SO I WENT to Bali last summer. My best friend Claire lives there part-time with her husband and two kids, Atlas and Sochi. Sochi is my godson and I had never met him before, and he was already 18 months. The last time I had seen them was when Claire peed on a stick in Bali and found out she was pregnant again and I watched her experience the gamut of emotions one can experience when finding out such joyous (and terrifying) news. I was determined to meet him when he was still baby-ish and so I booked a slightly irresponsible flight to Bali in January 2015. I have a long story with Bali, that could fill a blog or 3, I lived there for 2 years and I started a business there and I learned a LOT from living on an Island in the middle of the Indian ocean. It's the sort of place that affronts you with its lessons, and comes at you head on. It's a second home of sorts: I learned the language, I set up an office, I planned Claire's wedding with my business partner at the time, I rode everywhere on a motorbike, I lived by myself in a really creepy old house where it rained into my bed and bearded dragons lived in my shower and I never once got ill. I never even had 'Bali-belly' or Dengue fever which are both real things that people get all the time in Bali. Claire has a well-known instagram account and when things got really hairy and I went on to the transplant list she posted this, and I was floored by all the love that came flooding in from friends and strangers alike:
In fact, I was never really ill with anything serious a day in my life. I was a colicky baby but I don't remember that! Babies don't remember that shit! I did have jaundice as a baby too-- was that foreshadowing in the story of my life? I don't know. Who knows these things? Only god above us and the universe and the planets and Mother Nature and Pacha Mama and the Virgin Mary and Joan of Arc and Ghandi and all the dead people who have come before us. The most extreme thing I ever experienced was exactly one year PRIOR to my liver failure, which was a shoulder surgery in August 2014. I was a big baby about that. But it really hurt. This is me in a sling laughing at my friend standing in a bathtub at a hotel.
So I go back to Bali to meet my godson and see my adopted little family. We have a pleasant couple of weeks together, a beautiful reunion and a few weird experiences go down (stories which I'll save for another time), I get stuck in Bali because of a volcanic eruption and I go home. Three days before my departure, Claire and I have dinner with some friends who are also visiting Bali from London and who, it just so happens, are also doctors (and who would help me immensely as I got deeper into liver failure and the need for a transplant was so obvious to everyone but me). We sit down to our delicious meal, I have had one cocktail andone glass of wine with the food (not enough for the exorcist situation that's about to go down). In the middle of our dinner I book it to the upstairs bathroom to spew my guts out, involuntarily. I'm such a weirdo that I go back to the dinner table, and not wanting to ruin dinner for everyone, keep schtum about the Apocolypse Now situation going on in my stomach, unable to eat another bite. That's right, I didn't tell my friends WHO ARE REAL LIVE DOCTORS. I never claimed to be clever. I fess up at the end to Claire and say 'I feel so bizarre, I had to go be sick in the middle of dinner.'
In the days that follow I'm trying to get on every and any flight out of Bali to get back to New York for work Monday. Unfortunately there is a backlog of people who have been trying to leave for days and a LOT of angry, hot tourists and a LOT of extremely inefficient Balinese airport officials without any information whatsoever. It's chaos. All the while, I am vomiting pretty consistently and I'm so confused because I've never felt this sort of sensation before. It wasn't your typical vomiting situation. It's hard to describe but it was pretty much like nothing I had ever experienced. And listen, I have done a fair amount of vomiting in my time. Another BFF, Barrie, who features heavily in this story, always says 'You've always been a puker', when I have complained about the never-ending nausea that accompanied my transplant. But that was my only symptom at first. Besides feeling a pretty irrational and extreme anger at all times for about 3 weeks--I'll get to that later.
So I finally get on a flight that gets me in early Tuesday morning. I'm a day late for work and freaking out about it by the time I get back to NYC. I'm also in liver failure, which I did not know nor have the slightest inkling about. Looking back, there were signs, and I really should have. Bizarrely, I made it through the 35 hour flight and transit time without any incident and without being sick. My body was kind to me for that time and I'll always be grateful that my old liver held the sickness at bay so I wasn't spewing all over a 747 from Bali to Hong Kong to Vancouver to JFK.
A lot happened in between the 14th and the 28th, when I finally went to hospital, dragged by my extremely intelligent, astute and charming mother. I'll get to that later, too.
Cut to 2 weeks later, and I'm in hospital and being asked anywhere between 20 to 40 to 60 questions over and over and over and over and over by different groups of doctors. They. Just. Could. Not. Get. Over. The. Bali. Thing. It was a Thing and everyone seemed sure that I went to Indonesia and got some scary illness that they just had to get to the bottom of and that was decided and that was that. Doctors would begin every conversation (more of an inquisition if you ask me) with 'So I hear you went to Indonesia, start from the beginning...' And I'd have to tell the story of how I went and what I did and what I ate and what I drank and where I slept at least 20 times a day. I'm not exaggerating. They were very concerned with whether I ate mushrooms. The meant magic, I thought they meant cooked. I'd reply 'Well, I think I had a curry, there may have been mushrooms in there, I can't really remember.' No one ever corrected me until much later on, which I found rather strange once I finally did find out they meant the mushrooms that get you high. Well doctor, I have done mushrooms--in fact they featured rather heavily in my adolescence (shout out to growing up in London when fresh ones were legal at Portobello and Camden Market and going to Amsterdam when I was 16, 17, 18 and probably 20 and discovering myself through the medium of hallucinogens), but this holiday with my two toddler nephews? No, no, they did not come into play this time.
They never found out what was wrong with me, and I'm still not wholly convinced my liver failure, which decimated my old liver in under 3 weeks, was caused by something I picked up in Indonesia. Third world countries already get a bad rap for being unsanitary but I know how to operate in them correctly. Needless to say, I was exasperated with their obsession with my trip and I was also dying, so with each day my patience (and stamina) waned for hearing the same questions hour upon painful hour.
Now whenever I tell people I got sick in Bali, many of them say 'Right, well, there go my Bali plans. Never going there now.' And I have to say, no, no, no. Bali didn't commit this crime, man! This was some next level, who knows, mysterious, unknown parasite, toxin fueled, spiritual attack type of shit. Bali is a part of this story but it shouldn't scare anyone from travelling or being adventurous. If anything, the fact that I went to Indonesia and came back so sick should spur you to do more, explore more, travel more, live life now and stay in the present. Because you never EVER know what could hit you, and you never know when your time is up. We have no control. The control is just a myth we tell ourselves to try to stay sane. I understand the need for the myth, but it's not real.
Bali was just the beginning of the most radical journey I have ever been on in my life. And listen, I have a lot of airmiles.