31. Traveler’s Diarrhea

This post should really have appeared earlier. Like somewhere in the top five. I guess 2. No Toilet Paper falls under the fecal category, so that about covered it for the top thirty. You can’t be writing a blog that talks about shit every five or six posts without people calling the cops (coprophiles) on you. Besides, to me, the word “fecal” represents a more solid image in my mind. And the topic of this post is decidedly far from solid. Yup, this is something entirely different.

That’s why I realize now it should have cracked the top five. Having this malevolent organism inside me was probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to me while traveling. Worse than getting pickpocketed (that’s number-two). I’m fucking serious. I was scared of it. Not scared, like I thought I was gonna die, but I was scared it would last longer. If you’re laughing and calling me a pussy, you’ve obviously never had it. It is THE WORST.

I  got my first case of real TD (they actually call it this) in Africa, of all places (beenou). Because I’m a visible minority, I like to brag to my white friends that I’m more immune to things than they are. Like sunlight for example (even though I still do get sunburnt, from time to time). I’d traveled to third-world countries before, so I was a little cocky. Our guides told us repeatedly, “Don’t drink the tap water. Only drink bottled water. No iced cubes. Make sure raw fruits and vegetables are washed in…” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought. I can handle it. I’m not white.

I’d been diligent, though. I’d been drinking only bottled water for weeks, even brushing my teeth with it for chrissakes. But I mistakenly thought that I’d gotten some bath water in my mouth once or twice, and was unaffected, so I rolled the dice. We were in a small local straw-hut of a restaurant. No tourists in there (beenou). They didn’t have any bottled drinks, only water. It wasn’t even tap water. They were ladling it into metal cups out of a bright blue garbage-pail-sized plastic bucket. I was conscious of it too, thinking, “Is this gonna make me sick?” right before I drank it to wash down a bite.

It most certainly did. I fell into a haze. Not immediately, but I started feeling off about an hour after eating, a little dizzy. Then I had the bubbly gut, then a stomach ache. I’d had food poisoning before, so I thought it was just that – that I’d puke or shit once and that’d be it.  I was struck by the worst case to diarrhea I’ve ever had. It started running Friday, I practically spent the whole day in the bathroom Saturday, I thought it was over and it came back Sunday, and Monday was just as bad as Friday. My memory of the experience is all foggy. I couldn’t eat. I felt so weak. All I did was sleep and get up to shit. I drank gallons of water. Imodium and antibiotics had no effect the entire time. It just kept pouring out. My butthole was raw from the constant wetness of pooping and water wiping (see 2. No Toilet Paper). By Tuesday, I felt decent enough to get out of bed and try to function. All I could stomach was water, tea, bread (dry, as butter is banned during bouts of TD) and the local equivalent of animal crackers. The runs had become more of a mealy, loose paste. It took five days before I had a solid stool and  I was honestly near tears when it plopped against the surface of the toilet water.

One thing my horrific TD taught me is that you need the support of other people to endure it. My friends took care of me. They brought me water and food, if I could eat it. They checked on me and even bought me a thermometer to make sure I didn’t have a crazy malaria-induced fever. You’d think I’d learned my lesson, but I got it again about a month later. Turns out, I was less immune to it than my white friends. They didn’t get it once.

I didn’t get TD again until about three years later, in Indonesia. Due to the foolish ingestion of fish(chicken?)ball soup, made with fishballs and steamed noodles that were sitting in a lidless container at room temperature, in the sun, likely for hours. Again, I thought about the possible consequences as I took my first slurp, hoping that the steaming broth they dumped the spongy, pre-cooked ingredients into was hot enough to kill the nefarious bacterium. But my friend, a feminist, separatist gal from Quebec, was keen on the soup. She insisted it would be fine. Yeah, she was fine. Yet again, I proved myself less immune to something than a white friend. I should learn my lesson, eventually.

- Thanks to Karen, for suggesting I go ahead and write this topic. She must have had it once too. Thanks to Alain and the Diaws for all the animal crackers in Dakar. Thanks also to Isa, Claudio and JP for keeping me alive in the Gilis.

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11 Responses to “31. Traveler’s Diarrhea”

  1. Liam says:

    If you get a serious bacteria DONT take imodium or the like, really bad for you as you need to get that stuff out, not hold it in. Eat a kg or 2 of bananas.

  2. Poon says:

    This is true. You have to let the demon pass. Looking back, I didn’t start taking any Imodium during that first bout until I felt “better” enough to get out of bed and function for a day.

  3. claudio says:

    jajajajaja i remember that episode back there in gili trawangan in indonesia jajajaja. you were really bad bro!!!!
    great blog so keep on writing.
    see ya.

  4. Alvey says:

    CLAUDIO!!!! JAJAJAJAJAJAJA!!!!!! WHAT UP YoU crazy mOe-fOe?!

  5. Mox says:

    Never take 10 imodium in two days, even in the name of scoring (beenou). Two words: chalk ball

  6. mike says:

    YO, is this your first post without a pic? Better get one up.

  7. Poon says:

    That is a hilarious story, Mox. The girl was cute; she was worth it.

  8. Lateefx says:

    For reals! TD – is no joke. Immodium alleviates the disaster for like 15 minutes – but western medicine is no match for these rogue strands of bacteria – even Jack Bauer would cave in – besides…that s*** can kill you – if it kills people that actually live there – there’s no doubt it will put a foreigner out of commission.

    Here’s my question though – one of the best parts of traveling is trying all the different types of food…does this mean that we can’t eat food but at the most expensive restaurants?

  9. Poon says:

    No, from my experience, it just means being as careful as possible. Even expensive restaurants may be washing their salad greens in contaminated water. Just to be safe: choose deep-fried foods and bottled Cokes, hahaha.

  10. Mark says:

    Sometimes immodium has its place in food sickness. I was in southern Laos with not a doctor, let alone one who could english, closeby. In fact, I think someone told me that I would have to cross into thailand to see one. Anyways, I got the shits real bad and, like a good backpacker, took some hardcore anti-biotics to wipe it out…no effect: the antibiotics went through my system so fast I actually saw the two, perfectly intact, pills in my shit. I thought to myself “Well, this is not good!” So I put on my thinking cap and thought “Immodium plugs me up faster than pubes in a drain pipe and stops everything from coming out.” So I took the immodium, let it plug me up, and then took the antibiotics about half an hour later.

    It worked. So well that I actually wiped out all the good bacteria in my stomach. I didn’t eat much more than rice and bananas for a few days. Once I crossed back into Thailand I hit up the 7-11 and ate yogurt for the next few weeks. My gut, 3 months later, is almost 100% again. Now if only I could deal with the rawness of my asshole.

  11. Steven says:

    Just battled through my first TD fight this week here in vietnam…it was THE WORST! I pretty much gave up on…and was averaging a roll of TP per day. Your post made me laugh for probably the first time since i was infected. Just wanted to say thanks!

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