In the early summer of 2014, I had the chance of showing Turkey, as I like it, to three of my PhD friends from Florida. I knew them all from the beginning of my Gainesville days. Smart bunch, all have doctorates now. One was my flatmate of the time, let’s name him Dillard. And I had preliminary arrangements to move in with the the other two after Dillard leaves Florida. A couple, Ben and Liz.
It was the second time in Turkey for Dillard and Liz. Dillard joined me at an earlier trip. Liz lived in a southeastern city when she was a kid. They were comfortable, and they knew what to expect for the most part. On the other hand, this trip was the main reason of Ben getting his first passport. Don’t underestimate Ben though, he was the most comfortable one throughout the time in Turkey.
We started at Istanbul. We have seen more than the mosques and museums one can name. Got tips from locals… saw even more. Got tips from my friends… went to restaurants that don’t even have signs on the streets. After about a week we moved onto Ankara. Not much to see, but family and friends filled up time. We extended the coverage of the Ankara trip and saw Cappadocia and enjoyed the scenery fairy towers offered. There is a story about Liz saving me (she saved us all really) from an astray donkey. Maybe another time. Then came the part where our trip was going to Kusadasi on the shores of the Aegean sea. I had some motives planning this part of the trip. The biggest one, I wanted to be on the shore for a couple of days. Others include Ephesus, the town of Sirince and the Mathematics Village at that town.
We flew and took a shuttle to my family’s summer house at Davutlar – Kusadasi. A modest 2/1 by the beach. Everything I needed to rest a little. It wasn’t even the tourist season yet so there was only a convenience store and a restaurant open in the town square. We ate at the only restaurant. Bought some beer, but forgot about it at the fridge as we skipped stones towards the Aegean sunset. We planned on taking it easy the next day and maybe going to the city center.
Morning came and the first thing we noticed was that I forgot to turn on the water heater. Now there was an awkward wait for the hot shower. Ben and Dillard were trying to decide who was going to take a shower first. Dillard also made a point that his face was feeling a little weird. He seemed just fine. We all assumed that it would be a bug bite. The debate about the shower kept on going. I went for a short run on the beach, and learned that nothing has changed when I came back. Dillard added again “my face feels weird.” All of us in harmony “It must be a bug bite, what can be wrong anyway?”
“My lip doesn’t seem to move when I move my face… You know, when you smile and such.” Dillard said.
I asked him to smile, he hesitated. I asked him again, and then we saw why he was feeling any weird. From one half of an upper lip to an eyebrow, his face was just in its neutral state. I don’t know what the other two thought, but I was scared. I called my mom, the first person I could think of to give me a good advice, and explained her the situation of Dillard having a permanent poker face. I was speaking in a language the rest can’t understand. I tried to hide how terrified I was from everyone, the ones in the same room and the one on the phone. Me and my mom decided that I should act fast and try not to scare Dillard. Heck, I was scared, how was he staying so calm? Or was that just the face of his that was looking calm? I told everyone to pack up and that we were going to go to a hospital and get this thing checked. “What about the showers, we have been waiting for the water to heat?” Different priorities.
I called the only cab in the town. His name was Muharrem (an old Turkish name) but he went by George Taxi, so his business card said. Gave George my address. He asked about my family specifically by name once he heard the door number. Little towns either gets people closer or makes people curious about one another I guess. I said “they are fine, please come here and we need to go to a hospital”. I can’t recall how much we waited, maybe 10 minutes, maybe 4 hours.Time was running differently. The shower gang and I packed ourselves into George’s taxi. Me in the front, the others at the back. I told George that we want to go to a hospital. George said “the town has changed a lot since you’ve last been here. There are three options: Kusadasi Public, Kusadasi Private and Kusadasi American Private Hospital.” I explained the options and we picked the newest of these close proximity options: Kusadasi American Private Hospital. After all, I was with American tourists.
