Where You Are, Not Where You’re From

It was the first week of 2018 and I found myself stumbling to the window of an emergency department in Cork. In a disoriented manner that definitely warrants mockery with his friends over drinks, I half-explained/half-sobbed my symptoms to the attendant. I knew I was probably experiencing kidney failure; however, Cork was in the middle of a massive flu outbreak and I fully expected to be turned away to make room for EU citizens.

Four days later, I regained functional consciousness in the ICU and was met with unspeakable kindness and Irish hospitality. Once graduated from the ICU, I befriended one of my roommates in the renal ward. We spent the next few days chatting between naps and needle stabs. I told him the hospital ice cream reminded me of the ice cream parlor I worked at in high school; he told me about his experience waiting for an organ transplant and ranked the hospitals he had visited across Ireland based on the quality of their food. We discussed the differences in our respective health care systems and I admitted I had been floored by how little I had been asked of my accent or home life. “Health is a good equalizer,” he mused. “From my experience, when you’re in the hospital, it’s where you are that matters; not where you’re from.”

Where are you from?

It is a question that has followed me for most of my time in Ireland and one I have found hard to answer accurately. Colorado raised me; Nebraska developed me, and Kansas… Kansas has the advantage of being my most recent place of residence (I kid, of course). As the answer, “America,” usually results in a push for location, I typically pick one of the three states at random knowing the subtle taste of a lie will linger on my tongue. Technically, I no longer hold official residency in any of these places. Lacking a defined home in my own country, I grappled with a lost sense of belonging early in my Irish tenure. Months later, introspection following my hospitalization has revealed that my answer does not – and should not – harbor the significance I once thought. Not without a nod to the various levels of privilege I am afforded for my age and skin color, I was alone and vulnerable and desperately ill when I surrendered care of my body to a hospital in a place I did not yet consider home. It should have been lonely; it should have been terrifying. That it was anything but speaks volumes of the quality of Irish care and culture. Ireland is home; if not for forever, at least for this moment.

I recently made the trip back to the States for a few follow-up appointments. Regaling my US doctor of my time in the Irish hospital, she remarked, “Well, they took impeccable care of you. Probably saved your life.”

She has no idea how right she is.

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