I haven’t’ written something for a while, even my word-a-day event is neglected because I was sick. I should be talking about happy thoughts since it’s the holiday season but I can’t help it the thought of the times I was sick overseas is flooding my memory.
It’s hard to focus when you’re having double vision and you have aversion to light. I have not had migraine attack for years. I used to have it almost monthly until 5 years ago when suddenly the regular attacks became sporadic to almost non-existent, and it happened when my doctor changed my meds to higher dose. Miracle of drugs or what it was, its a welcome change … I was delivered from the monthly pain and when you’re away from home, from the comfort of moms care it was not a welcome visitor.
It is an expat cred to have acquired something exotic (sickness) when working in development though migraine is not one of them. It’s a way to pass the blade test to say that you have arrived but it’s not always a happy memory.
How many of you have constant love affair with the water closet or WC (toilet) when overseas and trying out new food? Well not everybody’s born with iron stomach like Anthony Bourdain who can gobble exotic for breakfast till dinner, I’ll be the first in the list. It’s one of my constant excuse for not going to work in the first six months of any posting and I cannot get to train my pouch to be not so picky but what can I do — boring right?
Critter creatures are fare in Cambodia so are sneaky snakes where you can pick your own before it’s cooked for you fresh – ask around Kampong Channang or the hairy spidey peddled at the bus stop on the way to Kampong Cham. They also eat dog meat which is synonymous to Vietnamese culture more than Cambodian, the same when I was in Timor Leste, when you see the letter RW posted on the glass food box means it’s “asu” (means dog in Bahasa) and it’s more Indonesian culture than Timorese. I’ve tasted them – meaning the critters once (provided I have cold beer on the other hand) and that was it. Not sure about snake and dogs but maybe, maybe not who knows.
I’ve attended weddings and other activities in the village, as respect I don’t normally ask what meat are served in front me somehow I’ve eaten food blindly, but I avoid going to these occasion hungry or when presented on the table I stuff myself with something familiar like peanuts and kropok to fill the stomach and then I can nitpick on the main course and pretend it was good. Try it might work for you too 🙂
My friends always joke that I was harboring something in my stomach that can awaken anytime — eiks! but such is the case every time I am in a new place or tried new food.
When I was diagnosed with Dengue after traveling from the North East province of Cambodia I thought I got allergic reactions to food and maybe from the air because of the red patches all over my body but never thought of mosquito bites. I got chills the night before but when I woke up I was fine except the patches got more red. I went traveling back to the capital Phnom Penh in sweaters with hood during summer imagine the looks I got. As soon as I arrived I went to see a doctor and was told the worst — I have Dengue and I needed shots, ouch big time!
Got it from a meeting consistent with the period I started traveling and what I heard when recovering was that five other attendees were down the same time as me so I narrowed down the place where I was bitten — auditorium at the ministry of health compound, ironic right?
I never want to be sick with Dengue ever again … it was difficult 3-weeks of monitoring platelets and taking shots and even weeks after that I still felt slugging and brain function was very slow (and it was not good when in the middle of finalizing consortium proposal).
Thank God for Sothea, Roxy (my dog) and the driver assigned to me that time, I had people on call and I don’t feel alone but still I missed home and the comfort of fresh bread and soup prepared with love ❤
When being deployed to the field, we are given pre-departure health information for whatever is endemic in the country where we are going – so we had vaccination and when I went to Africa I was given anti-malaria drugs. But I tell you no amount of prophylaxis can prevent one person from getting Malaria. Others would argue that it can make you more sick if eventually you got bitten by the carrier mozzies so most (veteran) would say they don’t bother with it. But that’s them and I was always at the side of caution.
I had a couple of friends who had Malaria on regular basis – 16 total between them and they were okay and they told me they were very diligent in applying repellent and using mosquito net no mention of pills, so I thought I won’t get it I have additional protection – doxycycline. My organization gave me supplies for the first year I am there plus the first 2 weeks pre deployment with caution that I could easily get sunburned to I have so protect myself from the sun compared to the Lariam brand the gives you nightmare and hallucinations. What is an extra tan compared to scary nights eh?
Religiously I was taking it and still got Malaria so after that I stopped taking the pills and just put more repellant, slept inside mozzie nets even if its 41 degrees in my room and drunk a lot of Schweppes as replacement. When I got it I was alone in my field post, the only expat in the post – in the middle country in Bo, boyfriend then was already assigned in another country so no close relations except my work colleagues.
I was giving lectures when suddenly I lost consciousness and woke up feeling really tired and burning up. So I went home, got tested and rested. My house was the office too, I had one meeting with the hospital director and one look at me he told me to take the combi drugs Artesunate while waiting for the results (confirmed later that night). Not taking any chances I did took them and it’s like wonder drugs I was up and about in less than 2 days but like candles in the afternoon feeling bone tired.
My staffs were enticing me to try the traditional Malaria medicine – Peper Soup and I declined. I am sure I will survive having malaria but I might just die from eating soup made from a kilo of fresh chili (of course I am exaggerating) to induce sweating … no thank you!
Thanks to my staff and very good friend Julie they took turn watching me at night and didn’t leave me alone until I was back on my feet and cooking on my own which took a week but still felt tired weeks after that but I was going to work already. It was not as bad as with Dengue but still not something I want to get again let alone have it 16 times. So when they said Timor has their own strain of Malaria, I was very careful not to be bitten and still no pills, luckily I only had stomach flu, cough and colds during my 4 years there. Other people were not as lucky as there were some deaths that could have been prevented.
So getting sick in the field may be a sign people had arrived but still its not a welcome field cred, you have to be careful all the time and always be on the side of caution whatever the trend or urban legend say..
When my mom needed blood donations I could not give because I was from countries with Malaria (and Yellow Fever) as health problems and was still in the 2 years window which was frustrating.
With people being mobile it is easy to acquire anything and bring it with you without you knowing … the ameoba living in your stomach can flare up anytime or the allergies may turn out to be something else, the same for the fever that cannot seem to go away. Since I started traveling there are many viruses being tracked down globally – MersCov, H1N1, SARS, FMD now Ebola — we are getting more vulnerable because now we cannot keep our feet from moving around and discovering new adventures and the more exotic they are the more appealing they are to the new breed of travelers. All I can say is just be careful all the time.
Tidbits: In Timor they believe that Marunggi leaves can cure malaria and drinking Guava juice can cure Dengue fever. None of that are proven except groceries were getting good sales on guava juice during wet season :) The same can be said to Pepper soup. I cannot recall any traditional beliefs from Cambodia though.