George was eager to show me what was changing in town. He was driving slowly and kept on pointing at uninteresting things like a new cafe or a new apartment building that has been built in the last years. I firmly reminded him that we were going to a hospital. I needed him to be faster. He asked “Who is sick?” To this day, none of your God damn business George.
We reached at the door of a good looking building. I got out of the car, threw some colorful money at where I was sitting. A guy was yelling at us with his shopping bags from the other side of the road. I didn’t listen. I didn’t care. I still don’t know what he said. I took fast steps towards the sliding doors of the hospital. The doors didn’t slide for us. Confused, I started looking blank at nothing. Others showed me a paper on the door of the hospital. It was from the Ministry of Health, declaring the hospital not suitable for operation because they can’t match the minimum number of specialists needed to be classified as a hospital. It is a cutthroat market. I’m sure the other hospitals hired those specialists. The hospital’s name wasn’t what George said either, but who cares about the name of a closed hospital.
I called George and told him to take us to the other hospital asap. He said that he had a new customer. But our situation is urgent! He caved…
As we wait for the cab, we started talking about breakfast. I couldn’t pay much attention to that filler. I thought, in the center of this city, only a handful of people would know any English. I didn’t want to let anyone loose to get lost. Face first, food second. Dillard was still stable, and this lowered my anxiety a little.
George came and picked us up. Entire way, he repeated the same statement in different sentences: He couldn’t believe that the hospital was closed.
It was obvious that the Kusadasi Private Hospital was open. A lot of (now red) people with sunburns were walking the sidewalk. I asked about how much I owe George, he said no charge and that he would wait for us if we want to. That made me think of how much I’ve given him in the first place, but I couldn’t count. I vaguely remember Ben saying something about food. Sorry buddy, I wasn’t able to pay attention… Me at the edge of losing my grasp: “Please wait till this things is over and I’ll find food for you, I promise.”
We started scampering towards the hospital only to be stopped at the door. Again! This time by a man smoking outside. He was different than the usual crowd though. He had a tucked in light purple polo shirt and all the confidence in the world that came with it. He was a doctor in the hospital and asked us what the problem was. I’ve explained. He started smirking a little, and said “that’s just facial paralysis, it’s going to go away in 20 days or so.”
No matter what he said I wanted Dillard to see another doctor that is actually wearing some scrubs. We entered the hospital with the doctor. He helped us with our check in and directed the staff that we should go to the Neurology. After 10 minutes or so, a young nervous guy in full suit and a dark red tie came and told us that we were going to see the neurologist. I asked him who he was. He was a translator that recently started at the hospital. It was hospital policy to have a translator for foreign patients. Ben and Liz sat at the couch in front of the office. Me, Dillard and the translator went into the neurologists room. Dillard took a seat on the opposite wall of the doctor. Doctor slowly took the file from the translator, looked at it a little, took the last sip from his tea cup.
“So what is the problem?” he said.
I started explaining how it started. Before even coming to Dillard’s smile the doctor interrupted: “I already know what the problem is, you know? – Tell your friend to push his thumb on the back of his ear. It is going to hurt.” I told Dillard. It visibly hurt him a little. “He is experiencing Bell’s Palsy. I will prescribe him steroids and it will go away in a matter of weeks. Nothing to worry.” Some more chatter with the doctor…
This type of unexpected responsibility took some time out of my life for sure. I aged in this story more than usual. But I am happy that this story had a happy ending. I am amazed how Dillard kept himself calm through that day and the following days where the facial paralysis became more apparent and didn’t seem to go anywhere. What a day? But things turn normal before you know it. We had tea and skipped stones into the sunset later that day.
Oh! When we got out of the doctor’s room, Liz and Ben were eating Haylayf* biscuits. Turns out, there was a convenience store that Ben saw when we were entering the hospital. He went there to get something to eat. No conversation whatsoever with the clerk, just pointing and showing some cash at each other. Different priorities. I am so happy that there was a store right on the opposite side of the street.
* read as ‘High Life’ in Turkish even though it doesn’t mean anything.
Also in case if you’d like to call George: