You gave it to me!

That’s right, I’m blaming you. Ya, you! You gave it to me. I didn’t want it and now I’m stuck with it and it’s all your fault! I’m stuck in bed and you are out doing … well, whatever it is you do every day …

Fact:
“…is an infectious, widespread viral disease caused by the Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), one type of herpes virus, to which more than 90% of adults have been exposed. Occasionally, the symptoms can recur at a later period. Most people are exposed to the virus as children, when the disease produces no noticeable or only flu-like symptoms.” – Wikipedia

Little known fact:
“About 95% of the population has been exposed to this virus by the age of 40, but only 15-20% of teenagers and about 40% of exposed adults actually become infected.” – Wikipedia

hmmmm …. Do you know what I’m talking about? Take a guess … I dare you.

Less known fact:
“In every case, the person excretes the disease intermittently in saliva throughout their lives.” – Wikipedia

hmmm … that means that if you are one of the 95% of the population who has been exposed, then you continue to spread the virus throughout different times of your life whether or not you have ever been sick from it.

So, that’s right. YOU gave it to me! You may not have even known you had it, but now I have it and I’m one of the adults who actually become infected and it sucks.

Now, before I continue, let’s not freak out here.
I’m not dying. I’m alive. I’m not gross or disgusting. I’m not promiscuous. You don’t need to avoid me. And please please please don’t think poorly of me!

Let’s get to the point.

I am a 33 year old, single white female and I have Mono.
Yup, Mononucleosis, glandular fever or often known as ‘the kissing disease’.

Get all of your laughter out now. Think of all the crazy comments you can make about how many boys I must have been kissing. And ‘what were you doing in the Dominican?’ and ‘Oooohhh was it worth it?’

Ha ha ha have a laugh at my expense, but don’t you dare stop reading until I’ve explained! If you are going to laugh at me, the least you can do is listen to me. Ok? Do we have a deal here?

I’m going to tell you a few things that you might otherwise not know and I want you to know … so I’m going to talk about it just like I talk about having my period on vacation and using the diva cup, and about attacks of traveler’s diarrhea.

And ….. Go!

I had mono as a kid when I was around 12-14 years old. For a long time, we were told that if you got mono as a kid, you would build up the antibodies to fight it off when you were older. Therefore, most often, you would not get mono twice.

After talking to my family doctor today, she simply told me that maybe the antibodies wore off and the immunity to it was gone. Or, now, doctors know that many previous mono tests were actually false positives in children and teens, so it is possible that I didn’t have mono at all then and it was something different. Although, I’m pretty darn sure it was mono.

And, and, and … well, I guess we will never know for sure. But, in my non-professional opinion, I truly believe I had mono then and I believe that I have mono now. And, apparently I have had the ‘new’ blood test done … the one that doesn’t give false positives. So, it is confirmed to be mono. You know, until 20 years from now when this test is proven to be wrong as well.

I have been traveling a lot in the past seven months. I’ve been in other countries for a total of 11 weeks out of 28 (Ecuador, Peru and Dominican Republic). My mom would like me to believe that all this traveling is stressing me out and causing me to get sick. I think she just wants me to stay in Canada … But, truth is, other than a small cold and traveler’s diarrhea, I haven’t been sick while I was traveling, but magically when I hit Canadian soil I’m ill beyond belief! To me, that means I have better chances at being well in other countries than I do here. But, whatever, I’m not going to argue with my mom … for now.

My last trip was for seven weeks to the Dominican Republic.

The sad day (September 2nd) arrived when I had to return home from beautiful Dominican Republic to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I had already changed my flights and extended my stay by five days, so now it was really time to return. I left Santo Domingo on a 6am (7am Halifax time) flight and landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia that night at 8:30pm. 13 and a half hours in transit. Oh, why didn’t I go when there were direct flights? (4 hours total)

Fast forward to September 3rd, 7:30pm (23 hours after hitting Canadian soil), my throat was getting sore, I was tired and I knew this feeling. I knew that I was about to be hit with something bad. I knew that the next day I was going to be sick. And, I ‘knew’ it was strep throat. There’s a feeling. When you’ve had strep throat as many times as I have in my life, you know when it hits. (but I was wrong … and so were the doctors!)

Sure enough, I woke up the next morning and couldn’t move. Literally.

I went to the bathroom and barely made it back to my bed without falling down. I was weak. I couldn’t swallow because of the pain. My head felt like 500 pounds. I literally could not lift my head into upright position. I had the worst headache I have ever experienced in my whole entire life. I was nauseous. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I couldn’t get comfortable. I couldn’t even roll over in bed because my head, back and neck were all in so much pain. I thought I was dying.

Now, I’ve had strep throat a lot and it does hit hard, but let me tell you, I have never been hit as hard as this.

At 8:30am, I delicately and very slowly rolled out of bed, balanced by leaning on my bed and tried to keep my eyes open. I knew I had to get to the doctor, but I had no idea if I could make it down my stairs!

Very very slowly, like a 90 year old woman, I descended the stairs with my eyes half closed, my head hung low and holding on to the wall and the railing for dear life. One step at a time. When I reached the bottom, I explained to my roommate that I needed a favour. I needed her to drive me to the walk-in clinic.

There was a two and a half hour wait at the walk in clinic. After not being able to hold my head up, sitting with tears in my eyes because of the pain, I finally went out to my SUV for an hour and laid down in the back seat so that I wouldn’t have to hold my head up.

Finally, when I saw the doctor, she took one look at my throat and said ‘Wow, that’s not good. How long have you had this?’ When I said ‘since yesterday’, she told me it was strep throat, I got a prescription and went on my way.

A couple of days later, I hadn’t improved at all. The pain was unbearable. Ibuprofen and Acetamenaphen were not even touching it. I was sleeping 16 – 18 hours a day and the other four to eight hours I was in bed moaning and wishing I could just go back to sleep. I couldn’t even hold my head up to use my computer for more than two minutes!

I went to my family doctor and although she agreed that it looked like strep, she did swabs and sent me for all kinds of blood work, just in case.

The first results I got back said that I did NOT have strep. hmmmmm … interesting … and scary! If it was not strep, what was it? And, no wonder it was so much worse that I remember strep ever being (and strep is bad!).

The next call I got from my doctor (at the end of the second week of being sick) was to say ‘Surprise! You have mono. And, by the way, you can stop taking the antibiotics, they aren’t doing you any good.’

Wow! 33 years old and I have mono … for the second time in my life.

