Around the World With a Vagabond

Bad Cases of the Runs, a UTI, and Too Much Vomit December 21, 2009

We can’t always have a clean bill of health when traveling.  It’s hoped for, but illnesses and accidents happen, and, when traveling, what usually might not be a big deal becomes a very big deal indeed. The lack of available meds, or lack of language skills needed to acquire these meds, and sometimes no refuge for comfort, makes simple ailments much worse and harder to recover from.

I’ve already relayed my first bout of altitude sickness, so I won’t reiterate it here. While I only had the occasional upset stomach, Chris had more than his fair share, and share he did. Our other traveling companion, Meg, suffered the most. In fact, it seemed she’d won the blue ribbon when it came to who had the most toilet emergencies.  We ate lots of fish, and she was particularly fond of ceviche. She also indulged in spicy picante sauce, insisting on dousing every bite of her food with the stuff. It was never too long after a meal when Meg would do her disappearing act.  This act was harder to achieve during our epic nighttime bus journeys, or our 3 day hiking adventures into the Colombian jungle.  She never complained though, or gained weight. Poor girl.

By the time we hit Medellin though, things seemed to be better.  I had acclimatized, Chris had a healthy appetite, and Meg was in good spirits.  We wandered through streets and settled in a small park chatting and drinking cheap beer out of big plastic buckets.

It was about this time that we noticed Morgan had gone silent, and was not making too much progress on his bucket of beer.   He’d been slipping off to the side, and spitting up in to the potted plants.  He began to feel really sick. The vomiting began, and pretty much didn’t stop for about 2 days.  All night, every 15 minutes, he was hurling. Even after his stomach had completely emptied out, he was still dry heaving over the hostel room toilet, waking each of us up with his groans, and moans, and chokes.  It was horrible, and we felt really bad for him.

I was next afflicted with a UTI, just to keep things interesting. For those not in the know, a UTI is when it burns when you pee. And it keeps burning long after the peeing is done. I dealt with the discomfort for a few days, but it was the busride that undid me.  A 2 hour trip from Cartagena to Santa Marta slyly became 4 hours of bumps and jolts and jerks, and my bladder hurt so much. By the time we were dropped off and I had excused my way into the nearest cafe restroom, I was in a lot of pain.

It is embarrassing, so I confided in Meg who told me I needed antibiotics straight away.  Scanning the “Useful Spanish Phrases” in our Lonely Planet guide proved futile.  It could only aid me in communicating to the locals that I needed some kind of imprecise help (Lo sorrento!), or to alert them of a fire (Necessito bomberos!).

Finally, our only Spanish speaker in the group came to my rescue. I thought I could get by with saying “No me gusto bano para yo tengo mucho pain”, but Morgan thought otherwise. Meg knew what I needed, Morgan knew how to say it, and Chris tagged along for moral support. In this way, curing my UTI became a group effort.

As promised, here’s a few more vomit stories:

Not to be left out, Meg and Chris both had their turns at upchucking. Meg was sick on the plane from Barranquilla to Popayan. While us three happily stuffed ourselves with airport chicken sandwiches, she was in the airport toilet getting rid of her airport chicken.

The next morning, she was just fine!  Unfortunately for Chris, it was his turn to take over.  Maybe it was the airport chicken he had devoured. He missed the entire day sightseeing in Popayan, cooped up in the hostel, and not straying too far from the nearest bathroom.  Maybe he’d see the city on the next trip.

And finally, upon arriving in Quito, I again was afflicted with altitude sickness.  Quito is the second highest capital city in the world. I acknowledged this by projectile vomiting in a very nice restaurant – through my nose. It hurt, and I couldn’t breathe until it was over.  Not only was this an unpleasant experience, but it occurred near the end of a very good Saturday night, filled with live bands and dancing. Chris and I loved salsa-ing, and even though I knew I was feeling bad, I let Chris coax me into getting twirled on the dance floor.

One twirl. Two twirls. Three – and I’m green. I think I ran over an Ecuadorian family as I frantically headed to the toilet.  Not fun. Not fun at all.

During the month that the four of us traveled together, there was always at least one of us sick with vomiting or diarrhea.  I began the trend, Morgan improved it.  We were never quite sure of the source. We all pretty much ate the same dishes, but not one of us was affected by it in quite the same way. I was the only one suffering so badly from altitude sickness. Morgan we believed had food poisoning, and Meg and Chris had what was probably a bug.  Don’t know for sure. I guess we never will.