All flowery language aside, the point you start shitting blood is usually the point when you should stop naively hoping your body will sort through the problem and go seek medical attention.
I hadn’t been well in some time. At the start of the trip I was flying, sampling every street food I could find and priding myself on the fact that I seemed to have beaten my belly into submission after the initial round of violent nausea on day 3. I pictured my stomach as having given up on me after the fifth meal of mystery chaat and having left me to my own devices. “Fuck it,” the mental image of my stomach said. “Eat what you want. I just don’t care anymore. Whatever.”
But 3 weeks later in Rishikesh I found myself in the hospital to get a prescription to combat a sudden bout of food poisoning. It delayed our bike tour departure date by a couple days but, after the round of meds, I was feeling good again.
Until I caught a cold.
That was around Vrindavan. Having been slammed by gulal for Holi meant that whenever I blew my nose the tissue came away tie-dyed into a colorful snot Rorschach. And that lasted well into Jaipur where everything went south in more literal ways than even I care to elaborate.
Until, finally, when leaving to view the infamous Taj Mahal in Agra, I dialled a good friend back in Canada who happens to be a pharmacist, looking for advice. The call ended up having to take place in two parts as, halfway through, I had to cut him off to search for a toilet IMMEDIATELY.
I finished the call on the rickshaw journey to the Taj. After John had heard me list off the array of symptoms currently plaguing my digestive track, he suggested I go find a doctor.
Our rickshaw driver had overheard the conversation and helpfully chimed in that he knew of a reliable doctor in the area, where I wouldn’t have a stupidly long wait. And so, after our tour of the Taj, we called him up and were off to the clinic.
While waiting in the lobby, Pete helpfully began searching interweb articles on dysentery in India. One article described the usual treatment for it as being a ‘shotgun’ of medicine, aimed to kill pretty much all variations it could possibly be.
The interwebs didn’t lead us astray – after a conversation with the doctor about what was wrong and an initial exam I was very suddenly being prepped for an IV. Tattoos aside, I’m not a fan of needles at the best of times, so I tried to escape to some very distant happy place in my head as they prepped the vein. Happily, they did so by squeezing my arm so hard I hardly felt the needle slide in. Almost simultaneously, the doctor got me to roll to one side and then the other, where each cheek of my ass got stabbed with injections.
In addition to the shots, I went through two different IV drips, had two further injections direct to the IV and was given 3 different meds (and 3 more of each besides to take the next couple days) to drink from a bottle of water loaded with electrolytes. Shotgun indeed.
Most of this took place right in the lobby. Bollywood tunes floated down from the tv high in the corner of the room as the slow drip of the IV ran its hours-long course. A man opposite me burdened with a casted leg and some affliction that was causing half his face to swell profusely made me feel self-conscious about my own, less visually apparent medical issue. On the opposite wall, graphic pictures of what looked to be several bloody amputation surgeries did less to ease my unease than the person who had hung them might have intended.
But by the time we finally waved goodbye to the clinic and the IV I had spent the last several hours hooked up to I was feeling better. The pain was gone, at least.
I was ordered to follow a strict diet of small, frequent meals of fruits, curd and rice. Which I did, begrudgingly. For 6 days. Maybe 5.
I was feeling good. I had a strength back I hadn’t felt in weeks; the sun as we rode was now pleasant on my skin as opposed to smothering like it had previously seemed, the fatigue was passing and my digestion had become more regular. Both I and my bowel movements appeared to, finally, be solid once more.
Then, one evening after a particularly long drive, we blew into Allahabad and I decided the best way to celebrate a successful journey would be to break fast with a bit of meat. Just a bit. In a nice restaurant. Some fish, maybe. Good idea, right?
Stomach went fully 180 almost immediately. And the next day it was all back – the fatigue, the cramping and bloating, the nausea and dizziness. . . And of course the guilt at knowing that, this time, it was likely my own damn fault.
And so now I sit typing on a bed in the San Katha Hostel in Varanasi, a city I’ve yet to see much of. We only arrived last evening and spent much of the day’s remaining hours arranging parking for the bikes within the narrow, twisting alleys of the old town. I’ve started a course of the Cipro anti-biotics I’d put off trying earlier, and am back to a diet that, while it saps my will to live, does seem to be helping my stomach calm down. Pete, whose health has been pretty solid since we began traveling together, is passed out on the bed beside me, now racked with his own disgruntled stomach. Poor bastard.
I wasn’t really fully aware how long and consistently I’d been sick until I just flipped back through my journal today. There were an abundance of entries cursing my fragile system and, more recently, my own stupid hasty decision to try Indian fish. There were also a tangled webs of notes on the things we’d actually been up to lately, the sites we’d seen and people we’d met and the experiences we’d been having. . .and the blog posts I’d hoped to make on them.
I was getting pretty down on myself for letting it slide. Particularly given my last post on finding the time to do the things we love, it seemed like I wasn’t putting the effort in, or doing all I could. The guilt would perhaps have been easier to deal with if my latest bout of GI tract dysfunction wasn’t self induced.
But the simple fact of the matter is that sometimes things just don’t go right, whether through poor decisions or just circumstance. It’s alright to set goals for yourself but it can be dangerous to create too strict a set of expectations for the pace at which you’ll accomplish them; to forget to factor in that things in life rarely go flawlessly. When we create ideals in our mind for how we want things to play out it it’s easy to get weighed down when those stories flounder or flop, be it a town you didn’t make it to because your bike scored a flat on the edge of Satna, or because the screen of your computer blinks blank while you hunch over a toilet, praying your guts will just expel whatever evil you’ve digested, please god expel it now.
I’d like to have stayed on top of my notes and blogs and photos despite colds and digestive dysfunction like the super-human I unrealistically expect myself to behave as. Or, better yet, I’d like to be able to hop from street vendor to lassi shop to snack booth, ingesting all manner of Indian treats, unaffected by bugs, infection or sweltering heat waves, untroubled by such lowly human conditions as headaches or vertigo. Or to at least possess some god-like will that allows me to push through them, to ignore these trivial hiccups in my travel plans and GET ER DONE.
I’m not super-human. Hell, half the time it takes a good amount of will power just not to bitch incessantly about how much my tummy hurts.
What I CAN do, however, is get over this guilt. Yeah, it would have been nice to have had the time and clear consciousness to reflect and write on the experiences of the last few weeks. But it would also have been nice to not feel like the gravity dial had been turned up to 11 in whatever room I walked into, nice to not have had the last sip of electrolytes I tried to ingest induce a violent fit of vomiting.
When roadblocks happen you can let yourself get down about it, or even let it taint all circumstances that follow. You can get all tangled up in the things that didn’t go as you’d planned, or hoped, and play the blame game for why they went wrong.
Or, you can accept that things ain’t always flowers and bunnies, take any lessons out of it there are to take (In this case, in John’s own words, “Stop eating sketchy shit”), keep your chin up, and let those useless, nagging thoughts just. . .go.
Cause sometimes shit happens. Or, in poor Pete’s case, doesn’t.