The Intentional Expat

Living Your Best Life Abroad

#TBT: Bienvenidos to the Cold and Flu Season (2009)

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Every Thursday I publish a post from another blog I used to have in honor of Throwback Thursday (#TBT). This week’s post is from exactly five years ago (October 2009) when I’d been living in Madrid and working as an English teaching assistant for a little over a month. It seems appropriately timed since Madrid’s weather is just as strange right now. Although Madrid’s weather patterns seem to have remained the same, my life has changed a lot over these past five years though and I’m hoping my immune system is quite a lot stronger too! 

It has been a strange week in Madrid. Not that anything exceptionally out of the ordinary has happened. I’ve just felt a little out of sorts. I think this is probably due to the fact that I’ve been sick. It all started last Thursday when my throat started feeling scratchy. I assumed it was the dry air or perhaps allergies. No way was I getting sick. By the end of the day I had lost my voice. I still refused to believe I was sick. Which is why I had no problem accompanying my roommate over to the fiesta at our neighbor’s apartment that night (she had been cooking in the kitchen when she receive the old school yell of an invitation to join in on the festivities).

We headed over to the neighbor’s and I politely excused myself from any conversation. I hadn’t realized how nice it would be to listen to others conversations without feeling obligate to chime in with broken Spanish. For all these people knew, I spoke Spanish fluently, just not on this particular night when I’d lost my voice. They all knowingly smiled at me when I’d apologized for my lack of voice, “too many fiestas,” they’d agreed. Of course! That must be it, I had lost my voice because I’d been going out too much. Somehow this didn’t stop me from agreeing to join in on the after party heading to the disco at 2:30am. Maybe it was because in the course of the night I’d learned that I was by far the oldest person at this “fiesta,” (by up to 7 years!) and I wanted to prove that I was definitely not an old, lame 25 year old. But most likely it was because they’d started playing some of the most popular dance songs at the party and I just couldn’t resist the chance to dance til 6am.


By Saturday I could no longer deny that I was sick. I canceled a coffee date and plans for salsa dancing and stayed in bed til 5pm. When I returned to work on Monday I learned I wasn’t the only one who’d fallen victim to this virus. Half of my coworkers were now losing their voices and wielding kleenex. Our coffee breaks were now devoted to sharing our latest purchase at the pharmacy, aimed at ridding us of our individual symptoms. I’d assumed my constant state of sickness while working at the hospital had been due to the fact that I’d been at a hospital. Now I could finally see the situation for what it really was. Working with kids. My immune system is no match against these nose picking, juicebox sharing, germ infested rugrats who refuse to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing. Even without tonsils to soak up the germs, I now am up against an entirely different host of diseases thanks to these foreign children, who live in a world lacking soap and proper hand hygiene. Where is the easy access to purell when you need it??

Thankfully my voice returned, but I still found myself dragging my feet through the hours devoted to sea animal classification. I also frequently needed to excuse myself from class so I could collapse into a full blown coughing fit in the safety of the bathroom. The first time this had snuck up on me, I was peacefully strolling around the room, helping to correct English exercises, when before I knew it my face was bright red, my eyes were watering and I couldn’t get a single word out without coughing. I suddenly had the eyes of twenty Spanish 8 year olds on me, all yelling, “Estas bien??” (are you ok?), with the exception of one kid who shouted “Que roja!” (how red!). I finally decided it was my own turn to shell out some money at the pharmacy, but when I requested cough syrup I was greeted with the question, “What type of cough is it?” Who knew that there were different types of coughs? I paused and hesitantly responded, “the type that keeps me from sleeping?” This was obviously not the response the pharmacist was looking for, but a few minutes later I left the pharmacy, with some sort of cough syrup in hand, still not entirely sure I had something that was going to cure my own blend of symptoms.

The week was already not off to a great start when the weather decided to change. We’d been spoiled with 70-80 degree days since I’d arrived and suddenly *bam!* we skipped right over fall and headed straight into winter with the temp dropping a good 20-30 degrees overnight. Last week I was wearing capris, this week I’ve pulled out my down jacket. The first day didn’t seem so bad, it wasn’t freezing yet and I found that the rainy, gray weather actually made me feel a little like I was at home in Seattle. But by day two of the rain, I already was beginning to sense the first stages of Vitamin D withdrawal and suddenly I remembered why I don’t like winter in Seattle. I didn’t have to wait long for the sun to return, but that’s when the cold really hit. The worst part about the cold here in Madrid is that they refuse to turn on the heat until November 1st. When they finally do turn on the heat, we’ll be sporting tanktops in the classroom, but until then I feel like I’ll need to go on a long underwear shopping spree just to make it through the next week at work.

Feeling sick this week has given me a lot of time to daydream about things I’d rather be doing and places I’d rather be. I’ve found myself missing my family and friends in Seattle tremendously, although the reminder of Seattle’s rainy reality did help bring me down to earth a little. I’ve also been craving a vacation:: Portugal, Ireland, Southern or Northern Spain, Amsterdam, Greece, Tuscany, etc…hopefully a day trip tomorrow to a nearby city will help to ease my restlessness until I come across some money to fund my travel bug. This week also got me thinking about the numerous ways I’d like to use my free time once I’m feeling my usual self again. I even found myself seriously researching 10k races in Madrid, which I assume meant I had a fever because I have never had any desire to run more than 30 min. I think I’ll stick with the “yoga, write, siesta, repeat” plan I’d had before this cold sideswiped me. The latest crazy plan to cross my mind is trying to apply to grad school from over here in Spain. Maybe it’s being away from the states, maybe it’s my cold, or maybe it was hanging out with the 18 year old Spanish girls last Thursday, but I am actually starting to wonder if it is time to begin the next chapter of my life with grad school. Of course, not before I live it up in Madrid and get all of these late nights and travel adventures out of my system.

Since October 2009 I’ve been able to check a lot of those travel lusts off my list: Portugal, Ireland, much of Northern and Southern Spain, but a few still remain and the list has grown! I’ve also ran two 10Ks which weren’t inspired by any feverish daydreaming! 


Seven months later I made my way to what would become my favorite destination in Spain: San Sebastian. The land of mouth watering pintxos and beautiful beaches!


Author: Melissa

Born in the rainy, green Northwestern corner of the United States, Melissa relocated to the almost-always-sunny city of Madrid, Spain five years ago. After getting her master's degree, traveling to places her friends at home drooled about, falling in love with a Spaniard, and having her heart broken by said Spaniard, it's safe to say that she's learned firsthand about the less than glamorous side of living abroad. Thankfully, she gets to use this experience, along with her professional expertise, in her work as a mental health therapist in Madrid where she helps other expats learn to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of living abroad. This blog is designed to be informative and is in no way intended to serve as a substitute for therapy.

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