See this picture? Yeah. Two days in to some nau-sea-sickness, I took this picture to document my beautiful, natural Ubudian recovery. I had fallen, sure, but I was on the mend. At that stage I liked to think the fall had been a controlled descent. I did my best to lie down gracefully with my feet elevated after throwing up my bright green salad lunch and a double-cold-pressed-cashew-milk-coffee in Alchemy, wherein my super-cool author lady luncheon companion Sarah did me the supreme honour of turning promptly from willowy, hilarious glamourati into level-headed-mother-of-young-child-used-to-dealing-with-vom, and arranged an immediate and graceful evactuation of the premises.
I went home and vomited a lot more. I’m not a vomiter. It’s hard for me. Takes a long time. I spend hours adrift on the Sea of Nau before the main event. A day passed. I began to get extremely thirsty. My lips chapped. Every swallow of water made the sly promise of staying down only to collect into enough volume for a high-velocity torrent a few hours later. I took the anti-emetic Stemetil that I had wisely packed for a tropical excursion (despite only having suffered ‘traveller’s sickness’ three times in fifteen years and countless trips overseas) and threw those up too, until none remained. Thirstier and thirstier, I looked at the rattan ceiling and composed impassioned correspondence to the manufacturers of Stemetil suggesting fundamental changes in their delivery method. Topical lotions, single-use-syringes, fast dissolving wafers. Eye-drops. Lip-balm.
At the point where my eyes had begun to shrink into their sockets and my pee was clinking into the bowl as crystals of uric acid, I summoned the fortitude to look at my swimming computer screen and Google ‘how keep watr dwn f ur dyin’ and the wisdom of the internet responded with ‘small spoonfuls water’. The internet also delivered a truly terrible story of two Canadian sisters who had just died in their hotel room in Thailand and – because I catastrophise, especially when ill – I went down a black, black hole of what-ifs that only ended once I remembered I had repatriation insurance so at least my pale little body wouldn’t cost anyone money to ship it home.
Then I cried. Well, I tried too, but I had no water for tears. The internet said this phenomenon is followed shortly by death. I screamed (whimpered) for my housekeeper Nyoman, who came in tut-tuting with a flask of boiling water and some ginger and rosella tea. He changed my sheets and cleaned my bathroom with surgical attention, and sent my clothes off to the Ubud Eco laundry, because y’all might remember from previous posts about my first world problems that the toxic-avenger smells of the detergents they use in Indonesia make me gag even on a strong stomach.
I started to feel better. Determined to Definitely Not Be Ill Like Losers Who Aren’t Real Travellers And Such, I took myself on a small quivering excursion to Bali Buddha, where I bought some organic ginger. Once home, I remembered I’d packed my favourite multi-tool, the Leatherman aka ‘Leathery’, and peeled the ginger and took this smug picture of my clever, natural, grown-up approach to wellness and self-sufficiency.
At about 3 a.m. (nothing good ever, ever happens at 3 a.m. unless you are on your honeymoon) I had a seizure. Before I could think what to do next, I had another one. As it subsided, I realised my body was so indescribably freezing that I needed to get extra blankets, jeans, my leather jacket – possibly lie under the mattress itself – all things which were not possible because my limbs were now suffering intermittent spasms like the aftershocks of a powerful earthquake that I had no option but to ride out in cold, dark terror. I thought about the Canadian girls and I thought about my family and I thought about how nothing like this had happened to me before and I thought about how human I was and how small I was and I called for my Mum in my head and I said the Boy’s name aloud to prove I was real and then I passed out.
Was this overly dramatic? Hilarious in hindsight? I’m not so sure. I don’t think I know where the edge is with illness anymore. I do know I woke up. A day later. On my back. In a watery gruel of feces. Cheeks plastered with vomit that I was very lucky not to aspirate. The pain in my muscles and bones was like nothing I’ve imagined in the realm of natural illness. I was surprised they could bear my now 52 kilo frame. This, along with the sudden plummet of core temperature, spelled dengue ‘bone-break’ fever to the admitting hospital, but no rash developed so they didn’t test for it. There’s a current outbreak and the only treatment is ‘fluids’ anyway. They sent me home.
I got worse. I went back. They tested my blood for bacteria. They tested my poo by handing me a pair of disposable gloves and a plastic jar and asking me to ‘shit in my hand’ and wipe it in the container. The toilet was dirty, the walls were peeling. They offered to hospitalise me and I responded the best way I knew how. I threw up on their floor and went home again. On the way home I checked my phone and the picture of the ginger and knife flashed up. It looked like my intestines and what was happening to them. It became totemic of my failure and misery. It made me throw up to look at. It made me throw up every time I thought about it. I tried to delete it and failed at even that.
Over the next five days lots of people helped me. I emailed the test results to my two mates who happen to be a boyfriend/girlfriend trainee-doctor-duo who tag-teamed a long distance diagnoses and prescribed the magical tummy-bomb Flagyl that worked overnight. Despite enduring non-stop nausea of the kind documented by my pregnant friends that made me swear with every wobbly breath that I’d never allow myself to get knocked up, the fact that one of these doctor friends is going to be a pediatrician also made me swear to have children just so they can get sick and I can take them to her.
The Boy called my sister-in-love, who went straight from handing in her final essays for her postgrad on-something-too-complex-for-me-to-understand to a medical center, where she talked a doctor into the codeine and Stemetil not available in this country. She got on a plane with them and arrived expecting to nurse me instead of hang by the pool in matching bikinis as planned, without so much as a shrug. Every member of my family who knew, every friend at home, every new friend in Ubud – all of them flooded my online areas with goodwill and love. Thanks all. Thanks and thanks and thanks.
And sorry I didn’t respond. It’s just that throwing up is hard to do.