Disclaimer: this one gets a bit graphic, so be advised
Yes, I got sick my first weekend in Guyana. It was stomach flu and I nearly passed out from dehydration. But Mom, please know that I was not in any real danger. My host mother took care of me like a hen to her egg. She never left the house!
My host family is the Joseph family. Walter and Desiree (Dez-ah-ree, for those of you who want to say it Creolese style) are close to my parents’ age. They have two daughters who are both married and have children. One daughter is a nurse living in England, and the other is a teacher living on an island in the Lesser Antilles whose name has left me at the moment.
Walter is a retired Ministry of Agriculture official who runs his own rice patty, farm, and livestock not far from where we live. Rice patties and farms are known collectively as the “backdam” in Guyana. I have yet to visit da backdam, but want to very much. Walter has goats, sheep, cows, ducks, and chickens. His chicken and duck coops are in the back yard of our house and he has a garden twice the size of my parents’ on the side of our house.
Desiree keeps the roost. She cooks and gaffs with me all the time. Gaffin is Guyanese slang for chatting. The dishes she prepares are incredible. She is active with her church and misses her daughters.
The Josephs are a Christian, Afro-Guyanese family. I will explore all the other combinations of Guyanese ethnic/religious blends later.
The Josephs retired well. They own their land. Their house has two stories and is roughly 2/3 the size of my house on Angeleno street. I sleep upstairs and have my own bathroom with a toilet that flushes, a sink, and a shower that sometimes works (cold water bucket bathes are the most common). Rooms are walled, but not to the ceiling. This is to allow for air to pass freely throughout the house on each level. It is crucial, believe me.
My room is tiny and I have my own mosquito net, double-sized bed, armoire, dry rack, and dresser. I also have a fan, but try not to use it as electricity costs double what it costs in the states (this is WITH the adjustments for Guyanese living costs and exchange rate). I love my mosquito net. I love it with all my heart and flesh.
Do you know what gravel pills are used for?
Thursday of last week is when I met my host family. Wouldn’t you know that on that very Friday night at 11:30pm I woke up to stomach pains and horrible acid reflex? From then on I was back and forth from the bathroom. I was throwing up, having diarrhea, throwing up, having diarrhea, and generally feeling soar because I couldn’t get the toilet to flush. Toilets aren’t complicated things. You just hit the lever and it goes. I’m civilized, what’s wrong with my brain? Is it the malaria pills I’m taking? I was sure I was waking my mother up because I was taking bucket after bucket of water from the shower to flush the toilet and then washing my hands afterward. I was convinced I had somehow gotten sick and broken the Joseph’s toilet all within 48 hours of meeting them. I was a wreck.
This cycle lasted until 6:30am, Saturday morning. When I was just falling asleep, my alarm went off because I had told Walter that I wanted to see his farm that day. I got up and went downstairs and almost fell because I was so dizzy from dehydration. After some explaining (not much was needed), everyone got the picture and I was back up to bed with bottles of drinking water. I slept. At 9am I woke up to noises of roosters crowing, sheep bleating, and thought, “Maybe I should call the PCMO (Peace Corps Medial Officer), Nurse Jean.”
I found her phone number in my training handbook and noticed that next to it there was a memo reading, “please do not wait until the morning to call your PCMO if you are ill. Trainees that try to ‘tough it out’ sometimes find themselves in compromising situations”
Shit. Why am I an idiot?
Nurse Jean answered when I called and talked me through everything. I was instructed NOT to stop the diarrhea because I needed to flush out whatever was in me. I DID need to stop the vomiting because I had to keep liquids down and stay hydrated. Enter gravel pill: I had a medial kit with me and took 50mg of gravel to help stop the vomiting. Believing that hydration was the key issue here, I naturally took my gravel pill with a lot of water.
DO NOT DO THIS! I took my pill with lots of water, got drowsy, and passed out (normal side effect). However, an hour after this occurred, I shot straight up and wide eyed, out of my bed. I ran to the toilet, sat down, flushed, washed my hands and lurched back to my bed. It was at this point that I was hit with an extreme dizziness and the most rapid, intense, full body sweat I have ever experienced in my entire life. Then I threw up.
I called Nurse Jean. She laughed and said I was supposed to take my gravel pill with no more than 1oz of water. She told me I was going to be fine and that I just needed rest, drink clear liquids, and drink clear soups. NO FAT. Desiree, of course, understood all this and tended to me the rest of the day.
It was an ordeal. Even though my body was in no danger, my morale was. I became very lonely and suffered from homesickness most of the weekend. I was lucky to have such a great host family, healthy body, and wits strong enough to keep me from packing it all up and heading back to the states (I was this close people).
I was also lucky enough to have a staff member, Tabitha (Tabby), visit me and stay the night because Walter and Desiree are her Aunt and Uncle. Tabby took me to see Tolga, another trainee, on Saturday afternoon and I have never been happier to see an American in my entire life.
It was a good test, but a test nonetheless. Who likes tests? I don’t.