So, here’s what you need to know about mono:
*Disclaimer – I am not a doctor, just a girl suffering with mono who has asked a lot of questions to find out ‘now what?’

1. Mono is a virus. This means that there is no drug you can take to get it out of your system. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, but they do nothing to fight a viral infection. The common cold is a virus – you cannot cure it with antibiotics. Strep throat is a bacterial infection – this, you take antibiotics to treat!

2. Mono is spread various ways, but always through saliva. This is how it got the name ‘The Kissing Disease’. Mono is most commonly found in teenagers and teenagers kiss a lot apparently!

3. Kissing is NOT the only way to get mono. Because mono is a virus and almost everyone carries it, it gets passed around everywhere all the time, but only ‘infects’ some people. It is passed the same ways as the common cold. (and you would never call that ‘the Kissing Disease’!) You can get it from improperly cleaned dishes and utensils, or from breathing the air after someone sneezes or coughs. The thing is, that most adults are immune to it, so it isn’t as prevalent as in teens.

4. It is contagious, but not quite as contagious as everyone thinks. My doctor told me that when someone gets mono, often their spouse or partner does not get it. This is probably because of the high prevalence of people who are immune to it. Where as, when you are a teenager if you come in contact with it you may not have built up the antibodies to fight it yet.

5. Many people who get mono also get strep throat. However, often strep throat is diagnosed and sometimes (like in my case), it is actually the mono virus. The two look much the same with white patchy spots on the back of your throat. Strep is more common in adults, so the doctor assumed that is what it was for me. But, when tested, it turned out to be the mono virus causing those white patchy spots, not the strep bacteria.

6. Mono is a crappy virus to get. Unlike the common cold that lasts 5-7 days, mono stays in your system for months. The initial outbreak of sore throat, extreme tiredness, fever, nausea etc lasts 2-4 weeks. And then, you are stuck with extreme tiredness and weakness for 3-6 months as the virus works its way through your body. On top of that, if you over work yourself (stress or physical labour), you can relapse and start all over again.

7. The only thing you can do to treat mono is to sleep. You can take pain medications and drink lots of fluids, but there are no pills that will help you get better faster. You just have to sleep, relax and not get stressed.

Now, after all of that explanation, I hope you will understand that I am sick, and tired … and I have a good reason to be sleeping A LOT. There is no way for me to know when or where I got the virus or why I am one of the adults who gets infected by it. Did I kiss someone who was infected? hmmm … maybe. But, more likely, I probably ate off of unclean utensils (in the not so clean countries I’ve been visiting) or breathed in the wrong air at the wrong time, maybe on one of my million plane rides. Or, maybe I got it right here in Nova Scotia during the time when I wasn’t traveling. The only thing we know is that a blood test confirmed I have it.

I have been sick for three full weeks with a painful sore throat. I have been sleeping 12-15 hours a day and avoiding people in general. The first week was unbearable, the second week I was mobile and then the third week was hit or miss depending on the day. Here we are at the beginning of the fourth week and I am happy to say my throat does not currently hurt, I am wide awake and actually feel like getting some work done. I suspect a mid-afternoon nap will still be required on a daily basis for the next few weeks and I will be being careful not to over work myself as I definitely do not want a relapse!

So, my dear business contacts and friends … it is ok. I am safe to be around. I will try not to slobber on you, make out with you, spit on your face or force you to eat after me. And, if all else fails, remember that you probably carry the virus anyway and are immune to being infected.

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Travel like a Diva … with a cup … Part 3

This truly is part 3 of a series, so if you haven’t read part 1 and part 2, hunker down in a private place where you can laugh out loud and you don’t have to explain yourself! I’m suggesting that your office cubicle is not sufficient for this! Trust me …. I’m telling you!

Oh yes, and men, well, you should just skip to another post now. This one talks about having your period while traveling. I’m guessing you aren’t interested …

Here we go! Part 3 …

I was both lucky and unlucky enough to have my period the week before I left on my South American Adventure. I was lucky of course because I wasn’t having my period while flying and during my first week of travels. I was UNLUCKY because this moved my schedule so that I would be having my period … dun da da dahhhhhhh … during my homestay in Ccaccaccollo! Not impressed!

On my first day at our homestay, we went back to our houses with our mommies and got dressed up in traditional attire before heading out for a walk around the community. Traditional attire means large colorful skirts, a white blouse, a short black jacket and a hat. All of which we put on over our regular clothes.

When my mommy put my skirt on me and went to tie it up, she put her hand on my belly and asked ‘Bambino?’. I wanted to cry (but I didn’t). I told her ‘No, Bambino.’

Hmmmm … really? Did I look pregnant? Maybe not a good day to ask me that seeing as my period should be arriving at any time!

I was kind of offended, but I tried to keep in mind that in their culture, being pregnant is a huge blessing and it wasn’t meant to be offensive at all. Unfortunately this only changed the pain from a sting to a dull ache.

After our walk around town we removed the layers of traditional clothing and got back to wearing our stretch pants, sweaters and my trusty rain jacket.

One of the things I loved most about my rain jacket was the endless pockets. They weren’t necessarily placed in the best positions for easy access, but wow, could you ever fit a lot in them!

At ALL times, my jacket pockets were stuffed with at least two travel packs of kleenex (or toilet paper), hand sanitizer, often a snack, a bottle of water, some odds and ends of camera gear and my hat and mittens when it got too hot.

This first night in Ccaccaccollo I added to the pocket stuffing list:
two tampons, a pad and my diva cup

Yup, everywhere I went for the next few days my diva cup was with me.

Now, although I was ‘packing’ my diva cup, I really had no idea how I was going to be able to use it. Have you read “It’s a squatter Part 2”?

I really thought that the diva cup was going to be my best friend while I was having my period during this trip in Peru.

My first trip to the outhouse that day was in the dark, flashlight in hand. I didn’t talk about this in my ‘squatter’ blog, but when I went to the bathroom, I was also checking to see if I had started my period. Yup, that means shining the flashlight on my undies and checking the toilet paper. Nothing there. The waiting game continues.

Isn’t it awful that there isn’t a clear sign to tell us to run to the bathroom and put a cork in it before it is too late? You know, before we ruin a pair of underwear or have an embarrassing situation at work, before you decide to have sex with someone and ‘surprise’… there it is! What? No, none of those things have ever happened to me or any of my girl friends!

