting of blended vegetables and stock, and often a generous amount of salt – this kind of soup was aptly renamed ‘Shrek soup’ by some of the children I used to teach a few years ago. This would be followed by the main course of something such as a deep-fried portion of chicken with a small piece of salad. For dessert: something like a prepacked plastic pot of flan – a wobbly and very yellow vanilla egg custard with a sickly caramel sauce. Around 5 pm the merienda would come. Merienda is the Spanish afternoon snack, and in hospital was usually identical to breakfast. On every meal tray was a small clear plastic packet with a bread roll inside. This bread looked like a tasty homemade treat but was, in fact, the toughest bread I’d ever had the task of biting through. My first ever meal was the evening meal consisting of an omelette, a plate of square slices of sandwich ham with a ‘garnish’ of half a tomato, the ever-present bread roll and a dessert of fruit puree that came in a small metallic foil pot with a peel-off lid, and resembled baby food; that left a bad taste in my mouth.
Whilst in hospital I had a steady stream of messages from friends, colleagues and family, asking me how I was doing, and sending me their get well wishes. My best friend came to visit me on my first day. She appeared by my bedside, looking slightly alarmed at the environment she had walked into, but she hugged me, and made me smile with stories and her gifts of chocolates, magazines and a colouring book. I felt so lucky to have such a lovely friend. The headteacher from the school I work at, visited the next day, bringing another collection of stories and bag of treats; this time blueberries, raspberries and chocolates. Before my time in hospital, I had been somewhat unaware of the support I had in this country that I had called home for just over two years. It was only when I found myself in this vulnerable position that I realized that there are people in my life here in Spain who are keen to offer their help, and I was inexpressibly comforted to know I was in their thoughts.
In the first few days of my time in hospital there had been no change in my hearing. I couldn’t hear anything in my left ear and there was still a lot of pressure in my ear and in my head. Loud noises were uncomfortable for my ‘good’ ear, and tinnitus sounds were incessantly swishing around my deaf ear, accompanied by the occasional screeching noise. In addition to all of this I was now exhausted from lack of sleep and the intensive drug treatment I was receiving, and I had begun to feel like things weren’t going to get any better.