Getting Sick Abroad is About As Fun As a Dirty Toilet

From the start, I’d just like to say I’m not drinking soda for the foreseeable future (ever) and toilet paper and a bed are valuable commodities I won’t take for granted anymore.

Before you go traveling abroad you usually get the schpeel (is that how you spell it?) from your parents, friends, co-workers or doctor regarding health concerns that you need to be:

  • Caught up and get the appropriate shots
  • Take an emergency first aid kit
  • Don’t drink tap water or drink beverages with ice
  • Wash all the fruits and vegetables you eat well
  • Buy travel insurance (in case you need to be flown home in an emergency situation)
  • Learn the local police, medical, and other emergency numbers just in case
  • Read up on some home remedies and etc

I personally did all of the above except for the last one but thankfully my family, especially my grandma and mom, are full of knowledge on medicinal and natural remedies for illnesses. None of that unfortunately stopped me from getting really sick to the point where I was asked to check into a hospital. The best part? Not that I refused to go to the hospital because I’m stubborn and don’t take medication for anything, but I got really sick twice within three weeks.

I haven’t felt this sick in a very long time, and I’m hoping to not have to deal with this again ever or anytime soon. 

In any case, here’s what happened, How I responded, and what you can take away (tidbits) from my experience to prepare yourself in case it’s necessary.

Personal Medical Context with a Lesson

You should know first that I’m extremely stubborn and wary of prescription medicine. So much so that I don’t remember taking so much as an Advil or Tylenol in over 10 years. The reason is because I don’t normally get sick, even when flu and cold season come around, and I’m a firm believer in the strength of your body and letting it handle the natural battle. And we don’t need to get into the whole topic of the insanely profitable sickness–er I mean–health and pharmaceutical industries in the United States that benefit from the perpetual sickness, and therefore dependence, of the average citizen; generally speaking.

I’m the guy that when he reached a 105 degree fever years ago refused to take any medication or be taken to the hospital by his own dad. Even though I was having trouble sleeping and breathing, I asked my dad to buy me a gallon of 100% natural Tropicana Orange Juice with some pulp, which I chugged over the course of two days, and to let me sleep it off. In two days I was back to normal with no symptoms. Even I was surprised by the quick recovery.

I’m also the guy that when he got four wisdom teeth extracted at the same time a couple of years ago refused to take vicodin or any pain medication afterwards. Was it extremely painful after the anesthesia wore off? Holy moly, you bet it was. Did I bend and take meds? Nope. I remember that first night not being able to sleep for more than an hour or so. But a bunch of ice-packs, yogurt, and lukewarm soups later, I was back in business.

I also don’t get annual flu shots. At minimum I do keep up on certain vaccines.

I mention this all to say that I may be an example of either a blessed human being with a fantastic immune system or there may be a correlation between allowing your body to build its defensive fortress with every fight instead of depending on meds and being less prone to sickness. Or both, but the latter is my point. Please know I’m not denying nor belittling, however, that some people can get really hurt or worse without medication. It’s a tool, and may you live to fight another day until you’re free.

What Happened

Given the years of letting my body handle a sickness, I think I met my first formidable opponent in late April 2017. The cause?

Soda. And congested polluted hot city air.

So here’s what happened. First of all, I don’t normally drink soda back at home (every once in a while with no problems) and I generally stay away from products with high fructose corn syrup. While in Cairo, Egypt I made the mistake of drinking a bottle of soda with my lunch. I thought it would be no big deal. Everything was fine up until the late evening, when the circadian rhythm of the body causes the stomach to produce 2-3x more acid than normal. Mix that with a reused and possibly dirty bottle of soda which some people even use to clean toilets or floors, and you get one of the most bloated stomachs and excruciating pains you’ll ever feel in your life.

I’ll continue in detail, so if you’re not comfortable with visual imagery then skip the next paragraph.

I started feeling the need to throw up. My stomach tried to make me do so but all I ended up doing was dry heaving half a dozen times throughout the late evening and early morning. Imagine the pain of feeling the insides of your stomach gushing up against gravity with force to be vomited but for some reason it just hits the top of your stomach to go nowhere. All you have is a bent over person breathing hard with bubbly drool coming out of their mouth. Add unto that a horrendously bloated abdomin that already makes you feel a lot of pain whether standing up or sitting down. And to discuss the other end of the body, I was going to the bathroom (not for number one but not a pleasant number two either) every 20 minutes the whole evening. Twenty. From 10 pm until 4am the next morning. That means no sleep, constant bodily wastes, and non-stop pain throughout the night.

