Before dinner at Susie’s place on Friday night, I asked her what got her friend Maggie so sick. Poor Maggie had to take a train trip through the countryside of India with only a hole in the train floor to use as a restroom while she was dealing with a severe case of the Delhi belly.
Susie says most of the time it’s impossible to tell what specifically gets you sick because it can take over a week for the symptoms to appear. So it’s not necessarily the last thing that you ate that is giving you grief. So, in my case, it wasn’t necessarily the idli I ate at Sagar that made me sick. This is good news, as the idli at Sagar was very delicious. I'm going to continue blaming the McDonald's in light of this discovery.
In Maggie’s case, however, it is abundantly clear what made her sick. She drank street lemonade. This is lemonade sold by men with little carts. It comes in dingy green bottles full of tiny lemons. They don’t necessarily use filtered water to make the lemonade, they don't necessarily clean the lemons, and they clean the bottles right there on the (very unsanitary) street.
“It was sealed,” Maggie said. But they also seal the bottles on the street. It’s clear Maggie exercised some bad judgment. But who am I to point fingers?
Even in this scenario, Maggie didn’t get sick until three days after consuming the nefarious bacterial brew.
I’m confused as to why I’m not just constantly sick. Don’t they wash the dishes in the bad water? Why don’t the dishes themselves get me sick?
Susie explains that once the dishes are dry, the water-bourn bacteria can’t live on them any longer. But if you get a wet dish in a restaurant, she says, send it back.
Still, there’s only so much you can do to be careful. One of Susie’s friends back home asked her how she takes showers. “Do you, like, shut your eyes and your mouth real tight the whole time?” he wanted to know.
We laugh. Susie says she obviously doesn’t drink the water in the shower, but you can’t be ridiculous about it. If you’re going to get sick, you’re going to get sick. You can be sensible and not drink scurvy lemonade, but being careful past a certain point probably won’t help you anyway. It will just make you miserable.
After Nepal, Susie shares, she had amoebas, parasites, and some stomach condition beginning with a “g” that made her whole midsection swell up.
“Oh my god!” I am horrified, but she is taciturn. No big deal. She had to take so many antibiotics that the medicine wound up making her even more sick on top of everything else. I try not to imagine what that must have been like. I try to imagine myself signing up for another extended trip overseas after such an incident. Maybe it’s like child birth, I reason. The pain winds up being worth it?
I resolve not to get amoebas or parasites—not that I know how to avoid getting amoebas or parasites, let alone the “g” disease. I’ll just keep eating at my posh guest house and the posh restaurants in the Defence Colony market and hope for the best. Susie was living out in rural Nepal with Shirpa families. It was a totally different situation, I tell myself.
Then she mentions de-worming. “Like we do to my cats?” I wonder. Yes. Like that. She’s got her de-worming medicine, but she’ll wait to take it until she gets home. There’s no sense in taking it here because she’ll just have to do it again when she returns to the States.
"You have to de-worm?" I ask.
Her sister-in-law (who she’ll be living with when she returns) is freaking out. She wants Susie to de-worm before she gets back to the United States. She doesn’t want her family catching Susie’s worms. Susie says they’re not contagious.
How do you get them, then?
“Oh, from anything,” she says. “From food or from walking down the street.”
I ponder how I can avoid food and walking down the street between now and October.
The University Travel Clinic didn’t mention de-worming, I tell her. Maybe this is just a Susie thing. Maybe I won’t get worms because I’m Vicki Krajewski, and I’m working at Pearson in the New Directions program. The worms will recognize that I’m special and steer clear, right?
“Should I de-worm too?” I ask Susie.
"Yes," she says unequivocally. I should. She’ll show me the stuff at a chemist’s some time. It’s just three days of pills. It’s no big deal. Or I can just visit the vet’s office with my cats when I get back, I think. In which case I’ll make Scott sneak the medicine to me in pats of butter while I squirm and meow. And he’ll have to rub my throat to get me to swallow it.
I pretend I’m not horrified by all this. I pretend I’m cool. I’m down with amoebas and parasites and the “g” disease and dysentery and worms. No big deal. No problem-o. Nothing a stiff course of antibiotics can’t take care of. Sometimes pretending helps make it so. They say if you’re sad and you smile, you become less sad. If you’re scared and you pretend you’re not, I hope you become more bold.
Then I think to myself, “You might as well not worry about it. Be smart about what you eat and don’t eat, but don’t worry. If you’re going to get sick, you’re going to get sick, and then you cross that bridge when you get to it.”
Whatever tendencies toward hypochondria I might have harbored are somehow banished. It just doesn’t make sense to worry about possibly being sick. When you’re sick here, I have a feeling, you know it. Amoebas and dysentery and worms, oh my!