NOT AGAIN! NOT BOTH OF US!
After last year’s fiasco with the amoebas illness, I wasn’t sure I wanted to return to El Salvador this year. I spent two thirds of that trip miserable and out of commission and required multiple trips to two doctors on two totally different medication regimens. I chalked it up to a fluke and thought this could never happen again.
We were well into the third week of our month-long trip this year before the diarrhea hit. I had it for a day, and then it seemed cured — until it returned with a vengeance. To add to the trouble, Don got it, and we both were down for the count. It wasn’t as bad as I had it last year, but the malady wasn’t going away either; we decided to get a handle on it before it got out of control.
Time to call a friend with strong ties to the medical community. She immediately went into action calling her doctor, sending a car for us to go to said doctor, and arranging an English translator available when we arrived at the clinic. We needed an iPad and two cell phones with Spanish/English translation apps AND the translator to try to communicate back and forth our symptoms and all the details the doctor was telling us. After we were evaluated and the doctor took a medical history on each of us, she ordered an IV to hydrate us there immediately. (How is it possible to be dehydrated when we constantly drink?!) It took 30 minutes for each of us. After that she reviewed the medications she gave us. (Not prescribed for us, but gave us there on the spot.) We both felt better after the IV (which the nurse injected with some kind of medicine into.)
That night I had violent diarrhea which had me up more than down. When our friend checked in, we questioned if I could be allergic to the antibiotic, Bactrine, that the doctor prescribed. I had never been on it before. (There were other medicines prescribed, also.) Next thing I know a nurse appeared to check me, and a room was being set up to give me another IV. The curtain rod was rigged up to hold the bag for the IV. Our friend arrived with 5 bottles of various flavors of liquid electrolytes. I worried about the Friday flight now and asked the nurse if I would be able to make it. I didn’t know how quickly I could recover, but she saw no reason to be concerned.
At that point I just wanted the drugs that worked successfully for me last year. I had brought the list along with me – just in case I needed it. The concern with one of them was it should not be given without a diagnosis for amoebas or the stomach can explode. GREAT! So our friend arranged for a car to bring the containers for our stool samples at 7 AM the next morning. At 7:15 they were on their way to the clinic. About 11:30 our friend called to inquire how we were doing and to report the results of the stool samples: no parasites of any kind, no change of medicines, and keep drinking, drinking, drinking, drinking and we will live another 30 years. The doctor thought we are just very sensitive to the food here and ordered us to eat soft foods. (Meanwhile, I self-prescribed the BRAT diet we use in the United States: banana, rice, applesauce, and toast minus the applesauce that doesn’t seem to exist in El Salvador. I’ve added scrambled eggs or yogurt for a bit of protein. It was getting pretty boring and repetitive, but it produced good results.)
Trying to maintain our interview schedule was tricky. It became a game of “Who is feeling worse at this minute?” and can we move the interview to our guest house where one of us can lie down while the other does a very abbreviated interview? At times, one continued to move around the country while the other of us stayed very close to the bathroom. Too much time and effort goes into arranging these interviews. We didn’t want to inconvenience the storyteller who may have traveled several hours by bus to reach us.
In true Salvadoran style, the rest of our friend’s family became involved in our medical situation. Her mom came in to check us while we lay flat on our backs in the clinic getting the IV and sent us a fruit bowl. Her brother checked on us later. Our friend checked on us repeatedly in person or by phone. Her dad came to check on us! The clinic called mid-afternoon to check on us. We were getting lots of attention. I sent thank you notes to each one and was told, “It is our pleasure to be of assistance,” an example of true, genuine, compassionate Salvadoran spirit.
Post Note: The following year I discussed the situation with my own doctor asking what else I can do to preempt this situation from recurring. He suggested I take Align, a probiotic tablet, for two weeks before going, throughout the trip and two weeks after returning. That year I escaped the whole digestive problem and contracted only a cold. We are making progress.