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My mother-in-law warned us. It’s not like we didn’t listen, we really did and we made a concerted effort not to take in the endemic microbes. That sounds clinical but every local environment has different variations of micro organisms and water treatment varies, so that they will be different from country to country. And when one’s system is not used to a strange bacterium, well, you know what can happen.

My mother-in-law set us straight. She considers herself an experienced international traveler. She said not to drink the local water. Of course, we knew that.

“It’s bottled water for everything,” she said.

“Of course,” I said.

“I’m talking about gargling when brushing your teeth too.”

“Really?” I asked. “For that too?”

“Yes. You’ll be sorry if you don’t. And you’ll have to rinse your tooth brush with bottled water too. And don’t eat anything that’s not cooked. The only fruit you can have are those you can peel, like a banana or an orange. No salads. Vegetables are washed with local water and are uncooked.”

Hmm, ok, that was a week before we traveled and we kept it in mind. I came up with a good idea. I used the remaining water that had been boiled in the kettle for tea to rinse after brushing my teeth. Cool. I can save on purchased water. But then two days into our stay I suddenly realized, wait, while I had been gargling with boiled water I had been inadvertently washing the toothbrush off the tap water. I froze at the lavatory. She warned me about that. Would I get the runs? Well, I hadn’t. Must not be a big deal. After all, I gargle with Listerine afterwards and that kills germs, right?

And then there was that night Pussnboots and I ate at Madlin’s Café with the UK couple. We had both wanted something light that night and she got a Caesar salad and I got a mixed greens salad with cheese. We finally were in a conversation with some English speaking people and we forgot the advice. We didn’t even think about it until the next day. That morning Pussnboots said she felt funny. She seemed pale. All of a sudden I saw her rush to the bathroom. When she came out, she wasn’t better.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“My stomach.” She sat down, and then stretched out. I was typing at the computer that morning. Later she got up and rushed to the bathroom again. We talked about it and we remembered the salads from the night before.

“I shouldn’t have had the salad,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking.”

“Your mother warned us, but I had a salad too. It didn’t seem to upset me.”

“Maybe it was the salad dressing.”

“That’s true. Mine was a vinaigrette.”

She lay pale on the couch with her arms on her belly all morning, with occasional runs (no pun intended) to the bathroom.

Tsk, tsk, I thought. A weak stomach. Poor, pitiful girl. I had a salad too and nothing to me. I must have an iron set of bowels.

Well, of course such hubris cannot go unpunished by the gods. I’m sure you’re expecting it, and no surprise, a few days later, wham, I got it too. It was different for me. It didn’t come all of a sudden and last a morning like Pussnboots. For her it lasted that morning and she’s never had a problem since. But for me it started out as having to go and it came out kind of liquid. And then half the day later I had to go again. But I wasn’t in any sort of pain, just a need to go and out came liquid. And then a few hours later, the same thing. Three times in a day and liquid. No that wasn’t normal, but I wasn’t in any pain or anything. I still thought I had the better constitution.

And then the next day, the same thing, three times, but this time I sort of felt a gurgling in the belly, and then followed up with a cramp, and then a bit later, an sudden urge to go. Still it was just a cramp and no overwhelming, debilitating ache. That would come later.

I wondered what I had done to get this. Time-wise it was removed from that salad. Perhaps the toothbrush rinse. Oh, the thought struck me – perhaps the glass I was using to gargle. Yes I used the boiled water to gargle, but the glass hadn’t been washed. In fact I was putting to my mouth from the same glass as the previous inhabitants. Yuck. I quickly got up and took the glass to the kitchen and washed it with soap. What else? Perhaps I’m eating something that’s doing this. The yogurt? Delicious yogurt out here. The beans? Pussnboots's been making beans and rice or beans and pasta. I bet she hasn’t been bringing the beans to a boil. Or maybe it’s the mayonnaise from that chicken club sandwich I like at Madlin’s Café?

And then the third day hit. It started with a belly cramp. It felt like my intestines were one of those long balloons that get inflated and twisted into animal shapes, and that a balloon blower with a grin, one of those clown types at a children’s birthday party, was blowing a bubble. The bubble would travel slowly down the chute, press hard against my insides, and then in about a half hour reach the end where it pressured me to let it out. So that’s when I would head to the bathroom, and then one of two things would happen. I would either sit there waiting for something to happen, suffering in pain, with the balloon expanded at the colon, or what’s called in fluid dynamics a Venturi effect would happen, passage of fluid through a constricted orifice: “The fluid velocity must increase through the constriction to satisfy the equation of continuity, while its pressure must decrease due to conservation of energy” (Wikipedia). All I can tell you is it hurt.