I mean really, since our bodies are created with all of these intricacies, couldn’t one have been implemented to set an internal alarm off saying ‘Period commencing in 3 … 2 … 1 …’

Men, are you still reading? It really only gets worse from here ….

So, no period on my first night at Ccaccaccollo, but it is due to arrive at any time!

Day 2 at the homestay, I head to the bathroom with all of my personal products to check for my Aunt Flow. Am I hoping she’s come to visit? Well, kind of … just to have it over with. The sooner she arrives, the sooner she leaves, right? No luck. Still no period.

By the afternoon, I’m starting to worry a little and my mind is wandering …

hmmm … Mami in an ancient village asks me if I’m carrying a child …
hmmm … haven’t had any of my regular PMS symptoms and I’m officially late.
I’m Late.
OMG I’m LATE!
Holy crap I’m LATE!
OMG could I be pregnant?
OMG is this woman telling me something instead of asking me something?
Holy crap, could I be pregnant?

SHARI! Earth to Shari!
BREATHE!

Ok. I really can’t be pregnant. Being pregnant requires the act of having sex. Phew! What a relief that is! (ha ha ha I just cracked myself up)

PANIC …. Wait, when did I have sex last?
Think …. think ….
Ok, PHEW! It was before my last period, before I left Canada. (yes, I just published this … WEIRD!)
Phew! I really can’t be pregnant, I must just be late.
It must be the food, the exercise, the change in schedule.
Did I say PHEW! yet?

After this 30 seconds of panic, my heart rate returned to normal and I realized that I could not possibly be pregnant, so I’d just have to wait for it.

Then the conversation in my head continued in a different direction …

So, ‘self’ … how is it that you are going to actually deal with this when it does arrive. Let’s make a plan so we aren’t totally caught off guard.

(do you like how there are two of us in this conversation? Me … and my other self, Me.)

Picture an outhouse … the basic kind, not the porta-potty kind … Tin roof and sides, cement floor, hole in ground. Now, picture yourself squatting over that hole to do your bathroom business. Fine, that’s not so bad .. just like going in the woods, right?

Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru

Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru

Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru

Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru

Now, picture yourself squatting over the hole trying to get the diva cup out of your jacket pocket and out of it’s pretty little cotton bag. Ok, a bit of a struggle, but doable. But you can’t set anything down. Tuck the pretty little cotton bag back into your jacket pocket and prepare for the challenge. Don’t forget, you are still in full squat-to-the-ground position with your pants around your ankles and a rain jacket on. Not to mention the fact that you are squatting over an open hole with no seat to catch you if you lose your balance! (EWWWW!) Not that you could actually fall in, the hole isn’t that big, but still … EWWWW!

Diva cup in hand, you push the centre of it in and get ready. Now you have to use both hands to actually insert it.

Ok. Here’s where I lose it. Squatting over an open hole … trying not to breathe in too many fumes … holding a little cup in my hand, trying to balance and not fall over while pants are at my ankles. Then needing to use both of my hands to insert the cup?

I can’t do it!

All of this conversation in my head to plan for the moment my period arrives and I’m in the outhouse and I’ve already decided I can’t do it!

Flashback to Part 2:

“POP!

The cup slips out of my grasp, hits the door with a dull little thud and bounces to the floor. “OMG I’m glad I’m at home, not in a public bathroom right now!” What if I had lost my grip, the cup hit the door, then the floor and rolled right out of the stall? I might just die!

Instead of the Seinfeld episode ‘Can you spare a square?’ it would be ‘Can you roll my alternative menstrual product back under the stall for me please? And then, can you leave the bathroom before I do, so you never see my face?’”

Yup, the flashback pretty much ruined it for me. What if I lost my grip on the Diva cup and it popped right out of my hand? What if it landed on the floor in the outhouse? Worse, what if it fell in the hole? Not only is there no retrieving it, but one of the men who cleans out the outhouse would eventually find it and probably wonder what it was!

Not only are both of these thoughts disgusting, but unfortunately, both are realities of things that could happen. That little cup is springy and you have to have a good grip on it to make sure you don’t lose it.

So, on day 2, it has been decided that if my period arrives while I’m at my homestay, I will be using pads and tampons.

Day 3 we head out to the carnival celebrations in the community of Toray. I’m still carrying feminine products, including my diva cup everywhere I go! Maybe this community will have washrooms with toilets!

The community did indeed have public washrooms with toilets. However, I think I preferred my hole in the ground in the outhouse. Seems crazy, I know, but the public washrooms are not well taken care of. In fact, they aren’t taken care of at all. You fend for yourself.

You would never ever ever dream of sitting on the toilet … there’s no seat on it, but it doesn’t really matter. Seat or no seat, everyone else has already squatted, done their business and can’t be bothered to wipe off the seat. Not a chance in hell that I would ever let any part of me touch that toilet!

And for those of you who have fears of sitting on public toilets in Canada and the US. For those of you who avoid public washrooms all together … Well, simply, you should just never, ever leave those two countries or you will not survive. We are pampered. Our bathrooms are luxurious. If there is a toilet seat you can sit on, you are a Queen!

If you think that washrooms in Canada at a gas station in the middle of nowhere is bad, think again. Public washrooms in developing countries don’t even come close to the cleanliness of a bad washroom in Canada.

So, despite the fact that there were actually toilets in this community, not a chance that if my period had started I was going to try to squat and insert the diva cup over the disgustingness of the public toilets.

By the end of day 3 at our homestays, I was nearly 5 days late. No PMS symptoms, no period and a lovely woman who had asked (more than once now) if I was carrying a ‘Bambino’.

Hmmmm … really … is she trying to tell me something? Is immaculate conception in the Andes Mountains a normal occurrence? Is she predicting my future?

Nah … she just thinks my ‘fat’ is a baby. It sucks, but that’s all it is. More than a little discouraging, especially after already having lost weight on the trip, but what can you do!

We leave the lovely Ccaccaccollo community the next morning, off on our next adventure which is heading to Machu Picchu! Still no period.

Advance a few days … still no period.

Lima, Feb 28 – We have a great final night out with our G Adventures leader, Andres. We head out to a local bar (blog post on all of this coming soon), but I’m not feeling my best. I had come down with traveller’s diarrhea in Aguas Calientes and despite having started on Cipro, it wasn’t in check yet. The local bar was pretty sketchy though and decided to avoid the bathrooms if at all possible.

At around 11pm we got cabs and headed back to the hotel.

