welcome to emmas housethought


Haven’t been posting for a while because I’ve been busy dying. Almost.

A couple of weeks ago I woke up and then walked a few steps to the kitchen. Suddenly the floor fell out from under me and I was lying on the concrete yelling at Wookie to get his wet nose out of my ear. I thought the dizziness would pass, but as I sat with my head between my knees, a searing pain shot up my neck and into my head. Migraine. I crawled back into bed somehow, but I can’t remember much more except being hung up on by Emergency when I called them an hour or something later.

For those unacquainted with migraine: plucking out your own eye seems like an appealing solution to stop the pain. I would have been quite happy for someone to drill a hole in my head with the Black & Decker there and then to give me some relief. It’s like that. You’re insane with pain.

I rang Emergency not just to avoid self-harming with power tools, but also because the world was whirling around me like I was a 14 year old with a cask of Fruity Lexia. Except there had been no dancing beforehand. I did feel like spewing, but.

It’s a bit of a bummer for the ambulance people (Bombeiros, they’re called here: Portugal has the American system of combining ambulance with fire fighters. So you could have a Firey deliver your baby, which is an interesting idea, to me at least. Hi to my Colorado friends Dom Pedro and Vasco, if you’re out there). Anyway, bit of a bummer as I was saying, when you don’t have a street name or a house number. Basically they had to wander around the village looking for someone to ask where an urgently sick person might be living (or dying). It took quite a while, but they got here eventually.

And then we had to have a Portuguese lesson. Can’t imagine why, but the words Migraine, Dizziness and Vertigo had not entered my vocab databank. I think I got there in my little verbose way by explaining that the world was rotating and I had a really really big headache. Three new words that I’ll never forget! Enxaqueca, tounturas and vertigens!

Fortunately for me, but very unfortunately for her, my mother suffered an attack of Vertigo last year. It is a rare, very debilitating and very strange condition. Basically you completely lose your balance. Like being incredibly drunk but completely lucid at the same time. You can’t walk, can’t see, you want to vomit. Even when I’m lying down with my eyes closed, I still have a sense of being on a boat on the high seas.

Anyway, if Mum hadn’t had it and hadn’t told me all about it, then I’m sure I would’ve been terrified. I can handle the feeling that someone left a sharp axe planted in my head, but having an uncooperative body as well is just a bit too much to take.

The Bombeiros really sucked. They weren’t that cute and they didn’t have gas! It’s almost worth being critically ill in Australia just for the hotties and their nitrous oxide. This scabby socialist country wouldn’t even give me oxygen on the house. Buggers. So I writhed about on the pointless voyage to the health centre, where, lo and behold, they took one look me and said “too hard” and off we went to Coimbra Hospital.

I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of the whole hospital thing. It wasn’t nice. The veryold were there. The dying were there. And the groaning were there. There were flirting frivolous stupid people who stuck needles into me without even introducing themselves. There were big machines on me at 3am. There were some drugs, but I needed them too much to enjoy them, if you see what I mean. At the end of it all, they said “too hard” and sent me home.

My arrival in the village was a soft fuzzy warm one: all the neighbours were out to greet me, including the dog-killer suspects. They were all being really sweet, just like people who care! I was really touched! (but I was also on drugs). I was forcibly removed from my home and taken to Tia Maria’s for some proper TLC.

But it wasn’t to last. Once the hospital-strength drugs wore off, the migraine came back- this time in my sinuses, all sharp and pointy and nasty. I was already verging on an overdose of codeine, so I had no option really but to call back the Bombeiros. And now I had a new, alarming symptom: half of my face had gone numb. I thought I was having a stroke.

The Bombeiros were delightful this time. A very nice person called Anna held my hand and stroked my hair on the way to the “still too hard” health centre where I had a fight with a couple of people for jabbing needles full of paracetamol into me without asking if perhaps I might be allergic to anything, like, say, paracetamol? My mother is, you see. If the stroke wasn’t going to kill me, a hapless nurse would. Thank god for Anna, who put in a good word, got me a shot of something strong, and then whisked me back to Coimbra. Another night of state sponsored torture to make Salazar proud.

Some of the same suffering people were there, ranting in that special dementia way. But the staff were a different horrible bunch altogether. One little charmer, raised on a diet of House and Grey’s Anatomy, tried arranging a date with a nurse-boy while attempting to extract blood from an arm of mine. She slipped with the needle, provoking a suitable flow of blood and a flow of words from me suggesting that she should pay a bit more attention to what she was doing. She replied by saying she could do two things at once (!) provoking another flow of words that included Fuck and Bitch. That put me at the bottom of the morphine waiting list for the rest of the evening. It didn’t really matter, as approaching death kinda feels similar to morphine anyway.

No one had a clue what was going on with my head, but seeing as they’d cleverly ruled out a heart attack, a stroke and swine flu, they decided that a forced discharge was the next proper course of action.

