Not Simply Catching a Cold…

Going to India was not all birds and sunshine… Traveling has its perks and pounds. And heading to a tropical hot zone like India was like tredding in dangerous waters.

First and foremost, I did not buy travel medical insurance. My health insurance ‘covered’ emergency visits, but I learned not to trust Aetna with my soul. As a future doctor, I’m going to be bitter enemies with insurance companies. I also did not want to pay for the $80 MedEx travel insurance that covered medical visits and repatriation in case disasters hit. I was already embittered that my insurance did not cover preventative measures, like the Typhoid Fever vaccine, Anti-Malaria medications, and antibiotics. My stupid insurance only paid up if I got sick and needed treatment. How stupid is that?!

Here was my hefty pre-India medical to-do list. Most of the precautions are due to the poor hygiene and sanitation habits in underdeveloped countries. Let’s say I was drugged up for my trip to India:

  • Polio booster shot
  • Hepatitis A vaccine for travelers: There’s a risk of infection through contaminated food. If someone did not wash his hands after the bathroom and touched the table, especially in a nation of hand-eaters and no toilet paper, then there’s the route of infection transmission and happily festering viruses and bacteria.
  • Typhoid Fever vaccine: I did not get this because my insurance did not cover the hefty costs (>$100 out-of-pocket). This is contracted through contaminated food and drinking water that has come from feces infected with Salmonella. I’ve been warned again and again NOT to drink the water in India, likely for this reason and other obvious ones. Hence, I should’ve been more careful with all the fruit drinks and milkshakes because there could be ice and blenders washed in water.
  • Travelers’ Diarrhea, or Montezuma’s Revenge:  The main culprit is entertoxigenic E. Coli in contaminated food and water. I hear it’s the worst feeling ever, because you make a home on your toilet all day long. And it’s like a monsoon out the other end. Additional symptoms aside from watery stool include nausea, vomiting, bloating, abdominal pain, fever, and malaise. I came prepared with azithromycin to fend off the diarrhea in case it happened.
  • Malaria: I was in the malaria belt. It’s a parasitic infection, the Plasmodium bugger, that is transmitted via mosquitoes. It’s a very ugly and disgusting disease, a medical emergency actually, with flu-like symptoms, significant anemia, high fevers, and shaking chills. I came armed with OFF! bug spray and an expensive anti-malarial drug, Mefloquine. I had to take my medications once a week at the same time. A good way to remember was MMM, or Malaria Monday Mornings. Even though I was equipped with bug spray that made me smell like oranges, I was still a buffet feast for bugs and mosquitoes. One night in bed, I came down with almost numerous bites. After my beach trips and evening strolls, I suffered more bug bites on my feet, legs, and arms.

I had my share of health issues.

  • Halfway into my trip in early July, I started feeling symptomatic. Around July 1, that afternoon I was visiting neighboring East Fort. On the way home, I started feeling sick… headaches, fatigue, mild fever, dehydration. I felt dizzy and hot. I was not sure if it was the weather affecting me, but the sun’s heat and the ambient stuffiness did not help. My body inside felt feverish. Throat pain began a few days ago, and continued unabated. I got home super tired. I took a cold shower and went to sleep at 6:00 pm. I skipped dinner and slept until midnight, when I woke up and rolled around, until I fell asleep again. All night, I was disturbed by the heat and crying dogs outside. The last few days I’ve been having dreams, strange and random ones I can barely remember. To listen into the night and hear moaning dogs made me wonder, Am I crazy?
  • I was most concerned I contracted a disease like Typhoid Fever, which I was not vaccinated for. I could have had other serious tropical infectious diseases pestering me, but I did not know for sure. Then it dawned on me, I was taking anti-malarials, which entailed side effects. Mefloquine side effects include *mental disturbances, unusual dreams, fever, chills, dizziness, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, appetite loss, and sleepiness. More serious ones include seizures, anxiety, depression, mood changes, panic attacks, confusion, hallucinations, and suicide. Ouch… When I read the drug sheet and saw the note on potential mental disturbances and other symptoms, I had a light-bulb moment. Because I was adjusting to the drug, I experienced the various complications, especially the weird dreams and noises. Maybe they were real or they were in my head, but I believe it was drug-induced.

  • The next day, I woke up at 8:00 am and ate my healthy breakfast of milk, fruits, and cereal. I went back to bed all sore. Not sure if it was due to how much I slept and rolled around in bed or because of my mefloquine. I had terrible back pain and jaw aches. On top of all that, I was still warm and tired. My throat hurt a little still, but slightly better. My eyes still felt swollen and feverish, especially when I blinked. The head was still achy and dizzy. Overall, though, I felt much more improved after a long night’s sleep. Because I did not feel as sick as last night, I was good to go on my weekend excursion…
  • Regarding diarrhea… I got lucky. I don’t think I got hit with the E. Coli bug, but I had some bowel issues. A few mornings in a row, I woke up in the morning with severe abdominal cramps and a sense of urgency. Needless to say, I hit the bathroom with loose stool. Because I was careful with my drinking water, I did not catch TD. I did believe I ate something funny, since my bowel issues came after eating Indian food at this place called Kabab. I’d eat spicy, saucy dishes that were too good to resist, only to pay for it the next morning. One of my last days in India, I ate at a vegetarian place called Ariyajoythi, some coconut fried rice and mutter paneer and chenna patoora, and suffered the gurgling and cramping consequences at the airport and on the plane to Abu Dhabi. Better to stick to the burgers and pizzas in India if you can afford it! Beware of Indian food… it’s a fire to the ass.

Beware of hardcore Indian food

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