11:30pm back in my hotel room … SURPRISE! My period had started.
Someone was watching over me and allowed me to make it all the way back to my hotel room that night without any embarrassing accidents in my khaki colored shorts. Here I was, the last day of my trip, more than fives days late and my period was starting when I could actually sit on a toilet, use both hands and insert my diva cup properly.

For awhile there, I thought that the diva cup was a lost cause … in the end, I enjoyed having it just as much as I thought I would, but only when there are good washrooms!

Best part about it was that somehow my period magically avoided my entire trip except for the last day. And, I got to use the Diva cup while traveling home which is really wonderful when you have to use airplane bathrooms.

This is a whole other story, but trying to spread your knees and insert a tampon while in an airplane bathroom is nearly impossible … right ladies??? I know you feel my pain!

Use a diva cup – you can keep it in for 12 hours. No need to reinsert on the plane.

I {heart} my diva cup!

Puno, Peru

Feb 19, 2012

Once in our hotel we dropped off our stuff and went our separate ways. A few people weren’t feeling well so they stayed in to rest, Diane, Kristie and I went out for lunch at Sweet Café. It was a lovely second floor restaurant. Shortly after we all got our chicken sandwiches, I could hear music getting closer. I went out on the tiny little balcony in time to see a Carnival parade on it’s way down Lima Street which is the main pedestrian street in the city. We all snapped a few photos, waited for the parade to pass and then had our lunch.

Carnivale Parade, Puno

Carnivale Parade, Puno

Carnivale Parade, Puno

Carnivale Parade, Puno

Carnivale Parade, Puno

Carnivale Parade, Puno

At 6pm we had our group briefing about the next day’s plans and then we headed out for a lovely supper at the Inca bar. Thranga and Lori both decided to give Alpaca a try. I stuck with chicken and cheese risotto. YUMMY! I did however bum a taste of Lori’s alpaca dish and it wasn’t bad. I expected it to taste game-y like deer does, but I was surprised that it didn’t. I think she described it as a cross between beef and pork.

By the middle of supper, Diane wasn’t feeling very well and we had already left Kristie back at the hotel because she wasn’t feeling up to par either.

Suppers here seem to take forever. You order, then wait an hour before your food is served. You eat, then you specifically have to ask for the bill.

I asked for my bill and excused myself so I could go back and check on Kristie. Diane, Steve and Lori all came along as well. The rest stayed behind to finish up supper (and maybe dessert).

Kristie was asleep, Diane wasn’t feling well, Steve wasn’t feeling his best and Andrea had been stuck with a cold since before leaving Lima. Geeze, we were in rough shape. Seeing as this was the highest altitude place we would be going though, good to get it over with early.

Later that night, Sarah came to get me as Diane was pretty ill. Off to our super G Adventures leader I went. I haven’t talked about Andres much yet, but he is really super. He’s calm, funny, caring. He has a great attitude when it comes to Altitude and sickness. Basically he tells us not to hide anything, just feel free to talk about it and not let anything get worse. Then, he is also a strong believer in local remedies, as well as doctors.

There was nothing we could do for Diane that night, but the next morning when she still wasn’t feeling well, he arranged for her to stay at the hotel instead of coming out on Lake Titicaca with us. It was a pretty tough day, so I’m glad that she stayed back and got her rest. He also arranged for a doctor to come see her right away at the hotel.

Diane stayed at the hotel that day as she had altitude sickness. The doctor gave her a shot in the butt for the headache and nausea, some oxygen pills and altitude pills which all seemed to work! The Doctor is on call 24 hours a day and does house calls. He was also able to speak broken English, wrote out a prescription and arranged for the hotel to go pick it up. The Doctor fee was $100 Soles and the medications were $50 Soles. Not too bad when all is said and done.

My first health ‘issue’

Feb 13, 2012

I had a super fantastic day. I loved this day and I will hug it and keep it close forever in pictures. It was incredibly hot with lots of walking, swimming in a couple of different spots and visiting the Charles Darwin Station.

When I returned to Hotel Crossman at around 4pm today, I noticed that there was a small rash on the left side of my face. Just a few little pimple like things, but I don’t normally get acne, so I thought it was odd. Not too long after I was checking it out again and noticed that between my eyebrows had the same sort of rash. At that time I also noticed some blotchiness on my forehead.

I decided to take a shower and wash my face, but that didn’t seem to help. Oh, and have I mentioned yet that I don’t have any hot water? Cold shower every day. Nothing like that to get you movin’!

I’ve been feeling fine all day, other than the sizzling heat! I’m assuming it probably has something to do with too much sun and not enough water. Mistake of many tourists near the equator I’m sure! I did however wear SPF 50 and apply it three times. I also wore my t-shirt most of the time and a ball cap! It is apparent now though that even all of this doesn’t combat the powerful sun! I’ve been putting lotion on the burned areas and drinking lots of water.

Rash

Rash

Six hours after I first noticed the rash, it has gotten worse on my face and has started to spread to my neck and chest. There’s no point fighting it any more … I took a couple of Benadryl hoping that it’ll stop it in its tracks. Now, if it is heat related, I don’t think that’s going to help. But, if it is an allergic reaction to something, hopefully it’ll clear it up.

I’m feeling well for the most part, other than the few missed spots that got burned today. I’ve loaded up on water now as well so hopefully I shouldn’t be dehydrated.

If the rash doesn’t clear up, or I start having other symptoms, I’ll look into finding someone to have a look at it. I suspect it’ll be gone tomorrow though. I’ll keep you all posted on my blotchiness.

Safe Sex has new meaning when you travel!

When I was in to see my travel health nurse, Isobel at Napier Travel Health, we had a conversation about sex. Yes, it certainly seemed kind of odd at first for her to mention it, but then she told me why it is so important. I felt it would be a good topic to share!

Lots of people travel on ‘boys’ trips or ‘girls’ trips, go away somewhere warm and sunny, have a few too many drinks and end up hooking up while they are away. Or, maybe you are traveling on a singles cruise or to a singles resort. Maybe you don’t drink at all, but you find yourself getting intimate with someone you’ve just met. Maybe you have no intentions at all of gettin’ it on with someone while you are away, but sometimes things happen! And, scary, but true, rape can happen anywhere.

We all know about safe sex. Wear a condom, wrap it up, put your rubber on … We all know the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, but how many people really practice safe sex? Further than that, here in Canada, I’m sure the numbers are staggeringly higher than in developing countries for practicing safe sex. What seems like second nature to us here in Canada, is probably not ‘common knowledge’ everywhere else.