Disclaimer: Don’t misread me, people, I love socialism. I believe in free health care for all. I’m grateful to Portugal for allowing me access to the health system. It’s just that I’ve had better care in Africa. It’s also free in Australia and the care is of an infinitely higher standard. Why not charge non-citizens a surcharge so you can pay the nursing staff more or invest in better training?

So after I made sure that my surviving pets were still fed, medicated and watered, I went back to Tia Maria’s 5 star nursing home. It really was awesome. Big comfy bed, enormous and yummy meals brought to me in bed three times a day. Regular entertainment brought to me via children and naughty dogs. And two mobile phones running hot with international text messages. Top quality TLC. With furry visitors taking full advantage of the situation too.

wookie and muppet visiting the sick

Considering I was lying like a useless lump in bed the whole time, it was actually an action-packed week. Tia Maria’s is something of a transit point for all the neighbours so I got to see way more of all of them than I wanted to. They were all morbidly interested in the progression of my illness. In someone else’s house you inevitably get exposed to their dirty laundry, and here it was like the whole village was queuing up to use the washing machine. As a captive audience, I became in-confidence to everyone’s blunt little prejudices and grievances and ancient inter (and intra)-family quarrels. Reconfirming what I learnt when I first came to this little village, everyone has it in for everyone else. Even old granny got a serving. Forget Telenovelas: this here is a seething hotbed of hate and dirty little secrets, and everyone is a villain dressed as a saint.

As far as the Case of the Missing Babywookie, accusations were flying left and right: the accuser’s motives were more of interest than the accusations themselves. Once I could stomach the truth, it was pretty obvious. In three weeks, three dogs disappeared; first Dingo then Max then Baby. As I’ve said before I don’t really want to know the ugly details – but everyone has had their part to play, either by giving the orders, carrying them out or keeping mum about it. I feel sorry for the kids here, though. Old enough to know what’s going on and old enough to know it’s wrong. Silenced and confused, they are doomed to grow up just like their parents.

Lest we forget the little guy, here’s an encore pic of Baby at his fuzzy finest:


There are those who think we bring illness upon ourselves, and for those who think that illness is a manifestation of unprocessed emotion, I have this to say. I couldn’t properly grieve for my little pet, nor spit out a torrent of snowballing fury, because I just didn’t want to believe that a neighbour would kill my baby. In short, stress brought this on. These people give me a headache. But a victim, I ain’t.

The other night I had the sweetest dream, (in Portuguese they call them pink dreams) that Babywookie came home with six little puppies. In the dream, no one had realised that he was actually a she. When I woke up I realised that I had been waiting for Baby to come home. But he isn’t coming home. Under the influence of a potent pharmaceutical cocktail, I got really angry and confronted a few people and told them what I thought of their stupid, uncivilised, cruel little lives. Now I feel sad, but better, and more determined to get the house done and get the fuck out of here as soon as possible.

Meantime I’m still stumbling around like a hopeless drunk. Wish I was. It’s a good cover for ranting whenever I feel like it.


So as not to leave you on a bum note, two slightly amusing things happened while I was in my sick-bed: a chook got out (I love it when there’s a chook free on the streets) and the rabbits had babies. Check out the newborn bunny-kitten!


…and Wookie enjoying the spring weather.

wookie in the grass


  1. Isabel June 5, 2009 9:06 pm Reply

    Oh dear. I’ve been checking your blog from time to time, waiting for the next installment. But this is not what I would like to read about.

    Oh, how life would be so much easier if it was a Western: guy with white hat, guy with black hat, easy to spot and tell apart.

    I’m really sorry.

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  2. Isabel June 7, 2009 11:22 pm Reply

    Are you feeling better now? I do hope so…

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    Emma   Reply: June 14th, 2009 at 1:48 am

    Oh yeah! I’m so confused – the nice ones turn out to be bad, and the bad ones innocent! I remember what they used to say in Egypt – Are they smiling or just baring their teeth? I’m still kicking though, this village hasn’t broken me yet!

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  3. carolyn June 12, 2009 6:26 am Reply

    Oh, get well soon Emma. I’m so sorry…. dont know how you cope with it all – you are one strong lady!

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  4. Isabel June 15, 2009 12:09 am Reply

    And the nice ones that turned out to be bad are probably still nice, and the bad ones that turned out to be innocent will probably be bad some other time. SIGH. Villages are a bitch, a very condensed version of humanity.
    The best thing about being a foreigner is that you can always go home if you want. THEY don’t have nowhere else to go, which might be one of the reasons they get so screwed up.
    In the end, maybe you will not need to leave, just because you know you can…

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    Emma   Reply: June 17th, 2009 at 7:36 am

    Wise words, grasshopper. Isabel, you are spot on. Thankyou.

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  5. Isabel June 18, 2009 8:32 pm Reply

    Speaking of villages, let me tell you two stories of the village “I know best”. They were both told by a lady that is now 70 years old (and that, aged 29, took a ship to Africa where, upon desembarking, she saw a cat and mused to herself: “At least cats look the same, here…”).

