It’s the one thing we all worry about when we’re travelling; SICKNESS. Traveller’s diarrhoea, food poisoning, dengue, malaria, there’s just such a selection it’s hard to protect yourself from everything. Up until now I had never really suffered from being sick while travelling. I had been lucky. Last week my luck ran out and I would like to share this story with you, complete with my own doodles depicting how I felt.
*WARNING*: the following story could cause feelings of attraction and arousal. I expect I’ll have QUITE a bit of fan mail after this. Not really though. You’ll probably want to throw your computer away afterwards.
I’d finally done it. I’d survived a 9hr boat journey on a small catamaran during which I had prepared myself for the inevitable eventuality that we would all end up in the sea. Luckily the dry bag full of my valuables which I had previously prepared never did touch water that day, despite the typhoon. I had been victorious and now I had the beautiful island town of Coron to celebrate in. However, my celebrations were short lived.
Two days later I was ready to brave another boat and we decided to indulge in an island hopping day trip. The trip was wonderful. We saw some breath taking scenery and enjoyed some excellent snorkelling. I did also get my ass kicked by more jellyfish but, let’s be honest, this is almost a given whenever I get in the water. Jellyfish MAGNET, that’s me.
We had lunch on a secluded beach that I can only describe as a tropical paradise. I can’t talk about the food without feeling the unwelcome rise of vomit in my throat. There was nothing particularly wrong with the food they served us but raw onions just turn my stomach right now. I had my food, which was basically just rice and soy sauce because I don’t eat fish or sea food or egg plant. I felt OK at the time. However, once we headed back to land I started to feel absolutely exhausted and a little unwell. I thought it was just too much sun, despite the fact that I had spent a lot of time in the shade on the boat. Little did I know I was about to experience being sick while travelling.
By the time we were sitting in our restaurant of choice for the evening I had gone from unwell to completely feverish. I was on fire. Sweat was creeping out from all of my pores. I could barely keep my head up. To make matters worse the restaurant was the stuffiest place I’ve been in a long time. It was not helping my temperature. By the end of the meal I had to tell my boyfriend to pay because if I didn’t run now I thought I might collapse on the spot and die. A bit dramatic perhaps but better safe than sorry.
I spent that night clutching my stomach and pressing a cold compress to my head. Sleep never really came. I got an hour or two if I’m being generous. I dreamt about throwing up. When I woke up my pillow was soaked from my cold compress which had fallen off during the night. I was incredibly hot, even with the fan on it’s highest setting pointed directly at my face.
I have never been so thankful that a hostel did not have hot water. I dragged myself out of bed, trailing a towel behind me like a zombie with an axe, leaning against the walls for support and moaning quietly to myself. I sat in the ice cold shower for 15 minutes. Goosebumps prickled my skin but I was thankful for anything other than sweltering heat. I popped some paracetamol in a pathetic attempt to regain control over my body’s thermostat. Being ssick while travelling was not treating me well.
Thankfully the staff in my hostel were kind enough to give me a bowl of ice. This was a life saver. I wrapped a few lumps in one of my skirts and placed it on the back of my neck. I then resorted to placing lumps of ice on top of my head which was quite refreshing as they melted. My sheets, pillows and t-shirt were drenched in a combination of sweat and ice water. Luckily, this particular symptom only lasted 2 days.
I’ve never been good at throwing up. Its not something I do when I’m drunk or hung over, so I’m not used to it. I threw up on four separate occasions on day two and ate nothing but a single skyflake cracker. It took me about 1hr to eat that cracker. I hoped that perhaps it was a 24hr bug and I was over the worst. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Trying to throw up in a hostel is not ideal. There was one toilet for at least eight people on my floor. There was an extra one downstairs but at that stage I couldn’t even contemplate using stairs. On those four separate occasions I slowly made my way towards the toilet, silently hoping that no one was using it or brushing their teeth. If they were showering at least that would mask the noise.
When the coast was clear I locked the door and squared up to the toilet bowl. “Look, I don’t want to do this and I doubt you’re looking forward to it but let’s just get through this together and then we can go back to the way things have always been”, I bargained as I started to feel the horrible transition of food from my stomach back up my oesophagus and into my mouth. I forgot how horribly acidic it could be.
Strangely enough I was most worried about my teeth. I had read somewhere before that bulimic people always had terrible teeth because of the acid from vomiting so much. I didn’t want being sick while travelling to ruin my pearly whites.
After the shock of the first vomiting session I was much more business like about it. Sure I still shook afterwards, had a film of sweat covering my face and a few tears but I came prepared. I tied my hair up before each time. I brought a bottle of water with me to wash my mouth out afterwards. I was getting good at it. After the forth vomit session on the second day I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a ghost. Up until then I hadn’t looked sick. My tan had hid the signs.