Developing countries do not have an education system like ours. They may or may not be taught about safe sex. Even if they are aware of safe sex practices, they may not have the money, or the access to buy condoms, the day after pill and other products. In some countries, monogamy ins’t necessarily standard either, so who knows how many partners that person has been with.

I was recently reminded recently that prostitution and escort services work very differently in other countries. A pretty lady or sexy man hitting on you at a local bar is likely to be looking for more than just a little attention. They are likely looking for your money as well as sex. There are many instances where situations like these lead to someone being drugged and robbed. Could it happen in Canada? Yes, or course it could! It is much more likely to happen elsewhere though.

In Canada we often think of prostitutes who work on the streets, are high on drugs, scantily clad and often not very attractive. This isn’t always the case, but more often than not. In other countries though, the prostitutes may be dressed very well, be very attractive and perfectly sober. They look at trading sex for money in a different way than we do here. Don’t be fooled though. Just because they are attractive doesn’t make them safe or clean!

I know, I know, I know … this is all common sense to us … right? Well, try this on for size …

Did you know that condoms are not the same quality and reliability in other countries? Yup, just like everything else, their condom industries may not be regulated like they are in Canada/US. Makes sense, but have you ever thought about that? You might stop by a local store to buy some protection, but really, you could be just as safe with a little saran wrap!

Don’t forget that those condoms may have been subjected to heat that could damage their effectiveness. Maybe they were transported in a truck without air conditioning and sat in 30 + degree heat for eight hours. Do you really want to trust that to keep you safe?

Even if you are able to buy a brand that you are familiar with and trust, don’t forget to check the expiry date!

Better yet, if you think there is even a slight chance that you might hook up while you are away … even if you don’t plan to, the best thing to do is pack your own and keep them safe so that you know you are protected.

Last, but certainly not least, go get your Hepatitus shots would ya? It is just good sense to be protected from both the water bourne and sexually transmitted types of Hepatitus. Whether you plan to hook up while you are away or not, protect yourself!

South America Trip Costs

For those of you who have been asking (and for my own records), I thought I’d throw together a quick blog about how much my trip to South America is costing me … where I’ve saved money, where I’ve splurged etc. I’ll be updating this as I organize my receipts. Here’s a quick run down:

Camera Gear:
I bought a Manfrotto Camcorder Messanger Bag – Found it fit my gear better and was cheaper than the camera bags I was considering – $79.99 at Future Shop
I’ve since returned the Manfrotto bag and decided to carry my Lowepro backpack which I already owned. (saved myself $80 … that has now been spent elsewhere!)

15″ Laptop Sleeve – $19.99 + $10 shipping – Amazon.com

32GB Lexar CF Card – $99.99 – Henry’s – Bayer’s Lake
16 GB Transcend CF Card – $89.99 – Henry’s – Bayer’s Lake
8 GB SCHC Card for my Lumix camera – $29.99 – Henry’s – Bayer’s Lake
Lumix Waterproof digital camera – WITH GPS! How friggin’ cool is that? When I take a photo it’ll mark it with GPS coordinates so I can pin exactly where I was when I took the photo!! $269.99 – Henry’s – Bayer’s Lake
Gorillapod – $69.99

1 TB Portable Western Digital Elements Hard Drive – I got a super incredible deal on this at Staples. Paid $79.98. A whopping $100 off on a door crasher special in January!

Miscellaneous:
Vapur Water Bottle – SO COOL! It stands when full, folds when empty. Freezable, diswasher safe and no BPA’s. $13.99 at Chapters. I will use this when bottled water is not available. I will get local water and treat it with ionizing tablets to ensure it is safe to drink. The tablets I bought were 30 for about $20 at MEC.

Flights:
Halifax to Quito – Aeroplan Points – $139 in Taxes
Quito to Lima – $450 – Booked through G Adventures
Lima to Halifax – Aeroplan Points – included above

Galapagos Islands Budget Santa Cruz Tour – $1400 and super fantastic Bamba Experience has included my meals while I’m there for four days! I booked this through The Adventure Travel Company.

Urban Adventure with Intrepid Travel – A day tour in Quito – Haven’t booked it yet, but planning on it – $90

Travel Health / Vaccines:
Consult at Napier Travel Health Clinic – $50
Flu and Tetanus shots – Free
Typhoid vaccine – $60
Dukoral (traveler’s diarrhea) – $ – Superstore Pharmacy
Diamox (20 days) – $ – Superstore Pharmacy

Clothing:
Waterproof jacket – MEC $116 – It was on sale – $50 off and I figured since I’m going during rainy season that I should splurge on this one. Also, not a bad thing to have in Halifax! Over the past couple of weeks I’ve worn my rain jacket regularly in Halifax and I love it!
Rain pants – Viking Windigo Packable – $32.99 at Mark’s Work Wearhouse
Last minute decision to also purchase Merrell sandals. They are sturdy hiking sandals with several velcro straps to perfectly adjust to fit. These will now replace my water shoes AND my flip flops. They were $89 at The Shoe Company.

Travel like a diva … with a cup … Part 2

Let me repeat myself …

If you are male, you will want to avoid this post right now. Stop reading, don’t go any further. This post is all about women’s issues when traveling. That’s right. The topic of periods, menstruation, that monthly visitor, being ‘on the rag’ …

If you haven’t read Part 1, check it out here.

NOTE: Some women may find this post too detailed. If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it. If you are curious, then read. If you read all the way to the end, despite it’s brutal honesty, please don’t complain to me about being too honest … after all, you decided to continue reading!

I’m going to travel like a diva … with a cup. What the hell does that mean, you ask?

For the last eight or so months, I’ve been working with The Adventure Travel Company to take a group of photo enthusiasts on a Peruvian adventure! Peru Through the Lens finally got it’s required participants in mid-December and my dream of traveling to Peru is coming true! I did a little happy dance right in home depot when I found out! I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about this trip!

Seeing as the trip is in February 2012, planning started immediately after we confirmed it was happening! That meant I started counting the weeks between periods to see if I’d be ‘on the rag’ during the adventure of a lifetime. To my dismay, I will be. So, what am I going to do about that?

Picture this …

I’m sitting at The Adventure Travel Company picking Rose’s (my agent) brain about all things Peru. I’m asking about the weather, about flight schedules, about adding on a trip to The Galapagos Islands … the questions are just pouring out in excitement and she’s answering each one of them with as much information as she can to help me out.

