Overseas sick: Why is it always so spectacular?

overseas-sick-why-is-it-always-so-spectacularThe downside of travelling to exotic places is that sometimes you end up getting sick. This seems fair enough – you are out of your immune comfort zone – but my question is why is it never just a bit sick?

If you’re the kind of person who gets the occasional sniffle when you’re at home, why is it that when you arrive in Europe, you get pneumonia? And why is it that you only seem to get these kinds of illnesses after you have spent thousands of dollars and weeks of annual leave  only to wind up on a drip, praying to God that your travel insurance will pay up.

I have heard some truly horrifying accounts of illness abroad. Some friends of mine went on a honeymoon to India and spent a harrowing 24 hours on a train suffering from unstoppable diarrhoea. The time eventually came when they had to start ripping out pages of their Lonely Planet (featuring the places they weren’t going to visit) to use as loo paper. This was their penance for eating a mandarin that had a tiny hole in the skin.

The Future Husband, usually a cautious man who double checks locks twice, found himself belly down on a live coral reef after almost drowning in an atoll off the coast of Vanuatu. He recounts with some dramatic relish the agony of having bleach poured over his open wounds to kill the bacteria.

I have heard tales of collapsed kidneys in Cape Town, parasitic livers in Timbuktu, bacterial brains in Bolivia, seafood-induced spew in Nha Trang; it’s like an encyclopaedia of woe.

My own worst experience was when I lived in Thailand. You know how some bathrooms have a gap between the wall and the ceiling so that if you’re standing in the bedroom you can hear everything? I was sharing one of these very rooms with a bunch of exchange students, including Steve, the funny Canadian who I had a huge crush on, when disaster struck –  72 hours of constant vomiting and diarrhoea, often at the same time. That’s a puzzle you don’t want to have to solve – which end to put where – when there’s a love interest within earshot.

So tell me, fellow travel sickness survivors, what happened to you? Did you paint the town brown in Brussels? Shiver yourself incoherent in Lapland? Lose a limb in Laos?

9 comments on “Overseas sick: Why is it always so spectacular?

  1. Hey… we’re twins!! My worst travel sickness experience was also in Thailand.
    A word of advice – never eat a tuna baguettes from beach vendors on Kho Phi Phi! Especially if you plan to catch a ferry to another island that day. This mistake cost me my lunch, breakfast, dinner from the night before… and also made my 3 hour ferry ride painful and draining (not to mention embarrassing!).

    Unfortunately, this was not the first time I have been sick overseas. I may mention that I was the pathetic one with ‘bacterial brains in Bolivia and seafood-induced spew in Nha Trang’.

    In retrospect would I change anything? Not a chance! Part of the experience of traveling is tasting the local food. Guinea pig in peru, dog in Vietnam, lard in Poland… it’s got to be done!

  2. You lived in Thailand?! How wonderful (apart from that which is described above). How lucky that ‘the funny Canadian’ was scared off by a bout of bodily madness – if he hadn’t been, you wouldn’t be marrying your other source of woeful travel tales!

    I’ve been lucky enough never to get sick, despite eating at street stalls all around the world. In fact, the only piece of advice I have to share is that most people I know haven’t got sick from eating locally; it was when they sought respite from third-world chaos inside a nice five-star hotel and got horrifically ill from THAT (have heard this from at least three people) – perhaps people let their guards down and order innocent-sounding salads that have been washed in local (undrinkable) tap water…or perhaps it is just the very cruel and very common Murphy’s Law.

  3. I too experienced a bout of double ended delight in Thailand which lasted the better part of two days. I was fortunate enough to not have anyone I knew within ear shot though, but there was a downside to this as well as there wasn’t anyone to look after me.
    My other major international illness was a pretty bad flu in Boston. My few days there are just a blur of snow and shivering in the -15 degree temperatures as I ended up cooped in my hostel room for most of my stay with a fever, coughing and sneezing. Oh and did I mention the mild delirium I had too – so much so that I think I ended up packing up some of my belongings in someone else’s suitcase and those items were never seen again.
    The most ironic travel incident I’ve heard of happened to my sister when she injured herself in Greece. She tore her Achilles tendon while walking around The Pantheon. She assumed it was just a twisted ankle and kept going on her adventure only to return home several weeks later and be told that she should have had surgery when she did it.

  4. I was bitten by an Amazon Parrot in Ecuador recently… it’s healing ok but the little bugger took quite a chunk! that’s about the worst of it, touch wood 🙂

  5. It was in Lahore. The first and worst. My travel buddy and I were exploring the Anarkali bazaar. I had been feeling kind of pokey all day, but as the afternoon grew on I felt a tremendous wrenching in my guts that would not go away. Sipping water or tea didn’t help at all. I began to lose consciousness and my friend, fortunately with more sense than I, steered me back to our hotel. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. I was no Englishman, but I did suffer some pretty severe heatstroke. A few handsful of salt in a glass of water was all it took to restore my electrolyte balance. Weakened and wiser (devoutly to be hoped for), we continued our explorations the next day.

  6. I got bitten in Thailand (more like a love bight really) by the craziest sickly looking dog you have even seen. In hindsight I probably should have at least rinsed the spot under fresh water…but I was very busy that day!
    After a month I noticed a little sguiggly worm flourishing on my ankle
    …another month after this I decided I should probably do something about it before it got any bigger…I was very busy that month.
    The good news is, the subcutaneous dog hook worm from Thailand is not nearly as hard to shake as the famous Guinea Eorm of Africa…eeewwww

  7. Oh AND I got the ‘Sydney flu’ in New York in 2000…the sickest I have ever been. That flu was like little devils were poking away at every joint with coal-fired pitchforks while setting me a-trembling with chills and fever like I’ve never experienced. A little Down Under flu goes a long way.

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