And then two hours later that damn balloon blower would be at it again, inflating my intestines, puff, puff, puff, ouch, ouch, ouch, until I squeezed out some bubbles before I would run over to the can. I surely didn’t want to leave anything in my pants. Pussnboots would ask, “what’s the matter?” and I would say, “nothing, just have to go.” “Again?” “Yeah, again.” And I would curse. We’re trying to save money and I’m using up all the damn toilet paper. And these European styled low water toilets means I have to scrub and clean them after use.

I wish I could slap the crap (this time pun intended) out of that balloon blower clown.

Updated 06-01-2010 at 02:50 PM by Virgil



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  1. motherhubbard's Avatar
    I wouldn't have thought salad greens could do it. If I ever travel I may need to call your mother-in-law for the low down.
  2. applepie's Avatar
    :) I've heard that you shouldn't drink the water in other places, but I've always sort of disregarded it. Perhaps I'll think twice in the future. Hope you're feeling better now.
  3. andave_ya's Avatar
    AHHHHHHHHH I KNOW!! It stinks majorly! I got so sick in Lebanon for days, and all I could do was stagger drunkenly to the toilet to either go or hurl! I hope you both feel better soon! I can see you marching behind that balloon blower clown and slapping him silly!
  4. qimissung's Avatar
    Oy vey, Virgil! I remember a woman who had taught in Pakistan telling a story, that her daughter's nanny did not use boiled water to boil her oatmeal, and the child got dysentary from that.

    So you should probably be boiling your water twice.

    Good luck and stay healthy.
  5. 1n50mn14's Avatar
    I know some people who, in the words of Liz Gilbert, can drink a shoebox of water out of a Calcutta gutter and never, ever feel sick. Sorry to hear you two are not of that stock! There is nothing less fun than being stuck in the washroom the majority of the day =(
  6. Janine's Avatar
    My sister and I got deathly ill driving to Boston years back. In a strange hotel room I thought I would surely die. I survived but the agony was dreadful. We ate at a Perkins Pancake house. Needless to say I never ate there again.

    I do think salads are soaked or washed with local water and they would be a logical culprit. I went to the Bahamas and they said it was safe to drink the water. However, I am particular that way and a little paronoid, so I requested bottled water. The water there tasted salty anyway. When you are away you do have to be concious of this and I think your mother-in-law gave you good advice. Next time, don't eat salads or anything raw; only wash toothbrush off with boiled water and buy bottled water to drink. It's not worth getting sick. I have had food poisoning several times and it's not a pretty picture. Hope you get better soon. Try to rest.
  7. Virgil's Avatar
    Thanks. I hope you found it funny. Pussnboots was laughing when she read it.
  8. BienvenuJDC's Avatar
    That is you feel like a king...right?
  9. Virgil's Avatar
    Hardly. Thanks for stopping by.
  10. qimissung's Avatar
    "The Venturi Effect": Sounds like a good read!
  11. Paulclem's Avatar
    I know how you feel. We had the same advice - which we followed in India after my wife had been the previous year and ended up on an isolation ward back in the UK.

    There's never a guarantee that you won't get it, even if you do take precautions.

    Get well soon.
  12. The Comedian's Avatar
    Ha! Nice writing Virgil -- Ah the crap you have to go through when traveling. Total pisser!

    Health to you and the Mrs!
  13. ShoutGrace's Avatar
    "Well, of course such hubris cannot go unpunished by the gods."

    Must keep your head down and your nose clean, humble as possible, humble, humble always.

    Hope you feel better. Missions aren't always easy but I guess you hope in the end that the juice is worth the squeeze.
  14. MUMUKSHA's Avatar
    I know it was pain for you but can't help it
  15. Virgil's Avatar
    No problem on people laughing. It was written for that effect. Thank you all for reading and commenting.
  16. Heathcliff's Avatar
    Wow. That doesn't sound like fun.

    But it makes an excellent story.
  17. Virgil's Avatar
    Thanks Heath, it does.
  18. Niamh's Avatar
    never good! :s I remember getting ill in New Zealand after Thai food because of the water. I doesnt matter where in the world you go, you are always advised to not drink the local water because its different to what your body is use too. Plus, in countries like that, its not treated water to any kind of standard. When i went to visit Drew in Canada i couldnt drink the tap water for health reasons because of a high chemical treatment compared to home meant it would turn my tummy... and probably my gut! :s
  19. Nightshade's Avatar
    Hmmm stay away from dairy product till you are through and NO ICE!! or fizzy drinks that are dispenced from a tap..
  20. Virgil's Avatar
    Thanks Niamh and Nightshade. My mother-in-law told us about ice and tap soda too. We haven't had any dairy except for cheese. Well, I've had yogurt.
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