I leaned against a dingy old chair in the back office of the pharmacy off of Francisco Silvela, arm sleeved rolled up, fist clenched.
“No me gusta,” I said to the pharmacy technician as she removed the syringe from its white box.
“Si,” she said, sympathizing with me (?).
I felt the needle break the skin. Then, it was over.
“Gracias,” I said, smiling with relief. “Hasta luego.”
“Adios,” she responded.
I gathered my belongings and headed out the door back into the overcast Madrid day.
That was shot numero dos, Hepatitis A.
Earlier in the morning, I received my first shot for Yellow Fever and a prescription (which I promptly filled) for Malaria.
Now, being abroad and having to get vaccinations is not the easiest thing.
After I found out I was going to Rwanda and booked my tickets, the next thing I HAD to do was figure out all of the vaccines. I looked GoBackpacking.com, recommended by the firm hosting us (and one of my favorite travelers sites, Dave Lee, @rtwdave) and saw the long list of vaccinations needed.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
I had even messaged Dave, asking him for his (non-medical) opinion on what I needed.
Then, there was the issue of actually having to GET the vaccines. In a foreign country.
I found out about Rwanda in Berlin, had it confirmed and booked my ticket in Amsterdam and then headed back to Madrid — the perfect city for me to figure everything out, not only because I am familiar with the city, but also because I have such a strong support group there of Anthony, Emma and others who could help me.
Armed with messages and links from Emma, I sent those on to Anthony, asking (begging) for his help in translating and making some initial phone calls before I arrived so I could figure everything out.
He made some calls but hit dead ends.
When I arrived, after showering him with love, the first thing I did was place a call to the US Embassy in Madrid. I explained to them my situation (traveling … not going back to US … headed to Rwanda in three weeks … need to get immunized) and they quickly gave me the number for Sanidad Internacional, the organization which provides travel immunizations.
I had difficulty getting them on the phone, so the next day I woke up early and took the Metro to the office, figuring it would be the most efficient way to get things handled.
I was right.
I stood at the counter, speaking poor Spanglish while I explained to the woman where I was going, etc., etc., etc. She helped me fill out some forms and then I told me to grab a ticket which would alert me to which room to go to.
Once my ticket number flashed on the screen, a whole 30 seconds later, I went back to the room and found another woman, sitting behind a desk piled with papers, ready to help me.
Except she didn’t speak any English. And, well, we all know how good my Spanish is (isn’t).
We tried to communicate, but after I “No comprendo-ed” her for the millionth time, she waved her hands in the hair and said “Vamos.”
So, I followed her back to the main area where she began knocking on other doors, trying to find a doctor who spoke English.
“Espera,” she said, motioning for me to stay where I was, and then left back to her office.
A few minutes later, a woman opened the door and invited me in.
As soon as she began speaking to me, I felt better. I was concerned during the earlier conversation because I thought mixing vaccines with a language I didn’t understand would: a) be lost in translation; b) possibly kill me.
She patiently explained the shots she said I had to have — Yellow Fever and Hepatitis A — and the pills I needed to take — Malaria.
Since I had done my research earlier, I asked her about the other immunizations and medications I needed and she told me most of them were not necessary since I would be there less than a week or there was not enough time to have them administered in order for them to be effective.
After our consultation, she instructed me to go and pay and then I would receive my Yellow Fever shot.
The total cost for the consult and shot? Under 20 Euros.
I like this free health service thing.
At the pharmacy, the Malaria pills (which I have to take from the day before I leave until a week after I return) cost about 43 Euros each, and the Hepatitis A shot cost about 30 or so.
I was worried at first about not getting all of the vaccines recommended, but the doctor explained I just needed to be careful — so no opening my mouth in the shower to drink the water, brushing my teeth with mineral water, eating fruit and veggies you peel — and I can avoid getting Typhoid. Hep B, well, no stupid sexual encounters. Rabies, avoid animals foaming at the mouth.
Getting vaccinated in a foreign country wasn’t the easiest activity in the world. But, it ended up working out perfectly. Quick. Inexpensive. Not too much of a hassle.
Rwanda, I am ready.