One of the staff at the hostel I was staying at got worried at some point. It didn’t help that during one of my vomit/dry-heaving sessions he saw me punch the wall in anger and yell “STOP” (it did stop by the way, but not for long). When he called an ambulance I told him to call them off and that I’ll get through it. He said the same thing my dad said about my fever years ago: “Are you making a joke? Look at yourself. You need a doctor.” I persisted and instead agreed to go to the local 24 hour pharmacy to buy some pills.

Reluctantly I took two pills that the pharmacist recommended, which didn’t end up doing anything, and I drank some mint tea before laying down on my left side because it is true that laying on your left side allows trapped gas to escape easier than if laying on your back, stomach, or right side.

As much as I tried to alleviate the pain I couldn’t, and I endured the whole episode for 6 or so hours until I was finally able to sleep with maybe only 40-50% pain. I woke up after getting three hours of sleep with a big headache, a very weak and achy body, and a dry mouth: meaning, on my way to dehydration if not there already.

Even though I recovered from this episode 3 days later, it started a cycle of runny nose, coughing up phlegm, and over all having a weaker than normal immune system that stuck around for 3 weeks until it culminated in a bad fever.

Part Dos of What Happened

The second time I got really sick was, “luckily for me”, a few hours before I was to get on an overnight bus from Cairo to the Sinai area. What I was indeed lucky or blessed in, was that the day before I made friends with a nice girl who was on her way to meet with her boyfriend and she had worked in a pharmacy previously as well. We took the same bus and she took care of me like she had known me since we were kids. Praise the Lord for her (muchas gracias mil veses mas si estas leyendo esto!).

So hours before the bus I start feeling cold, starting with my hands. That’s not normal in 104 degree weather in Cairo. Then as the sun starts going down I start feeling weak. I don’t realize I’m beginning to run a fever until I’m at dinner with another nice friend and oddly enough we’re both talking about how we’re feeling under the weather. Even after having a fresh strawberry-banana fruit juice mix, my head was so hot I couldn’t focus, keep up a conversation, or finish my food. I’ve never had a fever advance so fast on me before.

Needless to say that even with my friend next to me, that night on the completely booked bus with seats that didn’t recline back enough to be comfortable and with multiple stops throughout the early morning (security and tea breaks) was horrible. We arrived at our connecting station only to find out that the next bus to our destination was not for another 3 hours (it didn’t actually arrive until 4.5 hours later. It’s Egypt). Last time I thought it was bad, this time I felt like I was dying. My head and body were burning hot, I had no sleep, my back was in a lot of pain, I had a bad cough, I practically had nothing to eat for 24 hours and had no appetite, I felt very fatigued, and yet I had given my friends boyfriend my word the day prior that I would protect his girlfriend in this only-somewhat safe region since she was nervous being there alone.

I have to say again, praise the Lord for my friend and for the hospitality of the people we met on the way until we finally reached our destination and beds to rest undisturbed. I ended up making a full recovery (minus a trailing off cough) within three days. I will never know how high my fever got, but after sharing what happened with my mom and grandma (medical practice backgrounds) they both said I most likely had a case of malnutrition and a bacterial infection in the sinuses or lungs, and that I could have ended up in a hospital. I Googled my symptoms and it agrees with their diagnosis and suggested actions.

How I Responded

So how did I recover?

For first event with the soda, I drank some mint tea prior to going to sleep the first night and I made sure to lay on my left side. After the storm passed, and having expelled unpleasant human waste all night, I had to be careful of not becoming dehydrated. As humans with bodies made up of 50-75% water, we can sink into death quickly via dehydration as our organs shut down. Water alone is not good enough, we need necessary salts (electrolytes) to keep our system in balance. Unfortunately in Egypt they don’t sell Gatorade or Pedialyte, although you do have to buy bottled water because tap water is not drinkable. 

