I’ve always been one of those people who frowns upon tourists not even being able to at least ask “Do you speak English?” in the language of the place they’re visiting. It always killed me to see them resort to “the language of the lord” assuming that everyone would have to understand what they’re saying. So, as I normally do, before going to Prague I started practicing the pronunciation of some helpful phrases, thinking already how many funny and uncomfortable moments all those funny symbols above the letters would cause with the locals (part of the fun, right?). “D?kuji”, “Promi?te”… I couldn’t wait to see the look on their faces as I wished them a good day, “Dobrý den!”, or when I left the bar, “Na shledanou!”; even some phrases for starting a conversation: “Jak se jmenujete?” or, of course, that phrase I still think everyone should learn before going to a place and making a fool out of him/herself: “Mluvíte anglicky?” I even went so far as to think “Smím prosit?” could be helpful. Never would I have imagined, however, that I would need to tell someone: “Nem?žu dýchat! Náru?í a krku šel znecitliv?ní! Myslím, že jsem na pokraji mdlob! Prosím, volejte léka?e! Pot?ebuju pomoc!” or “Co myslíš si kluci nebudou starat o to tady?! Cože? Musím se vrátit do m?sta a mít tramvaj na další nemocnice?! A nem?žete ani zavolat taxi pro m??! ” But I did.
I went there for a two-day trip. Being in southern Germany, going to Prague is a lot cheaper and around 200 Km closer than going to, say, Berlin. So, I packed my stuff and was ready to go. I got me some Czech Koruny at the border and when I got to the city I realized I’d made a big mistake. Most currency exchange houses in the city will offer you a very good deal with very low commission rates. Oh, well, it was only 500 Czech koruny less for the trip, or rather for the bill at the hospital. I stayed at the Red & Blue Design Hotel and apart from the bar, where you could only drink hard liquors or pop, it was a pretty decent hotel. We were given an upgrade upon arrival and got a superior room instead of a standard.
The first day I went sightseeing. Did everything a tourist is supposed to do, except for those boring guided tours. I’ve always thought that if you want to have that experience you can just walk close to the group and stand nearby when they stop to hear what the guide has to say and pretend you’re taking pictures or something. Prague seemed like a pretty city with tons of tourists and nice sights. But it wasn’t until the sun came down that the fun really started. It was as if parts of Berlin and London had been just thrown into the scene; The city all of a sudden transformed into this hip metropolis, where you don’t feel that safe anymore. My paranoid mode, groomed from living in Caracas for so many years, went instantly on. I don’t know if you’ll agree but I find that getting lost in a big city is one of the most exciting things that could happen to you, especially if it’s on the first night. Being paranoid plus being lost just raises your adrenaline levels and your alertness and your memory starts working as some sort of Polaroid camera, taking instant shots of all the streets and all the alleys.
But it wasn’t until the next day that I wished I had learned some proper Czech. Charles Bridge is one of the most crowded sights of Prague and I did read that it was better enjoyed by night or early in the morning since there weren’t that many tourists. What they didn’t mention, however, is how narrow the one street right before the bridge, coming from the old town, is and how claustrophobic it can make you feel. Right after crossing that street and before going over the bridge I started feeling short of breath and realized I had to stop. I challenged myself to cross the bridge and find a place where I could sit down and relax. Walking through the crowd was no easy task but I made it to the other side and found a café where I could sit down. After all, the worse had already passed (or so I thought).
Once there, my neck and my arms started going numb and that’s when I started to panic. We asked the owner of the place to call a cab to take us to the nearest hospital. It was rush hour, so what would have normally taken five minutes took about ten. We finally made it to the hospital where none of the nurses spoke neither English nor Spanish nor German. Ironically, the first thing to come to my mind was “Smím prosit?” but I thought that wouldn’t be very helpful. I tried to show them that I was having a panic attack by acting like, well, like I was having a panic attack! Luckily a patient tried to help me out and translated what was happening to me (or, at least, I hope he did) and what he told me they said was: “Erm, nope, we don’t take care of that here; tell him he should go back downtown and take the tram to the hospital” I asked them if they could call a taxi but apparently they couldn’t, so I had to go back outside and start walking back.
Fortunately the taxi driver who’d taken me there was still around, so we gave him the paper where the nurses had kindly written down the name of the hospital and he took us there. Driving through Prague during rush hour when you’re in a hurry must be stressful, but driving through Prague during rush hour, when you’re in a hurry AND you’re having a panic attack is nothing you’d want to experience, unless you’re some weird masochist.
After what seemed like a couple of days, we got to the hospital and it looked deserted. I honestly felt like in a horror movie; the long dark halls with yellow metal doors to the sides felt only longer and more deserted with every step. I finally found a nurse and started waving my arms and grabbing my throat and acting again like I was having a panic attack. It seems she understood what I meant and asked me to wait and disappeared into the depths of the dark hospital halls. I waited, waited and waited a little more.
Half an hour later, or maybe a little longer, the doctor asked me to go in; she spoke English. What had already been a horrible experience became even worse when she said “We’re going to have to give you an injection”. All those childhood memories of suddenly feeling better to avoid injections came up as the nurse repeated the lie all nurses surely learn at nursing school: “Tohle nebude bolet ani troši?ku”. Believe me, I didn’t need to look that up in the phrasebook. I just closed my eyes and started thinking happy thoughts (like how I’d got lost the night before). But this time, I swear, she was right. I was still laying on my belly waiting for the shot, desperately looking for more happy thoughts (“Smím prosit?” “Ach, jak roztomilé!“) and she waved her arms like a baseball umpire calling a runner safe, signalling the worst was over. I did not feel a thing! I tried to get up, however, and almost fell flat on my back. Twenty minutes later, I could hardly walk without feeling any pain on my upper thigh/lower back. The. most. painful. shot. I’ve ever gotten. I did start feeling much better, though. The diagnose: A panic attack caused by shortness of breath caused by God knows what (Tests still being done after two weeks). I’ll blame it on stress.
And so that was my two-day trip to Prague. By the time we’d left the hospital it was around 6:30 pm and there was nothing else to do but go back home. I thought I didn’t need to prepare much for a such a short trip. I would love to learn all the languages of the places I want to visit but it’d take me a bit more than a lifetime to do so. For now, I’ll keep learning how to ask people if they want to dance.