A Magical Cocktail of Drugs

So maybe the title is a little deceiving; this post isn’t about all the fun and fancy (and not-so-fancy or fun) recreational drugs. In fact, this post isn’t anything fun or fancy at all, but oh-so-necessary when traveling the world outside Western Europe, the US and Canada (and even that’s questionable). It’s all about the poops gastroenteritis (i.e. stomach bug or virus) and food poisoning, and my magical cocktail of drugs to cure it.

I was advised to bring some probiotic supplements to Kurdistan and take care of drinking the water, because almost everyone gets sick when they first arrive here. ‘Ha!’ I thought. ‘I have an iron-cast stomach. I can eat anything, anywhere’.

But oh, how the mighty fall.

I don’t even want to start on how wrong I was. I normally do have a pretty happy stomach that’s been fed street food and all manner of weird food across the world. I ate from street carts in Beijing, Bangkok, Marrakech, Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica, and on and on. But this past month or so has ruined my excellent track record of keeping my innards happy. I was actually sick on arrival to Kurdistan and for the first two days – food poisoning, I’m pretty sure. Ironically, I got sick in London of all places, and at one of my favorite outdoor cafes, too.

An aside: Damn you Towpath Cafe!! I love you so much, and yet you ruined my last day in London, my three days in Istanbul, and my first two days here in Kurdistan. But I guess I can forgive you. Because even if you made me violently ill, the lamb meatballs, cheese and cured meats platters, and rosé were delectable. I’m going to blame it on the water. Also, being sick to my stomach, literally, made it less painful to leave as I really couldn’t be focused on anything else other than making sure I was always near a bathroom.

Even if it wasn’t because of the food or water here, since I had already been ill while in Ranya I thought I had had my rite of passage gastroenteritis and passed the test. Nope. I’m sick again, this time from either bad kofte or bad water at the school (probably both). At least I’m pretty well taken care of here. I started to feel sick during my first class this morning, and someone drove me home after my second class. After consulting my Swedish pharmacist/drug supplier (that would be Anna, my fellow English teacher), I took my magical cocktail of drugs. I know prevention is the key to these diseases, but I don’t really see a way out except for a good cure when it comes to food and travel-related bugs. Obviously you should be careful of the water you drink, and only drink bottled or at least filtered water, wash your hands often, carry hand sanitizer, and all that good stuff. But I’m not going to not eat interesting looking/smelling food or pass up the opportunity to try something new just because I’m afraid of getting sick from it. And though it’s good to avoid eating in places that are clearly a health & safety hazard, sometimes you just don’t know what goes on in the kitchen, or how long the food has been left out.

So if prevention isn’t always going to be guaranteed, the next best thing is my miracle cocktail. I used to “not believe in medicine” unless I would die if I didn’t take it (e.g. malaria). I’d suffer through colds and the flu without taking any medication. But now? Pleeeease. Bring on the drugs. Here’s my guide to keeping all those bodily fluids inside you, rather than having them force their way out of your body in one or both directions.

  • Probiotic supplements – Helps to balance out the bacteria in your intestines, and smooths the transition of the new bacteria from whatever new place you’re traveling in, into your innards.
  • Imodium or, any other brand name of Loperamide – an “opioid drug used against diarrhea resulting from gastroenteritis or inflammatory bowel disease”. Keeps everything in.
  • Resorb or, any oral rehydration solution – also good for hangovers, these little babies help your body retain water. Resorb is one form of oral rehydration therapy sold by Nestle in Sweden, but most pharmacies will have their own brand name. ORT is a a solution of salts and sugars taken orally, and is used throughout the developing world. Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death of children under five, and the terrible irony is that the cure is so simple. You pop a tablet into a glass of clean water, one-shot that sucker (ok, this step is optional), and you’re well on your way to curing your dehydration that results from diarrhea (or a hangover).

It also helps to get vaccinated for typhoid and cholera before you go somewhere new. Well okay, the typhoid and cholera vaccines are more relevant for the developing world. But like I’ve mentioned here, food poisoning and/or gastroenteritis is just as likely in places like London as they are in Kurdistan. So make sure you pack these magical little pills before setting off on a new adventure. It’s no panacea, but these drugs will make your life a lot easier. And trust me, you’ll need them.

P.S. Today is the day I realized that we have a lot of words for vomiting in English: vomit, throw up, puke, hurl, upchuck, barf, retch, spew, being sick to your stomach. We have at least 9, and most likely many more, words for vomiting in English, and one word for love. Food for thought.

(image — via)

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