Traveler’s Diarrhea

So, here you are … about to read about poop. Seems like an embarrassing thing to talk about, but since I don’t see many people talking about it, I figured I might as well tackle it. I mean really, you are here reading, so you must be interested in knowing something … maybe how to prevent it, maybe you are looking for a funny story, maybe you are just weird and find pleasure in other people’s embarrassing and uncomfortable situations. Regardless of your reasons, I’m glad you’ve joined me for this stinky blog post.

Traveler’s Diarrhea – No one wants to be overcome with the urge to run to the bathroom no matter where they are. It is even worse when you are trying to enjoy a relaxing vacation. Wait, even worse when you are trekking or staying in areas where they don’t have the bathroom facilities that you are used to. Wait … I think it gets worse when you also realize that many places don’t provide toilet paper, or you pay for it before entering the bathroom. YIKES! Dealing with all of that while trying not to make a mess … doesn’t sound like fun to me!

My family physician explained to me that traveler’s diarrhea is incredibly common. It isn’t necessarily due to poor hygiene in the country you are traveling to although that is a major contributing factor, it is just simply that their stomachs have different flora to deal with bacteria present in that area. In fact, someone from South America coming to Canada could end up with traveler’s diarrhea too! This is why if the food is perfectly safe, well cooked and washed in clean water that you still may end of with a case of the runs. Your stomach just isn’t used to the bacteria in the food (good or bad). Some people are more sensitive to this than others.

Unfortunately, it appears I am one of the sensitive ones.

In February 2011 I headed off on a beautiful vacation to the Mayan Riveria in Mexico, which someday I will write about with all of the beautiful details of the trip. Today, I’m writing about poop.

Almost every day of our vacation we went off the resort for some kind of tour, park or little adventure. This meant that we also ate off the resort several times. I thought we were ‘safe’ because we were at well known restaurants and with tours. I was incredibly careful about drinking lots of bottled water. Surely a tour wouldn’t serve you bad food would they? Well, no, probably not knowingly, but now that I know it isn’t ‘bad’ food that causes traveler’s diarrhea, I better understand that I probably just ate something that I wasn’t used to and my stomach wasn’t prepared to battle the bacteria in it.

I wasn’t feeling well for most of the trip, suffering from major bloating, sore blistered feet and trying to fit too many activities in. But, by the time we were headed back home, I was also making extra (emergency) trips to the bathroom. Luckily it wasn’t so far advanced, or so severe that it was an issue on the flight home! Although I think I took some immodium or pepto to try to keep it in check.

The next several days back in Nova Scotia, my trips to the bathroom became much more frequent. Up in the middle of the night stumbling to the bathroom … up early in the morning trying to make it there on time … get to the bottom of the stairs, turn around and have to go right back to the bathroom again … eat something, run to the bathroom, get dressed, go to the bathroom … plan your day around where the nearest bathroom is in case you have an emmergency. You know, your average, every day schedule completely turned upside down and now scheduled based on the ability to get to a bathroom! Most of us have experienced this at one time or another in our life, but how about for a whole week?!

The kicker was six days after our return to Nova Scotia. I had been up early in the morning to run to the bathroom. I went back to sleep on the couch. Woke up freezing and couldn’t get warm. Decided to go back to bed. Got out of bed to go to the bathroom and was shivering uncontrollably, so I decided to take a warm shower to try and get back on track. Much to my dismay when I put my head under the water to wash my hair, I nearly fell over. I opened my eyes, stumbled and grabbed the slippery wall. I teetered, but didn’t fall down. I stood for a moment thinking it would pass, but it didn’t … then everything hit me all at once in that flash of warm spreading through your body and then all of a sudden you go cold. I delicately balanced trying to get out of the shower to make it to the flush without falling head first IN to the flush (my bathroom is pretty tiny). I turned around and grabbed the garbage because I thought I might need it too. I was dizzy, nauseous, weak and couldn’t seem to get it together.

Finally, I called out to my roommate to ask her to call my sister to come take me to the hospital as I was pretty sure at that point that I was going to pass out, or puke … maybe both. I was able to manage to get dressed by the time my sister arrived and she took me to the Cobequid Community Health Centre where she waited with me for EIGHT HOURS. I was miserable, running to the bathroom, dizzy, tired, cold and we all knew that I was dehydrated. Unfortunately, it took a full day for them to take me in, have a doctor look at me, put me in a bed, hook me up to IV and fill me full of fluids. Then I started running to the bathroom to pee because they put two litres of water in to me!

Worse than the way I was feeling, worse than the embarrassment of being at the hospital for a problem with diarrhea, I was scared. I was only two days away from a two-week trip to Poland with Coalition for Kids International to photograph Canadian teens granting wishes to terminally ill children there. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be well enough to travel. Worried that they would keep me in the hospital to re-hydrate me, or that my diarrhea would continue while I was in Poland! Yikes!

In the end, they sent me home with a prescription to start right away and strict rules to drink lots of water and stay on the B.R.A.T diet for the next couple of days.
B – bananas
R – rice
A – applesauce
T – toast

Two days later, drained, but better hydrated, I headed off to the airport to travel to the other side of the world. I hadn’t eaten a real meal for several days, but I had crackers and applesauce in my carry on to get me by! Mostly I just tried not to eat during the eight hour flight from New York to Berlin. The last thing I wanted to do was be running to the tiny little airplane toilet. By the time we got moving in and around Berlin, the fluids and prescription had kicked in … I was back on track for regular, non-emergency bathroom visits. What a relief! And, in Berlin, you don’t have to pay for toilet paper, but you do have to pay to get into the bathroom!

What did I learn from this whole stinky experience?

1. There’s a vaccine out there for this! If you don’t know about it, it might be worth looking into. As soon as I saw the ad below on TV I booked a doctor’s appointment to get a prescription. There’s no way I’m sacrificing a trip to Peru to the runs!

‘This is not a good time.’

2. Never book two trips to opposite sides of the world with only one week in between!

Hope you had a giggle at my expense and that you’ve learned a little more about traveler’s diarrhea!

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5 thoughts on “Traveler’s Diarrhea

  1. Ok…I know how sick you were, but still, this made me chuckle too. Thank goodness you didn’t faint that morning or we would have had to bring in the jaws of life to get you untangled in that bathroom!

  2. Awesome topic Shari. Being down here in Quito with students from around the world, we are seeing how some are suffering from diarrhea. Andrea and I were smart enough to get prescription for Dukural, to address this very topic. I am relieved to tell you that Andrea and I have not suffered like others.

  3. Pingback: T – 14 Days | I Picture The World

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