There are three agents in the office. It’s fairly small and both of the other agents were busy at the time … one with a client in person, the other on the phone.

I leaned across Rose’s desk and whispered something like ‘I can’t believe I’m asking this … I don’t want anyone to hear … but what is the bathroom situation like on our trip? I mean, I’m going to be on my period. Will I have regular access to washrooms? Will our accommodations have washrooms or will I be going in the woods?’. This is, after all, an adventure travel trip, not a Caribbean resort! We will be doing homestays for several nights and hotels for the others.

I felt a little silly, but thankfully I’m not easily embarrassed. We tried to quietly and discreetly have a conversation about ‘women’ issues while in the company of a man and a client!

I’m pretty sure our conversation went something like this …
Rose: Well, Shari, do I have the perfect thing for you! Have you ever heard of The Diva Cup?
Shari: The Diva Cup? Um, no. Not sure I want to know what that is … but ok.
Rose (goes to The Diva Cup website): It’s an alternative menstruation product, reusable and environmentally friendly. It will change your periods forever!

OK, from here on it, this post gets detailed. Read at your own discretion!

Of course at this point, I was intrigued and disgusted all at the same time. After all, it is a sort of cup that you insert instead of a tampon that catches your blood and then you empty it out. I didn’t even know there were such things as ‘alternative menstruation products’! I thought we had pads and tampons and that’s all there was to it.

We went on to have a detailed discussion and read information on the website about how it was going to change my periods forever! The lovely ladies at The Adventure Travel Company spoke so highly about it for traveling women that I decided I’d give it a try for my next period. I wanted a test run with it before taking it to Peru!

So, when my next period came around, I decided to take the plunge! The Diva Cup isn’t sold at drug stores and pharmacies though. You can’t just go in and buy it instead of a box of tampons. You have to buy it at a health or sex store.

Here in Halifax it is carried at:

Great Ocean Natural Foods – 6485 Quinpool Rd
Super Natural Foods – 5755 Young St – I got mine here.
Parenting by Nature
Dresden Specialty Foods Inc.- 1515 Dresden Rpw
Venus Envy Inc.- 1598 Barrington St.

On the second day of my most recent period, I went in to Super Natural Foods, found a nice female staff member and asked if they sold the Diva Cup. She pointed me in the right direction and then the adventure began!

First thought … It’s kind of like buying your first box of condoms! You really have no idea what you are doing, but know that you should be getting them, so you are going to do it, but it’s a little uncomfortable!

Second thought … ok, there are two sizes. How do you know what ‘size’ is right for your vagina? HA HA HA Ok, so who am I kidding? I just said vagina in a blog post and I was a little uncomfortable about buying the Diva Cup? Ok, I think I just got more uncomfortable … as did you, but remember, I’m the one writing this for all to see … no one knows you are reading it!

They make the size choice fairly straight forward for you. Either you are over 30 and may or may not have delivered a child vaginally or by c-section. Or you are under 30 and have never had a child.

Simple enough right?

Unless you let your mind wander … In my mind I thought “Well, I’m over 30, but I’ve never given birth … doesn’t that make my vagina smaller?” Ok, in reality I know this isn’t really true, but I’ll admit that this thought went through my head! I bought the recommended size for those of us over 30, got in the car and said to my friend who was waiting for me, ‘but what if I have a small vagina?!’ … fits of laughter ensued.

Later that evening, I came home and decided I was ready to tackle using the cup for the first time. Obviously best to try it at home first where you are most comfortable. I was a good girl and read all of the instructions before doing anything. Mind you, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this malleable silicone cup thing with an opening that looked way to large to ‘fit up there’. So, I guess I had to read the instructions.

As suggested, I washed the cup with warm, non-scented, soapy water.
And then, I gave myself another little pep talk that consisted of ‘Ok, so you’re going to have to touch yourself a little bit to get this to work, but all the ladies who use it say that it is worth it. So, get ready …. go for it!’

The instructions give you two ways of inserting the cup properly. I chosen the second way, which is to push down on one side of the cup in to the middle, until it forms a bit of a V. This makes it much smaller to insert. Seems simple enough, right?

Well, maybe … or maybe not! I pushed my thumb down to the middle of the soft cup, held the sides and started to walk myself through the part where I was going to have to (paraphrased) ‘use your other hand to separate your labia’ and then …

POP!

The cup slips out of my grasp, hits the door with a dull little thud and bounces to the floor. “OMG I’m glad I’m at home, not in a public bathroom right now!” What if I had lost my grip, the cup hit the door, then the floor and rolled right out of the stall? I might just die!

Instead of the Seinfeld episode ‘Can you spare a square?’ it would be ‘Can you roll my alternative menstrual product back under the stall for me please? And then, can you leave the bathroom before I do, so you never see my face?’

Ok, I’ve recovered from my embarrassment with myself, I’ve rewashed the cup and I’m ready to try again … Concentrate this time!

I’ve made the cup smaller for insertion, I’m holding things ‘apart’ down there and using my other hand to gently insert the cup … and then …

It works! Phew. Wow was I glad when it was in and couldn’t go flying out of my grasp again.

(and I’ve just realized that this should be part of The Vagina Monologues that tours every year!)

Once the cup is inserted, you reach up and gently turn it 360 degrees to make sure that it fully opens rather than being smaller like the way you inserted it. Yup, you actually reach in there, grab on to the bottom of it and start turning. For me, this was the most awkward part. I originally tried to hold on to the little nubby end (so that it doesn’t go missing in there), but really, what you need to do is grab the bottom of the cup with your fingers, squeeze and turn. If it hasn’t already opened up fully, you’ll feel it when it does, but don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt!

So there, the cup is in and I’m good to go … for how long?

Well, you see, two of the really fantastic benefits of using the Diva Cup are:
1. You can leave it in for up to 12 hours
2. because it is made of sillicone, there’s no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, such as with tampons.

Just for ‘fun’, that first night, I left it in for a couple of hours, then tried my first attempt at removing it. The instructions tell you all kinds of tid bits such as (paraphrased), ‘don’t panic if you can’t reach it! This means you may have inserted it a little too far, but eventually the weight of the liquid and gravity will pull it back down.’ What you actually do is squeeze your vaginal muscles which pushes the cup closer to your fingers, then you reach up there … (yup, you have to be comfortable with yourself) … pinch the bottom of the cup and pull. Weird? Yes, it is weird, but it’s not all that bad.