For the next four days after that I couldn’t think about food without feeling my stomach lurch in protest. I had absolutely no appetite. I couldn’t even imagine why anyone would ever want to eat. I read things on menus and knew that I used to love that dish, but in that moment the thought of eating made me glance around searching for the nearest “comfort room”. That’s what they call bathrooms in Palawan. I sipped my water or Gatorade and refused to go to any restaurant that wasn’t air conditioned or extremely draughty.
I spent days lying on my bed in my FAN room (money saving measures which I resent with an almighty fury right now). The only bright side I can think of is that I managed to catch up on an entire season of True Blood. When I did eat it was pathetic. It took me forty minutes to eat two slices of pizza. I refused to eat the crusts on a piece of bread because they were sharp and I was afraid that if I had to throw them up it would be horrendously painful. I glared at anyone that mentioned food.
On the fifth day I finally thought it was over. The diarrhoea was tapering off and I had a little more appetite for lunch. I’m not going to write a whole paragraph about diarrhoea because I feel like you guys just couldn’t handle it. Plus, it’s good to keep some mystery about oneself. What I will say is that it would have been hard to tell the difference between a #1 and a #2. Oh yeah, I’m sexy.
ANYWAYS, within 1hr of lunch on the fifth day I felt worse than ever. That night the vomiting started again, giving the diarrhoea encouragement to continue it’s tirade of attacks. Only this time they were joined by a horrifying tight pain across my chest and upper abdomen. I half expected my ribs to crack open and a baby Alien to claw it’s way out of my chest. Sleep was not an option. Moving was barely an option. The pressure in my chest genuinely made me worry for my internal organs. I had to stretch my arms over my head to get even an iota of relief.
I looked across at my boyfriend sleeping peacefully beside me and resented the fact that he hadn’t even woken up when I’d fled the room to puke up the pathetic contents of my stomach. Tears stung my eyes as I wished for some magic teleportation device to get me back home to my bed and my mother who would have at least held my hair back. That’s the hardest part about being sick while travelling, not having the comforts of home.
Homesick was not the word for this. I was exhausted. Fed up of travel. Fed up of having absolutely NOTHING at my convenience. I was so painfully aware of how spoilt I had been whilst living in the UK and Ireland. I wanted it back. I prayed to God to make me better so that I could get my ass to a western country and appreciate the SHIT out of it. I knew I’d feel differently when the sun rose and the sickness had subsided but at that moment I was lost in self pity and despair.
I weighed up in my mind whether I was weak enough to die from this and I figured I probably had a bit of fight left in me to survive the night. I would go to the Dr in the morning if I could move.
The next morning I woke up at 6am, surprised that I had managed to sleep at all. At 7am I went to the pharmacy looking for antibiotics ( I don’t recommend this unless you are a health care professional like myself). All they had was Imodium. Useless. All it does is stop the diarrhoea, it doesn’t actually cure anything. The ONE part of Asia where you can’t buy whatever you want over the counter! !!! Next time I go to Indonesia or Thailand I’m stocking up!!
Dejected I resigned myself to heading to the doctor at 8am. I was first to arrive. It turned out the Dr surgery didn’t open until 9am. I waited. However, it seemed the doctor was not aware that he opened at 9am. He did not arrive until 10am. The office was hot and full of people by that stage. When he called me into the office I was relieved to find his English flawless. He said that he thought I had mild gastroenteritis. I was sceptical. I’ve had it before…… it seemed different. Nonetheless he wrote me a prescription for 3 drugs that can be obtained OTC in most countries, even the UK. I took them anyway. Just in case.
He wanted to rule out food poisoning so he he said that I should also do a stool sample. Excellent! I asked if he had a container. He said just rinse out a plastic bottle and use that. GRAND. How in the name of Jesus was I going to manage that without shitting all over myself and the bottle?! Luckily my boyfriend thinks outside the box and suggested cutting up one bottle to use as a funnel. So, by the end of the day I had a perfect shit-catching contraption fashioned out of 1.5 plastic bottles. Ah, the glamorous life I lead.
Luckily for me, the diarrhoea actually stopped after I took the 3 medications the Dr gave me so I did not have to wrestle with trying to capture a stool sample in a plastic bottle. In fact today, day seven, I feel fine. I have been able to eat real food. I’m still not actually feeling any desire for food or able to finish a plate, but it’s not disgusting me to look at it or talk about it. Fingers crossed that I’m fully recovered this time because I’ve got a flight to catch tomorrow and if I thought being sick in a hostel toilet was bad then I imagine an airplane would be much less private.
The only silver lining that I can think of to being sick while travelling is that I might have lost a few pounds from this, but I think I’d take the extra weight rather than go through it ever again.