What’s it like to have food poisoning in Asia?
There’s a difference between “food poisoning” and “travelers diarrhea”. Quite a large one in my book. Yet the two ailments are often merged for sympathy’s sake when traveling.
I myself have succumb to both. Travelers diarrhea is nothing new, and rarely gets me motivated to tell a soul. Food poisoning on the other had is a different game which can bring even the strongest to their knees.
And, yes, last week I disobeyed my own best advice and bit into something I knew would cause a problem.
The number one food to avoid in Asia to keep from getting sick.
— Warning: if you don’t like to read about graphic stomach purging of a travelers nature, don’t read on —
Avoiding breakfast is better than eating something bad …
It was 5.30am and Thailand, like many Asian countries, starts to come alive when the sun appears. If you’ve been reading along here recently, then you’ll know I may be one of the few souls on the planet that doesn’t think the world of Thai food.
This is especially true at breakfast time. Waiting for a 6.am train, I looked around. I figured there’d be nothing available on the train that would be too substantial, so I aimed for a light breakfast along the streets.
Nothing. Some omelet type food stalls had just started up. I knew the possible results of an unknown egg covered in chili before a long train trip. Instead I went to a coffee shop. And took a look at what was on offer.
The pastries were coming fresh out of the oven! A good sign. I could have gone for a croissant , an almond slice or even a sausage roll. But no, for some reason I chose the chicken curry slice.
Even as a I write this, I shake my head in shame.
What part of the chicken goes into these things I don’t know. Heck, maybe no part at all. Curried pigeon slice never tasted so bland.
How do you know if you are food poisoned in Asia?
To illustrate a fools meal all the better, let me take you back to Pakistan. A successful trip through the Khyber Pass complete, it was time to celebrate with kebabs. All taken from a well-known shop. And, they were very good.
A few hours later I felt a head cold coming on. Sore throat, sleepy, thirsty. I went to my hotel to lie down for a while. A few hours later I stirred awake, stood up and sniffed at my clogged up nose.
Yep, a cold
Something gurgled in my stomach. It felt a little strange. I looked in the mirror and frowned. Removed my shirt and saw that somehow over the past couple of hours my stomach had swelled up to resemble that of an 8 month pregnancy.
With that, another gurgle. And then something splashed up my esophagus from the inside.
I lunged for the bathroom, and didn’t quite make it.
Purple projectile vomit spewed forth across the bathroom floor and hit the basin mirror with violent force
I lurched again, and again. All the time bright purple liquid gushed out.
My mind could only think about why I was gushing purple ooze?! Bile was yellow! What was purple?
Once the first round of heaving was done, I realized the purple must have come from the red cabbage and onion from the kebabs earlier.
When the Sh*# really wants to hit the fan, strip down
With that thought, my stomach sank and I felt an inverted volcano churn with violent repercussions. I tore off my pants to hover over a squat toilet in anxiety of the horror would be shooting out.
And, so it came to pass.
Good … good … still solid.
Well … maybe.
No … not anymore.
Damn I’m a shooting waterfall from the rear.
Then, as in all these wonderful cases. As the back-end finished, I hurled from the front.
Yes, I was firing from both ends.
And yes, the bathroom was beginning to look … well, interesting. Thankfully it was fully tiled.
Dangers of food poisoning
I went from both ends for the next hour. Every ten minutes. I never left the bathroom. I never knew there was so much liquid in me.
The first round over. I turned on the shower. It lasted only 2 minutes before I was squatting down again.
Feeling like I’d just been hit by a tidal wave I staggered to the bed and sat down. Shaking considerably from shock. if not from whatever was erupting from within my stomach.
Feeling some thirst I took a small sip of water.
Big mistake, my stomach instantly clenched in rage at the insult of trying to hydrate myself and the water spewed back up instantly. And, yes, it set the other end off too.
And so it all started again.
Lesson learned, I lay down quietly and just listened to the demented demons from within my stomach.
