I didn’t get much sleep, with the fever still raging, and congestion in full effect. Breathing was difficult. My husband didn’t get much rest either, but when he returned from breakfast, he brought me some cold medication he had found in the hotel’s gift shop. It was a purple box, labeled “Active” so we thought that meant daytime formulation.

As you may recall, my day job is a regulatory one, working in the field of human subjects protection in biomedical research. I know better than most what processes medication must undergo before before it is available to be sold or prescribed in the United States. Our process, while not perfect, is a rigorous one nonetheless. It is one that I have come to trust, for the most part, because I know that they seek to quantify and minimize the risk of side effects from medication.

I know practically nothing of the Mexican government’s equivalent program, if it exists and what it entails. I do know that pharmacies sell any drug without prescription, and that there is a problem with counterfeit medications. While we struggle under the cumbersome weight of our own health care delivery system, Mexico takes a hands-off approach, removing the middle men (doctors) and letting people diagnose and treat themselves.

Considering all the other problems Mexico has, I don’t really blame them. If they wanted to regulate, they simply wouldn’t have the ability, and considering the possibility of corruption, they just decided not to regulate at all. I imagine they have some sort of reciprocity with the American system, and seeing the box was at least produced by a company I knew, Bayer, I felt a bit better about taking the mysterious purple pills.

By that point of the morning, I was in worse shape than the day before. The fever had not yet broken, I wanted nothing to eat, and while laying in agony on the bed, I began to notice the tell-tale halos around the track lighting, indicating that indeed a migraine headache had decided to join the mix. Hmm, I thought, this will make for an interesting flight.

I found the last set of intact ear plugs in my bag, as the simple sound of drawers closing, clacking of carts in the hallway as people moved their luggage out and to the lobby, were so disturbing that they jolted me from my half slumber. I also put on my sunglasses, hoping that I would be able to cut out as much visual stimulation as possible.

Normally, a migraine alone would be enough to knock me out for a day. The pain becomes so overwhelming and disorienting that I usually lock myself in my bedroom with an eye mask, cold compresses and a bottle of xanax to sleep it off. With our mid afternoon flight home, I did not have this luxury. I dressed, and noticed that at least some of the congestion was being helped with the cold medicine, and the fever did come down a bit.

However, the simple trip from the room to the lobby left me panting like a wounded animal. I sat, plugged into my own little bubble while the group fussed around me. Most expressed what seemed like genuine concern, and the rest graciously left me alone, which is what I really wanted. The next few hours couldn’t go by quickly enough. Getting through security was a breeze, although we did see some interesting sights. A woman getting indignant because her carry-on had three full size bottles of tequila in it, not remembering that these things had to be checked, the TSA agent removed it immediately, shaking her head.

We had to go through another duty free shop, an overwhelming display of sensory overload. Bright lights pointing you to various bottles of alcohol and tobacco for sale, the group was inevitably distracted by it, caught like deer in the headlights as  they contemplated splitting off in various directions. I was getting dizzy and ready to throw up when I announced that they could stay here and shop, but I was going to the gate to sit down.

The airport was abuzz with activity, many people returning to their home countries in god awful sombreros. To the inexperienced on-looker, I must have seemed like a standard hungover college kid, big sunglasses and looking like I had been hit by a bus. I found a seat near the window and settled in, trying to prepare myself for the  pain I was about to experience as my sinuses and migraine-troubled head as we changed altitudes on the long flight back.

Eventually, the cold medicine did enough to stave off my fever and pain that just before our flight, I was overwhelmed with a fierce hunger. There was a Johnny Rockets nearby, and nothing seemed more appetizing to me than the prospect of real American food. I decided to chance it, and was rewarded with quite possibly the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever had. The soft, sweet potato roll, the tang of mayonnaise, the salty real chicken breast, I was in heaven. I devoured it before my body could think twice to reject it and housed the fries that came with it.

Soon it was time to board the plane, and for the first time, I was asked to remove my sunglasses. The agent had no patience for my explanation that I had a migraine, tasked simply with comparing my face to the one on the passport that I had handed to her. Of course, I managed to drop them after giving her a squinty eyed look to confirm my identity, and they went crashing to the floor. I bumped into the people behind me with my bag as I bent to retrieve them, and my sinuses raged against the sudden change, refilling my brain the pure, unadulterated pressure and pain.

Aboard the plane, I began to fear that the ascent and descent would be more than I could handle. My husband graciously gave me his aisle seat, in case I had to make a quick dash to the bathroom to vomit. The ascent was predictable and uncomfortable, but nothing compared to the stabbing pain that accompanied our plane’s inevitable circling around Philadelphia. It felt as though someone had placed ice picks behind each ear and were slowly turning them into my brain stem. Tears coursed behind my sunglasses and I moaned quietly as I prayed for death.

When we landed, my right ear was still clogged. Although I tried all manner of trick to unclog it, there was no relief. We went through customs and immigration, grabbing our bags and our ride back to the car, my right ear now completely deaf. My concern only that we press on and get home, I would deal with the rest in the morning.

Our shuttle ride back to the car, driven and assisted by the two most authentic Philadelphians I’ve ever seen, was probably the second most welcome sight of the trip. The second was the reaction from our kitties when we arrived at the house, purring and meowing their welcome back, rubbing against our legs in the most happy expression of kitty affection. We were overjoyed to see them as well, and for the moment, we enjoyed that most amazing feeling of all: we were home.