Feel okay, wherever you are in the world

I was 17 when I took my first trip away without my parents. I went to Kyoto, Japan, on a Boston/Kyoto sister city exchange program for high school students.

I was aways an adventurous spirit so it was easy for me to board the plane and take a 17-hour flight with other students and a couple of teachers. (Conversely, it would be hard for me now to leave my 3-year old daughter for such a flight.)

I loved Japan, the bustle of Tokyo, the beaches of Kamakura, the temples in Osaka, the Grand Shrine in Ise, the noodle shops and the shabu shabu that I devoured.

I loved every second of the trip. That is until we got to the top of Mount Fuji.

I was doubled over in pain and couldn’t step off the bus to see the view, to see anything. I attributed my severe nausea and stomach ache to breakfast: tonkatsu, pork cutlets, which my host family had served for breakfast. My American stomach was used to Cheerios, yogurt and toast.

Someone called an ambulance. The next thing I knew, I was at a small hospital where a doctor with a long beard told me to remove my shoes as was customary. Through intermittent conversations with a translator, the doctor diagnosed me with appendicitis.

Next I was in another ambulance. This one was taking me to a major hospital where I’d have an appendectomy. I remember sirens and throwing up. I started missing my parents and wishing they were there. But time sped by. Soon I was in an operating room but felt like I was in a science fiction movie. Doctors and nurses, all dressed in blue and speaking Japanese, stood above me preparing me for surgery.

Then I woke up, in pain and not able to feel my legs. I told a nurse I had to pee. In her broken English, she kept saying, “You go, you go.” I didn’t understand. What she meant was that I had a catheter and I was already going. My legs felt like elephant legs, so heavy I couldn’t move them.

I could communicate with no one except for the anesthesiologist who’d studied in Boston and spoke English. I asked him to please stop by my room, and he did a couple of times, but mostly he was busy with other patients.

Then it was time to call my parents. In all the chaos, there hadn’t been a moment to call them. The teachers who brought us on the trip told me to be calm when I called, so I wouldn’t worry my parents. I bawled my eyes out but I assured them I was okay, that they didn’t have to come over.

I remember feeling alone, yet not completely alone. Somehow, continents away from my family and everything familiar to me, I knew I would be okay.

And I was. I felt this sense of being okay in the world. Of being safe and protected.

Have you ever had this feeling when you were traveling? Share your story over on Facebook.

  1. What a story, Tracey! Harrowing to be sure. I can’t even imagine being whisked off like that, and at 17–you must have felt pretty vulnerable.

    You are fine storyteller–I love reading you 🙂

  2. Shanna–yes, it was VERY harrowing. I think when we’re young we’re so much more resilient so it somehow didn’t seem as traumatic as it could seem. I’m honored that you enjoyed it, b/c you are Shanna Trenholm, writer extraordinaire!

  3. WOW, Tracey! That must have been incredibly scary. I can only imagine, but it sounds like you handled it with wisdom far beyond most 17-year olds. I don’t think I would have handled it so well when I was that age. I probably would have begged my mom to come and rescue me. 🙂 You are quite a trouper. I love how you describe the sort of surreal scene at the hospital. I remember feeling that way when I had my son- as if I were in a dream. There was pain, but it was nothing like I had anticipated it would be. Funny how experiences are never of the same magnitude that our minds make them up to be…Wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing. xo

  4. Thank you, Shanna. I am humbled…And yes it was indeed harrowing! I forgot to mention that I was the only non-Japanese person in the entire hospital which made for some interesting situations. 

  5. Thank you, Helen. Yes, WOW, indeed. Looking back I actually don’t know how I did it without being scared. I think it happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to process it. I also think we’re fearless (at least much more so) when we’re young. Thank you for stopping by!

  6. Ah, I remember this as if it was yesterday.  The above story fueled me often when I had to go to the doctors or had medical challenges overseas.  Thank you for sharing it, it’s so empowering and allows us to KNOW that it doesn’t matter where we are.  WE have to have faith in Mama Earth and know she has our back.  Thank you so much for this powerful reminder.  

  7. Tracey!  I LOVE your new site!  and how it perrrrrrfectly fits this new post!  and yes… this IS what is stamped all over you, your wild cryptic genius as it has played out in your life from the earliest age!  wow!  I find it all so dream like… to be in the country of MY dreams (LOVE Japan… never been) to have experienced the culture on such an intimate level.. and then to have this very intimate event happen to you!  One that involves your body and such vulnerability.  To be cared for and tended to you truly as if you were one of their own… and perhaps even moreso, because you were a guest in their country.  I LOVE how you end this story….

    “I remember feeling alone, yet not completely alone.  Somehow, continents away from my family and everything familiar to me, I knew I would be okay.  And I was.  I felt this sense of being okay in the world.  Of being safe and protected.”

    What an incredible initiating event.  Now you hold this a your truth.  Your compass point in life.  while others see the world as a hostile place, you know that the truth of it is something other, something that is as universal as the care we feel in our own country, by our own parents.

    Thank you!  Awesome story!  I see the pieces of your memoir weaving themselves together through all of these posts.

  8. Having faith in Mama Earth…it’s so important. I’m glad It’s touching to know I inspired you when you had challenges/had to see doctors, etc! I had no idea…xoxo

  9. Thank you! I’m so glad you like it. I am finally weaving it all together! I truly embrace all that you’re teaching me about the daimon and about initiation events! Yes, getting an appendectomy abroad was certainly one of them! And you nailed it…that has been my compass point, that I am okay in this world. So profound!

  10. Yes, this is the Tracey I know and love. I see the amazing motherWOMAN you’ve become and this glimpse of your independence and your spirit at a young age was refreshing!

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