If you haven’t been sick once (or thrice) while traveling through Southeast Asia, you clearly haven’t enjoyed the fine cuisine.
The first time I had frog legs I had this excruciating stomach pain for two days, but I blame it on the inedible amounts of chili it had. This may be somewhat akin to a friend who years ago would drink mojitos until we needed to carry him out of an establishment. The next day he would invariably be sick, but would blame his upset stomach on the unwashed mint leaves in his drinks. Whatever, frog legs are good for you.
A few weeks ago I stopped heeding my own advice of only eating where women and children frequent. It was a fancy boat, through pristine islands in the gulf of Thailand. What could possibly go wrong with fresh pineapple cut by fishermen in a boat with no running water? Well, a lot apparently.
Now, before readers start hitting back on their browsers because of a post that may be filled with T.M.I. (too much information), stop right there. This is a post with little to no information, as my body usually takes the opposite approach when encountering foreign bacteria. You see, I have inherited my mom’s digestive system, which can apparently process rocks and dirt without skipping a fart, err beat. My body’s reaction to Southeast Asia parasites is apparently– “OK, we don’t know what this is; why don’t we keep it inside for further exploration?”.
So that’s how I ended in Cambodia, with an upset stomach lasting a week, and having to sign language my way into explaining “laxative” in Khmer (the Cambodian language). Needless to say, it was slightly embarrassing, but eventually the pharmacist understood and handed me a handful of pills I hoped were not mints.
I have this theory that if you’re going to get a foreign parasite or bacteria, you better be in the area where such organisms are prevalent if you need health care. I would hate to be in Minnesota trying to convince the doctor that my fever is really malaria and not the flu. I bet the last time he saw Malaria was in a textbook in med school, about 25 years ago. It’s going to be painful for you. On the other, if you get “Japanese encephalitis” in Vietnam, it’s going to take the doctor about 45 seconds to diagnose it and read you your last rites, right before picking your pockets empty.
Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand? It’s all the same. They know how to cure common tourist intestinal disorders.
The pharmacist smiles, hands me some pills and says “Take two and one more after 4 hours if you’re still not ‘done’. You fine. No problem.” I go back to the hotel, put some music on, charge my Kindle, get into comfortable underwear, and get ready for an evening alone.
However, after 5 hours into my, ahem– date alone– I have nothing to show for except serious headway into my yearly reading of How I found freedom in an unfree world. My body has given the laxatives the same treatment it gave whatever made me feel unwell in the first place– keep for scientific study.
I embarrassingly go back to the pharmacist and explain the situation. She says to keep taking 2 pills every 4 hours. “You fine. No problem.”. I beg to differ! Big problem! I know what the next steps are if this doesn’t work!
I go back to the room and start downing those pills, on schedule, with the punctuality of a Swiss train. At this point my body thinks I’m downing Tic Tacs, and luckily the laxatives are mint flavored, so at least I’ll have really nice breath when I explain to the nurse what I’m in for.
A day goes by and I’m panicking, because I’ve had this conversation with Tato and Nuni before. I know the next step is an enema, and the subsequent one involves some variation of their horrors from their surgical residency. It’s not fun, except for the senior residents giving the juniors hell and putting them on de-impactation duty. I’m sweating. I’m panicking. I’ve seen Grey’s Anatomy.
I’m hoping I won’t need to get to stage 3, but as I start walking to the pharmacist (again), I realize this may be more socially awkward than I’d envisioned. Try explaining an “enema” without words. Try it. I dare you. You see? Very awkward.
Not wanting to embarrass myself further I decide that I’m going to download some pictures of the “mechanism” to show to the pharmacist. I show up to the pharmacy, phone in hand, and Google “enema pictures”. I scroll through the pictures, at which point, I turn off my phone, politely smile, and walk away while mumbling “fuck that, I’m having surgery”.
You may be laughing, but I dare you to google “enema pictures” and run through the mental exercise of showing any one of them to a polite Cambodian lady with a perma smile. I think you’d have surgery too. Sometimes death is more welcome than (further) embarrassment.
Luckily, as I awaited my fate over the next day, my body decided to take care of the problem all on its own without the aid of Tic Tacs– unfortunately, at a family run restaurant with only one bathroom, being shared by the family, and with no toilet paper, but with what the Southeast Asia backpackers have coined “the bum gun”.