    Story number one, she told me about a boyfriend she had in the village, when she was young. When I asked her why they had split (40 years later, when I saw them together they seemed to get along very well), she said that there was no lamp post near her house. I didn’t quite get it immediately, so she explained that when he would come visit her in the evening and they would chat by the door “people would talk”.

    Story number two, about the same period or a bit later but not much, I would think. I boy from a nearby village went to fetch his bride that was at the seamstress trying the dress for their impending marriage. He saw the seamstress for the first time, fell in love with her, cancelled the wedding and had to insist for 2 years with his beloved to convince her to marry him because you can just imagine the scandal.

    I don’t quite know the point of this, but thought you might make something out of these two stories.

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    Emma   Reply: June 24th, 2009 at 2:30 am

    Ha ha ha… she’s sounds like a classic. I’m a sucker for old ladies’ stories, as though they all have some golden treasure of wisdom… when actually they just might be an ignorant racist old cow… but imagine after all this time, she doesn’t see that she made a mistake, and that all those ideas about discretion and reputation just separated her from adventure and maybe happiness… and passion! Yep, there’s got to be a post about “popular village wisdom” like the idea that cigarette papers are sterile and can be used to stop bleeding, you shouldn’t swim in cold water (oh well, that rules out the beach, then), and you only drink tea when you’re sick (tell that to the english/indians/arabs). I keep plugging them for romance stories (the ex-owners of my house were both born in the village (pop. 20)- ie, he married the girl next door) but apparently their gossiping days are over… damn!

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  6. Dee Hawa June 21, 2009 6:46 am Reply

    Dear Emma,

    Hope that you are feeling very much better now. You realise of course that this all has to become a book one day!
    I can empathise with you as living in a small rural hamlet her in southern Spain. Much the same goes on here the thoughtlessness and mindless cruelty to animals.. anyhow loved the architectural pics, well done your’re inspirational !!
    Go girl !! Dee

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    Emma   Reply: June 24th, 2009 at 2:17 am

    Hi Dee. Yeah, The Book! Must get around to it one day. There are so many stories I can’t put on the blog (too rude, too long, too libelous) which will be great for the book… he he he… I keep getting little reminders that it’s just this village and not the whole of portugal that hates animals, but hearing that it happens in other villages elsewhere is also reassuring – it shouldn’t be, of course, but it stops me feeling like I’m living in a spooky village from a horror movie.

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  7. Wendy July 7, 2009 9:54 pm Reply

    Crap. So sorry to hear this. No it’s not just your village. It’s pretty much every village, anywhere, because villages are populated by humans. For all our talents, abilities and good points, it’s what humans do in small communities when we lead small limited frustrated lives with no big horizons or global concerns. (And the big horizons and global concerns just elevate us from the petty bickering, gossiping and neighbourly dog-killing into propaganda, terrorism and wholesale genocide.)

    For some strange reason we seem to cling to this impossible belief that we aren’t like that — that we are, and ‘should’ be, just the good things humans can be — when all the evidence says we are equally and every bit as much the opposite.

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    Emma   Reply: July 20th, 2009 at 2:47 am

    Oh Wendy. You are right, it’s true. Humans are crap. Occasionally one bright spark comes along and gives us the idea that we may have great potential, but yes, left to our own devices, stagnating in little ponds, all we become are mosquitoes who annoy and sting. And leave itchy red lumps. Bugger.

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  8. gloria July 12, 2009 7:15 am Reply

    I am an American with a second home in Portugal. I came across your site and my own experience with dizziness may be useful.

    I had suffered with dizzy spells for many years. Then, a few years ago, I went to a new doctor in New York, a general practitioner, who suggested I go to an ear doctor, because he had heard of this new procedure.

    The ear doctor told me that it was recently learned that some dizziness is caused by an inbalance of fluid in the ears. He did some quick movements with my head (no pain) and then told me to sleep upright for a few days. I do not remember, since it was a few years ago, if I was given medicine, but I do not think so. Well, no more dizzy spells! I hope this information helps.

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    Emma   Reply: July 20th, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Thankyou! Maybe it’s more common that I thought. It sounds like you had the ‘typical’ vertigo, like my mum did. She too had the ‘Epley’ manoevre and was better. But not me… alas. My dizziness now is fairly constant but not severe – it feels just like being drunk. But no fun.

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  9. paula June 8, 2010 8:28 am Reply

    Not nice to read some things you say about Portuguese medical care but, alas, I know all of it is true.
    I’m sure you’re well by now (a year has passed) but I’d say you probably had a upper respiratory track (and hence also sinus/ear) problem responsible both for the headache (not sure it was a real migraine or enxaqueca) and the vertigo.

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    Emma   Reply: June 9th, 2010 at 1:01 am

    Hospitals are not for sick people… I´m sure I´d be more undertanding with the medical staff if I didnt have a migraine at the time…

    Must report NOT WELL YET! In fact am still waiting for exames ortorringologistas (sp), later this month, maybe a real diagnosis??? Thanks for your suggestion and thoughts, I do appreciate an original theory and yes, a virus is indeed a serious possibility (but I´ve still got the wobbles)… thanks again paula

    [Reply to comment]

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