You can’t plan for everything. It was the final week of classes and I was working on my final papers for my political and arts journalism courses. I hadn’t been feeling too well, but I didn’t think much of it. I convinced myself that I wasn’t feeling well because I had eaten some gluten earlier. But the pain didn’t get better; it got worse.

I couldn’t get to sleep the night before the last day of classes. I was uncomfortable and the pains were stabbing my left side and migrating to my back. It became so unbearable that I couldn’t think straight. It was midnight when the pain grew to a crescendo. I decided that I had to do something about it. I made my way downstairs to the security desk at the dorms and informed them that I was in extreme pain and asked them to call the hospital for me. The dorm staff called the hospital, I described my symptoms, and the hospital said they would send someone to get me.

I waited in the lobby for an ambulance. Intense pain rushed in waves over me and I felt nauseous. After an hour we called back and the hospital decided to send a taxi because no ambulances were available. I had emailed my mother back to let her know what was going on. I told a classmate to let one of the program leaders know in the morning. I realize now that I should have called one of the program leaders immediately, but it didn’t cross my mind in my delirious state.

I sat alone for several hours in the waiting room at the hospital. I was terrified that it was going to cost me money that I didn’t have, but I did my best to remain calm throughout the situation. Eventually I was taken in to the emergency room. They did some tests and found out pretty quickly that I had a kidney infection. They sent me back to the dorms in another taxi at four in the morning, but this time I had medication.

I went to class in the morning and talked with the program leaders. They assured me that they were there to help me and would have been fine with me calling them in the middle of the night. The director told me he would have personally driven me to the hospital at midnight. I should have had it in the front of my mind that the directors are there to help me at all times. I should have communicated with them to the best of my ability. I only stayed in class for half the day, but everyone understood. Before I left, I communicated directly with my teachers and was given extra time to turn in my work.

Nobody wants to have health problems while abroad, but it’s a possibility that it can happen. While you’re abroad, it’s critical to understand that your health is important. You need to take care of yourself, mind and body. You need to understand the systems of health care in the country you’re traveling to and how to communicate with them. In my case, since I was in London, everyone spoke English, and the emergency room visit and medication turned out to be free. This isn’t the case in every country. It takes some insight to make good decisions in adverse situations, but it’s possible. At the first sign that something might be wrong, the best idea is to talk to somebody about it rather than suffer alone.

Jackie Haworth, London, Italy