So I just took some table salt, mixed enough into a bottle of water to give it a somewhat salty taste, shook it up, and chugged one every 2-3 hours. I also got a lot of sleep, even during the day. As such I didn’t really go outside except to buy more water as well as vegetables, natural yogurt, and fruits. My parents gave me a tasty yet easy recipe for potato soup (1 yellow onion, tomato, green pepper, 3 cloves of garlic, and X potatoes) that was soft on my sensitive stomach yet nutritious. Lastly, I prayed in the morning and evening giving thanks to the Lord for having seen another day. Studies show that a thankful and confident energy (spirit) and state of mind allows the body to be strong, function properly, and recover from illnesses more quickly than a worriful one. 

In two days I was up and running as normal, minus a runny nose and occasional phlegm that lasted three weeks until the second event.

For the second event with the fever, the main problem I had was lack of rest. That first night, the night on the uncomfortable bus, was the crucial night to rest and allow my body to fight off whatever was bothering it. But I couldn’t sleep, and so the fever got worse along with my headache, cough, back and overall fatigue. It probably didn’t help that a few days before this I also had trouble sleeping on an overnight train. The other problems were lack of food and nutrients.

So besides, again, drinking water with salt in it, my friend ordered us some lemon mint juices to spring up our defense systems in the early morning. It actually helped. Next she forced me to eat the leftover Chickpea Salad I brought with me from the night before, and even though it was extremely bland I felt better and my headache subsided a bit. Next she completely soaked one of her long sleeved shirts in cold water and wrapped it around my forehead and ears to help me cool down. Finally, she asked the guy at the cornerstore/restaurant at our connecting bus station if he happened to have a clean place for me to lay down. Lo and behold, he had a whole room full of mattresses for staff in the back. Needless to say I was ecstatic even though it would only be a 2.5 hour nap. After we hopped on our bus to our couchsurfing destination with one of her friends, we were finally able to sleep undisturbed (except for dinner and a walk near the beach) until the next morning at which point I felt already about 60% better. 

I’m really glad I wasn’t alone through this ordeal. My friend was so sweet and nurturing to me that at times I would nudge her shoulder and ask “Can you sing me a lullaby? Can you scratch my head? Can you give me a back rub?” and she would laugh.

As far as the last 40% of feeling better, both my friend and parents suggested I take antibiotics as I most likely had an infection in my body. Remember I don’t take meds so I was like “No I’m okay, I’ll wade it out.” She glared at me and said in Spanish “Don’t be a butthead, take 500mg of Amoxycillin twice a day every 8 hours after a meal and you’ll see how fast you recover.” My family on separate phone calls later added “drink some water with 1 squeezed lemon and honey in the morning, drink lots of water in general, and get yourself some cough syrup.” 

So I followed everything minus the cough syrup, and with extra sleep and careful eating I now feel as close to good as possible, minus a cough. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I’ll go buy it tomorrow.

Takeaways and Tidbits

This experience has taught me to value the knowledge of nutrition, natural remedies, and medicine more than I did before. I noted my family and friend’s council, as well as did my own research online, and would like to share with you some info that may be of service to you in the future.

  • Lemon, honey, and water is one of the greatest elixirs known to man. Here are 11 reasons why. I personally will be making a habit of drinking this every morning.
  • Sleep is crucial to your body taking care of business in any respect, so give it the 7-9 hours it generally needs even when traveling. It acts as a preventative and restorative health practice that will save you money later.
  • Whether sick or healthy, it’s good to find hotels or hostels that have kitchens in case you want to cook healthy stuff for yourself. If you’re sick then recipes like red onion and radish juice as a decongestant for respitory issues, or like lentil soup for iron deficiency, can be found online. Then go buy the ingredients, cook away, and heal up.
  • It’s best to eat a meal before taking antibiotics because the meal will cause your stomach to create a protective lining around its walls that the antibiotics won’t harm. Other sorts of meds may have the same effect, they should state the proper form to intake.
  • Whether you are stubborn like me when it comes to medicine or not, it pays to know where your local pharmacy or hospital is in case you ever need one. Take your phone so you can show pictures of what you want if a mutual understood language is not found.
  • Always carry toilet paper or tissues wherever you go, either for yourself or for friends such as ladies. You’ll hate it when you really have to go number two and find out there isn’t any or you have to pay for TP in public restrooms. Some countries opt for a bidet instead.
  • Women are a gift to the human race. They can do just about anything with what you give them. If you didn’t know that already, you should note that, never forget it, and teach it to your children.

    Thanks for reading. Have a good one and stay clean.