On Being Sick for an Entire Week (or maybe an entire month?)
I picked up many nice souvenirs during my time in Cusco. Matching hats made from baby alpaca wool, an overpriced journal, and scented glitter gel pens were my favorites. I even picked up something with very lasting memories attached to it—FOOD POISONING.
I’m no stranger to street food and sketchy food joints here in Peru. My husband and I regularly frequent establishments that would probably be an American Health Inspector’s nightmare. Since I hail from the land of rules and regulations, there is always a tinge of worry tainting my thoughts whenever I choose to eat at these places. Yet for some reason, despite my constant fears and doubts, I’ve never gotten sick. Because of this, I tend to turn a blind eye to questionable food safety practices.
So imagine my delight when our Program Director invites the group to a pizza place during our last night in Cusco, a respectable restaurant located in the heart of the tourist district. Seems like a safe place to not worry about, right? WRONG!
I returned to the hotel after dinner. We had an extremely early flight the next morning, and I wanted to get the most sleep possible. I fell asleep quickly, but I remember waking up in the middle of the night feeling a bit strange. Soon enough, morning came, yet the strange sickness in my stomach persisted.
I felt exhausted and just wanted to return home to my life in Lima. I was tired of the perpetual cold in Cusco. I missed my husband, who was in Haiti. I was tired of tourists and bad attitudes. Needless to say, I was anxious to get on that flight.
So when I asked if I could have an aisle seat and was promptly told that I couldn’t fly for a few days because I looked sick, the emotional strain was too much. I suddenly found that my Spanish was too weak to argue my way into the flight, so I asked for help from our Program Director. We eventually reached a deal with the gate agent that if I looked better by the time the boarding process finished, I would be permitted to fly.
It was a crazy twenty minutes of wrangling my emotions and suppressing my malaise, but I eventually flew home that day. It was a miserable flight to say the least, but I had never been so excited to see the grey cloud that perpetually covers Lima.
Although I had made it to the fully-oxygenated land of cloudiness, I had only completed the first of my battle. We had arrived in Lima early in the morning, just in time to hit rush hour. And of course, our destination was on the other end of town.
When we arrived at the office, I called a taxi to my husband’s home. Somehow I managed to pull myself together during that time, because I threw up within five minutes of being home.
This whole ordeal was rather surprising to me—I have a strong stomach. And even though I felt better, I was still too sick to venture outside or accomplish anything. At that point, my husband was still gone, so my wellbeing was in the hands of his grandmother and her maid.
Remember how I talked about humility in my last post? Well, it is much easier said than done. I had no control over the food or the medicine that they gave me, so I was subjugated to eating chicken soup and drinking glorified Gatorade for an entire week, even when I felt fine. Instead of going out to buy my own food (something that I very much wanted to do after a week of lying in bed), I had to be respectful and consume everything presented to me.Inka Farma: trusting that the mystery medicine you’re buying is actually legitimate.
I eventually recuperated, but it took awhile for me to go back to school on a regular basis. Here, there is no student housing, so everyone must commute from long distances in order to go to class. Taking the bus at any time of day will take at least forty-five minutes; a taxi will take at least half an hour. So while I felt well enough to attend classes, my strength was not yet to the point of commuting for hours on end.
I began to attend classes sporadically, whenever I felt well enough to go. It was quite strange, however—as soon as I felt as though I had recovered completely, my stomach would begin to hurt severely, dictating my plans for the day. I never felt sick enough to go to the doctor (something that I reserve for true emergencies), but I did recover.
This entire time took place over the course of a month—until the end of my classes. And while it was an unfortunate case of sickness, it was a good reminder that food contamination and other maladies can occur to anyone at any time, no matter how careful one might be. The important thing is to remain calm and persevere.