Being ill abroad is no fun. It is no holiday, no business trip. No moment of luxury and comfort. Yet when it strikes it compromises everything and creates dilemmas of what you should do and what you need to do.
On a recent trip to Chile illness struck. I don’t know what it is but I don’t like it. My head is spinning as this headache throbs. I’m clearly suffering from being ill abroad.
My sense of balance is under challenge as I slowly stagger from place to place. My stomach the worst of all. So queasy and delicate every time I stand or sit vertical. My bowels working overtime, why did I forget the Imodium? I always pack it, where is it!
My strength, what strength? Walking is a challenge and the term knock me over with a feather could well be true.
This collection of diagnosis leaves me wretched and yearning for rest. My body craves to stop, to lie in a warm and welcoming bed. Is this a bug, is this food poisoning? What is the cause of my being ill abroad? I don’t know. What I do know is that I want it gone and now.
If it is food poisoning, how could that happen? I eat in the hotel, I eat the food work bring in every day which we share. I eat at the restaurants where work take me.
I see the sign in the hotel that says their tap water is 100% drinkable. This is a big chain hotel, the Radisson. They wouldn’t mislead me? Could I be so stupid to drink their tap water based on a sign in a country I know little about?
Yes I could be that stupid. But it never caused me a problem when I visited last time. I didn’t suffer from being ill abroad on my last visit. However now I boil any water in the coffee maker in the bedroom, just as a precaution.
My dilemma stretches from what I want to do and what I must do. I am on a business trip, a very expensive one at that. It has cost thousands of pounds to send me here, then there is the cost of food and accommodation.
I have a limited time frame before my flight back. I must finish my assignment otherwise it has been a large expense with little fruition. I don’t have time for being ill abroad.
My time on site disrupts colleagues as I have to take up their time in meetings and work out our plan of action going forward. All of this whilst I just want to curl up, feeling close to a warm death. I so much want to feel better but have I got the time to recover?
The week is coming to a close and on the Thursday afternoon this bug/illness/poisoning kicks in. I’m in the office trying to focus and have a conversation. It is hard. I don’t want to focus any more, it is too hard.
I see my to do list and I’m scared. Can I do this? Yes but at full speed. How can I be at full speed when my energy levels are so low?
I am invited out for dinner with some very important colleagues. These are my more senior peers, I should be interacting with them and keeping up a good show. Yet all I want is a bed.
I shiver with cold as I indicate my lack of ability to join for dinner. I don’t feel like socialising. I certainly don’t feel like eating as I fear I can not keep it down. . Yet I need to eat to keep my strength up, don’t I? I need strength to fight being ill abroad.
So I cry out of dinner with my reasons why. Back to the hotel and heat up the room, I am really cold. Then 11 hours solid in bed, how I want to shake off this horrible disruption to my health.
In little fits of momentary energy my mind is inspired to write this. I have little time to update, to blog and learn and read. Yet my mind has moments of inspiration my body weans away with the lack of energy to even think. How could I be creative, organise, design and construct a blog post. That takes energy, time and I don’t feel as though I can spare any.
The Friday sees me rise as normal. Am I any better? Not a chance. Yet I have to finish this assignment. There is not too much to do now so the sooner the better.
My colleague collects me and asks if I am better? My response is negative.
The journey to work is uneasy. I lack energy and inspiration for conversation. These pot holes in the road are making my stomach become even more queasy with anger. Please don’t throw up.
We enter the workplace and I am direct in my aspirations for the day. I get things done and can tick the box.
Then I am told of an important meeting for everyone. But here is my chance. I ask if the meeting is in English or Spanish? Spanish is the response. Well I make clear that I will not understand a word, do I really need to go?
Queue the opportunity to ask for a return to the hotel. The “Do Not Disturb” sign is placed and a large king size bed awaits.
I need to sleep. I need to get better. I can’t feel this bad on a long flight home. There is nothing worse than being ill on a plane. Although being ill abroad on a business trip is no fun either.
The Friday evening sees me call for help to the Reception below. I taxi to a Pharmacy with a member of staff from the hotel to act as my interpreter. Symptoms explained and the chemist supplies two sets of medication, one for diarrhoea and one to calm my stomach. Both are greeted with optimism.
The drops to calm my stomach last just over 24 hours. The small bottle of drops for my tongue is not a long term course. My relief from stomach cramps whilst being ill abroad is temporary.
The tablets for my bowel movement are a major disappointment. On the Saturday I go between 25-30 times. These tablets are clearly not working and my body is rejecting what is inside. Yet I fly tomorrow. 24 hours total travel time is not going to be pleasant if my arse is on fire.
Sunday arrives and I know that I must embark on this treacherous journey. My stomach feels a little easier and I’ve only been twice prior to leaving the hotel, maybe there is hope.
My first flight passes without incident, thankfully. Then I arrive at Santiago, my saviour! An airport with a chemist.
I’m quick to enter only to find a group of around four people already being served. Hopefully they will leave quickly then I can discuss my embarrassing symptoms in private with the pharmacist. But no, hold on. A second chemist comes to the counter and politely asks in Spanish if she can help. I ask if she speaks English to which she declines. Okay this might get tricky.
In unison I say to the chemist “Imodium?” as a girl beside me offers “I can help?”. Her offer of help is to translate. Great I think. Now I know the people to the right of me know what I’m suffering from. Well, I am in a chemist and I have to accept there are no secrets.
Thankfully the chemist understands and goes to the storage shelves whilst I thank the girl to my right.
I am presented by the chemist with a different brand but the same active ingredient as imodium. Thank goodness, my salvation is here.
Having taken the tablet I feel more confident of a comfortable journey on this particular flight of a near 14 hours. In fact the journey begins well and my hopes build that the worst is over. In fact for the first few hours I rest in my seat not once needing the toilet after boarding.
After a sleep on the plane things start to take a turn for the worse. I’m up and out of my seat a few times and my stomach is starting to play up again. The cramps are back, it is painful, it is no fun. I want a proper bed to lie in, not this plane seat.
An air steward provides some relief with a pill to calm my stomach. It has some but not a great effect. Okay I really want to get home now.
One further flight home then a 2 hour taxi ride. I manage to complete both but I’m feeling weak again, my head spins from side to side. My energy levels are dropping, I don’t like this.
Finally once home it is a quick journey to the GP’s surgery. Only now can I talk of symptoms in clear English with a qualified medical practitioner. She suspects like I do that it is food poisoning. Lots of fluids, a few over the counter medical aids and rest are required. Then rest is what I shall have.
It takes a further 2 full days in bed before I feel able to face the world again. This bout of food poisoning lasted longer than I thought it should. It was destructive, uncomfortable, unbearable, disruptive and struck on the wrong side of the world. Thankfully now it is gone.
I am generally one not to fall foul to ill health on my travels. The occasional cold is as bad as it gets. Yet once in a while something bad strikes and food poisoning can be an unseen enemy. With all the precautions in the world you sometimes still fall foul.
I hate being ill abroad, I hate being ill at home. Thank you Santiago for being my saviour. Without that imodium my journey home could have been a whole lot worse.