It is a little bit like having a pap test when your doctor sticks his or her fingers inside to make sure everything is ok. It is an odd, uncomfortable sensation, as far from sexy or arousing as possible, but it only lasts for a few seconds, then it’s done. Once the cup is inserted, you really, honestly can’t feel it at all! You notice it even less than a tampon!

I can hear you all saying ‘ewwwwww! Gross! That’s gotta be messy.’

Actually, it isn’t messy. All of your menstrual fluid is captured inside the little cup and you just dump it out in the toilet (or on the ground if you are peeing in the woods!). There is very little blood on the outside of the cup because it has been pressed against your vaginal walls, directing everything inside. So, as gross as you may think it is, you don’t actually get blood on your fingers.

Something else I learned is that the average woman, during her entire one week period produces about an ounce of menstrual fluid. An ounce? That’s it? Well, apparently it is! The cup itself is made to hold an ounce. So, technically, that would be a week’s worth of fluid from your period. They recommend that you take it out and wash it 2-3 times per day (which is every 10-12 hours). Isn’t it cool that as long as it is inserted properly, you don’t have to worry about it for 10-12 hours?

I’m so excited! That means not only when I’m traveling and don’t have access to a suitable washroom, but overnight, when I’m on location working and don’t have access to a washroom, I don’t have to worry about overflow! That’s right. Unless something is horribly wrong, I’m not going to ‘overflow’ the cup in those 12 hours.

And I don’t think I mentioned that you can pee, or have a bowel movement with it still in place. You don’t have to take it out every time. Well, I don’t think you have to take a tampon out either, but I always do because it just doesn’t seem right. I always feel like a tampon gets shifted, moved and is uncomfortable if I leave it in while using the washroom. Ok, not to mention the fact that you then have a wet string hanging around with pee on it. EEEEEWWWW! See, THAT is disgusting!

I’ll admit to the world, I am converted. I used the Diva Cup for the last few days of my most recent period and am thrilled with it’s efficiency. When I go to my boyfriend’s house I don’t have to pack a bunch of bulky, embarrassing pads and tampons. When I go to a photo shoot, I don’t have to worry about running to the bathroom every couple of hours to remove my tampon, or trying to find a delicate way to get a tampon from my bag to my hand and carry it to the washroom without anyone seeing. I don’t always have to carry my purse everywhere with me with a stash of feminine products because I now have a reusable one!

So, I guess I’d better answer the last few questions that I know most of you have. How’s it going to work when you are in a public washroom or traveling?

Well, here’s the deal … you are supposed to wash the cup off with drinkable water (and non-scented soap) whenever you can. If you are in a one stall public bathroom in Canada or US, that’s no problem. If you are in a bigger washroom, you can’t just take your cup and wash it out in the sink in front of everyone, then run back to the bathroom and insert it. So, you can either wash it off in the stall with bottled water that you are carrying, or you can wipe it off with toilet paper and re-insert it, washing it the next time you have a chance.

They really stress how important it is to wash your hands before using it as well, as you don’t want any unknown bacteria causing problems!

When you are traveling, you aren’t always in suitable bathrooms or don’t always have drinkable water. So, it is just a matter of planning ahead to take good, drinkable bottled water with you, or you can wait until you are at your hotel to wash it off. Remember, you don’t have to remove it every time you go to the washroom, so you don’t have to worry about this all of the time!

Wash it before you insert it in the morning and then you will be good until you get to your hotel or a private washroom later in the day.

Doesn’t this make life so much easier when you travel?

I can’t imagine having to pack my rucksack with enough pads and tampons for a week. Not to mention trying to not squish them, have them become wet from rain or mis-shaped from being thrown around in the cargo area on the plane. Nor do I want the hassle of trying to find new pads and tampons in another country where I can’t speak the language! Instead, I just pack my little Diva Cup in a pretty little cotton bag, and I’m on my way!

Oh yeah, and it only costs $40! With the money you’ll save on pads and tampons, in a few years you’ll have saved enough money for a trip! And you are making a huge impact on saving the environment! What’s not to like about all of this!

So, if you can’t control when you are going to have your period and it just happens to end up in the midst of your travel plans, you should consider the alternative .. Travel like a diva … with a cup!

‘Self, suck it up. Get over it. Be a woman. Get comfortable with yourself and enjoy your travels!’

Travel like a diva … with a cup … Part 1

If you are male, you will want to avoid this post right now. Stop reading, don’t go any further. This post is all about women’s issues when traveling. That’s right. The topic of periods, menstruation, that monthly visitor, being ‘on the rag’ …

Wait …. Did your face just go red?

Pretty sure you’ve heard enough already, so save yourself the pain and anguish.

Women, however, please find an inconspicuous spot to read about the dreaded period on vacation. Be prepared to laugh, or cry, depending on what part of your cycle you are currently in. Get ready to hear the thoughts from your own head coming out in this blog, except they are written by someone else.

WAIT! How did I get in your head?

You’ve never muttered these thoughts out loud ….right? You have all of these crazy discussions with yourself, in your own head and sometimes it seems like you had a dream about it, but was it real? You feel like you’ve said it to someone before, but yet the words never made it off the tip of your tongue. They just get jammed up, swirling around in there and they’ve been in there so darn long that you feel like they are part of you. You have indeed had these conversations, they were just unspoken! And then, because it’s “embarrassing”, you never talk about it … and then you never know that you are not alone and that other women are thinking the same exact thing!

“UG. I feel fat today. Didn’t these pants fit two days ago? How did I gain like 10 lbs in two days?”
“Why am I crying? This is ridiculous, just stop crying! You don’t even know what you are crying over anymore!”
“OMG this is disgusting. Why is it that women have to bleed?”
“Am I leaking? Ah, feels a little wet down there. I can’t be. OMG what if I am? OMG can people see it? Am I bleeding through my jeans?”
“Oh …. mmmmmmm …. whine …. I don’t feel like moving. I don’t wanna go to work. I’m cranky. I’m just gonna snap at someone.”
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years … you’d think I’d get used to it, but no, every month it’s like a kick in the ass, again.”
“WHAT? SERIOUSLY? I’m three days early! What am I going to do? I don’t have any tampons, I’ve made a mess of my undies. I have a big meeting to get to. Really? I’m 33. Why don’t I have this sorted out by now?”
“Um, friend … can’t believe I’m asking this but …. Could you maybe bring me some underwear and feminine products at work? Um yeah, I had a little accident. Don’t worry … just go digging through my drawers and find any undies that aren’t thongs. Thank you. I’ll love you forever!”
“I can’t believe I’m going on this fantastic trip to {insert your favorite vacation spot} and I’m going to be on my period. What’s the point in going on vacation if I can’t even relax and have sex?!”
“What do women in other countries do about their periods? Do people in developing countries use tampons? How do they dispose of them? If you can’t flush toilet paper, guess you can’t flush a tampon!”