Every 30 minutes for the rest of the night I was up and into the bathroom. I couldn’t drink. And so began the real danger.
Dehydration and food poisoning
The more I passed water, the thirstier I became. But the more I tried to drink and replace the released water, the more I would throw up.
By 5am I was finally able to sip some water without turning into a human effluent fountain. But my half liter bottle of water was nearly empty. And, I was extremely thirsty.
So much so, my head was pounding ferociously. And, I felt a light sense of panic. As I staggered wearily to the bathroom yet again, I could feel my muscles cramp up. Not a good sign.
It was emergency rule in Pakistan at this time, and everything was shut up tight. It was also winter, and I knew nothing would be open for a number of hours.
Finally I tried emptying a small packet of Oral Re-hydration Salts into my one inch of remaining water. I had no idea if this would make things worse, or not. But, then again, perhaps I was not thinking so straight at that time.
Whether the ORS settled things, or whether my stomach had run its course, I don’t know. But with those few sips, I no longer threw up. Instead I rested. A few hours later, a frowning Pakistani receptionist looked me up and down as I asked for five bottles of water and a clean towel.
Food poisoning on a train in Thailand
So you see as I sat there trying to grin at the train conductor in Thailand’s humid summer heat my mind was elsewhere. My stomach was swelling up, and the conductor wanted me to sing happy birthday to one of the Thai travelers. Such dilemmas.
Moreover, I still had many hours to go on the train. I never packed any tissue paper. And, I was in a 3rd class carriage with a rather dower looking toilet.
I sat there sweating profusely for another hour. My stomach lurched, and I wondered if the vomiting was about to start.
Things were not to be that bad. At a brief stop, I ran for a corner stall. Tissues, and handwipes bought a restaurant toilet was next. Tearing open a stall door I glanced at the dreaded squat toilet beneath me. It was mercilessly clean. A millisecond of sympathy crossed my mind for the poor cleaner.
Shoes off, pants off, I stripped, straddled the ceramic hole and squatted.
Naturally enough at this time I noted a huge hole in door before me at eye level. And, of course some patrons had chosen this time to also enter the bathroom.
It mattered not. A gush of anger opened up beneath me and a hose pipe like torrent ripped forth.
All the while all I could do was stare out the hole in the stall door in front of me as various legs walked by. Then, rather bashfully, I took out the tissue paper and hung some sheets down in front of my exposed … well, parts.
And yes, I did feel ridiculous. But with the magnitude of relief I was suddenly feeling, it was all good.
I’ll spare the stand up, squat down, stand up, here we go again repeating that went on for a while. Sufficed to say, I made it back to the train, with a large bottle of water in tow.
More than travelers diarrhea
At my destination my stomach was once again filling up. I checked into a guesthouse feeling slightly relieved. Another spell in the toilet and I quivered to bed. A night of a mild fever ensued along with night sweats.
My head then started to pound with the headache of dehydration. Again, my ORS came into play. And again they helped.
The next day was followed by stomach cramps, and more heavy-duty sweating. I did little but lie in bed, drinking. And, the occasional run to the toilet.
The result? I missed out on a lot of what I wanted to see. It couldn’t be helped. Well … maybe, if I’d avoided that damn curried pigeon pastry.
Why we don’t listen to ourselves?
Maybe it’s the rush of tempting fate? Or maybe it’s a challenge? I know all too well, that I should avoid meat pastries in Asia.
Pastries are often left sitting in humid heat all day. A bacteria’s playground. Perhaps those fresh from the oven chicken curry pies were actually last weeks pigeon remains just freshly reheated at the mildest of temperatures.
From tiny samosas that cause an evening of liquid discomfort. To kebabs and curries that cause tidal waves of lower abdominal stress.
I think it’s fair to say, tempting fate or not, I’m going to go hungry rather than eat pastries before a trip from now on.
Naturally enough, I would advise anyone to seek qualified medical assistance should you feel unwell.
Bangkok for the very last time