Burmese Days (sick in the jungle)

Ngwe Saung, Myanmar, 2010

Laying face up in a bamboo hut in the middle of the jungle, I knew it was bad. The powder was dissolving in the water and I hoped it would bring relief. My friend passed me the water bottle and I took sips, but with each sip the need to throw up rose again all the way to my throat before I pushed it down. How did it come to this? Sick in a Burmese clinic in the middle of the jungle.

The evening had been good. The group crowded into a small restaurant by the sea to eat fresh seafood and celebrate our friend’s wedding. I tasted everything, each delicacy before me, laughing and joking with everyone. When we got back to the hotel I started to feel a mild discomfort. I couldn’t sleep and was trying to drink some tea. We left the beach at 2 am to make the ride back to the city. The van bumped and jostled on the way so there was no hope of sleep, and my stomachache was growing into nausea. I told myself if I drank tea and took deep gulps of fresh air, the ache would leave.

Around 5 am, I called out in a small voice so as to not wake the others:

“Could you tell the driver to pull over?”

“What?” came a sleepy reply.

“Pull over now!” I begged with more insistence. “I am going to be sick!”

Within seconds the car was to the side of the road and before it stopped I was pulling the door open and heaving onto it.

“Oh shit, I am sorry. I’m sorry…” (why is it that we always apologize when we throw up? As if we have any control over it).

Back in the car I got sympathetic back rubs and several can-I-do-anything’s, but all I was thinking about was making it back to Yangon early enough to have a shower and a quick nap before my plane. All hope of that was gone when 30 minutes later we had to pull over again… and again….

The sign for the clinic was a discreet cross on a metal plaque. There was a small house tucked away behind the tress, and at the roadside an open-air bamboo hut. I sat down while Nandi held my hand and rubbed my back; dry heaves assaulted me. I waited for the doctor and hoped for a miracle cure; some secret jungle remedy that would instantly relieve my pain and stop the nausea.

The doctor was dressed in shorts, a dress shit open at his chest and sandals. He was speaking and gesturing to me. Was he really a doctor? Next to me came a voice, translating, “you must sit up. When you drink, the medicine can’t get to your stomach ‘cause you are on your back. You must sit up.”

Instead of the miracle cure I hoped for, I got a powdered version of Pepto-Bismol and a Gatorade to get me hydrated again.

Back on the road we stopped for a quick breakfast. The tea I had been drinking must have finally kicked in. I asked for the bathrooms, praying for the best, but knowing that I would only get a squat toilet. I smelled it before I even got there.

I pulled down my pants and waited to pee and that is when the horror of it all came out. “Oh crap!” I yelled, literally. I reached over to the bucket next to me and tried my best to scoop out the water and wash myself. A concerned group of faces met me at the car. I didn’t even care about the humiliation at this point.

By 8 am we reached the capital and the nausea was back, heightened by the diarrhea. The only option left was for me to go to the foreign hospital.

My worst fear at this point was that they wouldn’t discharge me, because now the clock was ticking away before my departure. Pumping me full of IV’s and pills allowed me 30 minutes of rest. They asked me three times to stay and made me sign a waiver to leave, and by 10 am I was released from the hospital and zipping away to the airport in a taxi. No time for a shower, no time for anything. I was out of there with my medicine and some rice porridge.


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