I’m not alone here, right? Please tell me you identify with at least one of these crazy conversations?!

My mind is tired now though. Tired of churning over thoughts in my head about how to deal with my period while I’m traveling and stressing out about it! Telling myself that it’s going to ruin my trip. Shame on me!

Well, let me tell you, I made a decision a few weeks ago; had a little conversation with myself and said ‘Self, smarten up. This trip to Peru is going to be fabulous. You can’t stop being a woman, so deal with it. Talk about it until you find a way to deal with it, then do something about it.’

I know many a woman who would say ‘oh that’s a simple problem to fix. I’ll just take my birth control pills the entire time I’m away so I won’t have a period’. Or, I’ll stop taking my pills a week early to change when I’ll have my period. Or, some women don’t have to worry about it because they are on ‘the needle’ (Depo Provera) and their periods have stopped. I’m not really sure that any of these solutions are the healthiest for us, but lots of women do just these things to ‘control’ their periods and have them on their own terms.

Gasp! I am a woman in my early thirties who ISN’T trying to get pregnant and isn’t using birth control.
Gasp! I thought it was only those crazy women trying to trick their boyfriends and husbands into having a family who stopped taking birth control by choice!

For me, I’m not on any birth control medications. I went off them all about a year ago because they were wreaking havoc with my hormones and therefore my life. Our hormones have a mind of their own to begin with, but it seemed that while I was on birth control I was dealing with two minds that just never balanced. I had been on birth control of one form or another since high school. I decided that it was about time I stop trying to control my natural body flow and see what it was like to live with just my own hormones … the ones my body produces instead of the ones I was swallowing by pill or injecting by needle (birth control, not illegal drugs folks!)

Isn’t everyone on some kind of birth control though? Isn’t it just what women (and teens) do now-a-days? At age 16, doesn’t the doctor just automatically write you a prescription for ‘the pill’ and then you take it forever and ever until you decide you want to have a baby? Maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but it sure seems that way!

So, what’s a girl to do about her period when she’s headed on vacation, off to travel the world, or even planning her wedding? Most women change their cycles by changing their pill schedule. Is this healthy? I’m guessing most women on the pill don’t care if it is healthy or not, as long as they enjoy that one week of vacation ‘menstruation free’. No tampons strings hanging out of their bikini … lots of sex because you are on vacation … no panty lines under that cute little sun dress …

Me, well, I don’t have the option to change my pill schedule. If I were to go back on the needle or the pill, my period schedule would be the least of my concerns and instead I’d be a blubbering mess of emotion – both irritability and tears … all the time, all at once, not just the week before my period. I choose not to do that to myself, or those I’m traveling with! (you guys & gals should thank me for this one!)

So, what am I going to do about it because ‘Self’ has decided that it is not going to ruin my next trip!

I’m going to travel like a diva … with a cup!

Click here for Part 2

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!

Vaccines recommended for Peru

I visited my travel health clinic yesterday (Jan 6, 2012 – 5 weeks in advance) and got all kinds of useful information for my trip to Peru and Ecuador. I’m sharing this information with you, but everyone has very unique travel needs so please consult a health professional before traveling.

Here are the vaccines and medications we discussed, along with why I personally chose to have (or not to have) each of them.

Malaria – Malaria is a disease carried by mosquitos and it can be very serious. Mosquitos breed and populate in warm, damp areas (hence no mosquitos in Nova Scotia in the middle of winter). There are many areas that have a higher risk of contracting the disease, but for most of the areas in Peru that I will be traveling to, the weather is too cool for an abundance of mosquitos. I did take a medication called Malarone during my travel to Costa Rica to prevent malaria, but I will not be taking this medication for the type of travel I’m doing in Peru.

Diphtheria and Tetanus – Tetanus shots are good for 10 years. I had my last one in 2004 when I nearly chopped off my thumb with an axe. Although I didn’t need to get a new shot until 2014, since I was at the travel health clinic and I was going to have other shots, I figured I might as well get them all done at once. The shot had also been updated to include vaccine for diphtheria. Besides all that, the vaccine is government sponsored, so no charge to me! Downfall is that I could barely move my arm yesterday, didn’t sleep very well, but doing mostly better 24 hours later.

Hepatitus A & B – I had these shots when I traveled to Costa Rica in 2009 and they are good for life. It is a series of three shots over six months or a little longer. I think it cost me about $200 in total for all three. The vaccine that you get is called Twinrix and covers you for both Hepatitus A & B. For anyone traveling anywhere outside of Canada or US, or who is sexually active, you’d be silly not to get this vaccine to protect yourself!

Rabies – Rabies is a disease contracted when an infected animal bites you (normally, dogs, cats, monkeys, bats). It is fatal and not an easy or pleasant way to die. Immediate treatment is required in order to have a chance at survival. The vaccine is hard to produce and very costly. It is recommended to people who are traveling for one month or longer at a time, or who are living in another country for an extended period of time. The vaccines may range in price depending on where you get them, but they are approximately $250 each and you need three of them. Then, if you come in contact with Rabies you will still need additional treatments, but not as many. If you were not to have any vaccines to begin with, the price of being treated is much higher, on top of the issue that you may not be close to a large hospital that can treat you for the disease.

Having said all of this, I have decided not to get the rabies vaccines as I will be traveling for less than one month. I was glad for the reminder from my travel health nurse to stay away from ALL dogs while traveling. Dogs in most other countries will be unleashed, untamed and could be infected with rabies. A rather docile dog on the street can quickly turn into a rabid monster trying to chew your arm off. Better to stay away than to risk it.

Typhoid Fever – Contracted through food and water. I was advised that specifically in Cusco there has recently been an increase in Typhoid Fever. Therefore, I decided to get this vaccine. This one was an odd sensation as I could feel it as it went in to my body. I had it done in the same arm as my tetanus shot, so quite possible that my arm is extra sore from having two of them! This vaccine was about $60.

Yellow Fever – This can be found in some areas of Peru, however not in areas that I will be traveling to, so I was not vaccinated for it. If you are traveling to an area with yellow fever, often you have to show proof of vaccination before leaving your own country, and upon return.