Fighting a tummy invasion

Last Updated on June 3, 2023 by Ellen

I have now experienced another health care system in another country outside of the U.S. for a basic problem that affects countless people on this planet. It appears I have some kind of parasite inside my gut, and the doc has put me on meds.

I’m down $22 for a doctor’s visit in Mexico and the prescribed medicine, although there’s a small chance the issue may not be over.

Here in Tulum, I don’t drink the tap water and I use bottled water for everything but showers. I eat most meals at home, and I don’t eat or drink from street vendors. I don’t eat meat, and I eat a lot of raw veggies.

I had recently read a blog post about a solo woman traveler who got sick. Oh – the irony. About a day later, I had my own odd tummy tinges. The feeling went away, but returned the next morning.

Cramping came and went, and bathroom trips were manageable. But by late Monday afternoon, day three, the problems were nearly constant.

I’m the kind of person who defaults to think the worst will happen, even though I’ve tried to train myself in recent years to expect the best. So, there I am on Google, searching for the worst and vaguely hoping for the best.

Chagas disease, dengue, chikungunya (which is new to the U.S. this year), malaria, hookworm, roundworm, giardia, and on and on.

I actually had a case of giardia exactly 20 years ago, when I was 24 years old. The health department determined I picked it up from water at a park along the Niagara River. It was very unpleasant and severe and it came on suddenly. It ended up being a trip to the emergency room and a bill for thousands and thousands of dollars for a two-hour hospital visit.

I’ve also had traveler’s diarrhea in years past, but this new issue wasn’t that. The cramping was getting worse, although thankfully, not as crazy bad as the giardia case I had.

Every experience so far has led me to this point…

The doctor I saw in Tulum was kind. He saw me in about five minutes – no waiting five months for an appointment. He believed I had a parasite infection of some kind, and he said this was not uncommon, not special, especially among people who live here.

He prescribed Cipro and Metronidazole, anti-diarrhea medicine and ibuprofen. Hopefully, whatever little critters were causing a commotion would be knocked out by these basic meds. If I wanted to know what exactly what kind of little buggers were using me as a host, I could give a sample to the local lab. However, he wanted me to start these meds right away – and appeared pretty confident I would be cured by this prescription.

The medical consultation fee was 45 pesos, or less than $3 by today’s exchange rate. The medicines (minus ibuprofen, which I had in my bag) cost 317 pesos, or about $19. Grand total so far, $22.

I haven’t done much since I started the meds except lay around and read and nap, read and sleep. I already feel better, and am planning to scarf down a veggie burger for lunch after this morning’s Spanish class. Hopefully, things will go well.

This is my second experience with a health care system south of the border. In December 2013, I saw a village doctor in the second-least developed country in the western hemisphere. I was in Nicaragua and had an allergic reaction to an ant bite on my hand, which seriously swelled up and felt like it was on fire. The bite wound was incredibly itchy and eventually got hard and crusty before turning into a blister.

If I recall, some kind of basic meds were prescribed in that case, too. I think the medicine cost was less than $10.

That doctor didn’t want any money at all for his services – the clinic was run by donations from Germany. But, my husband and I insisted on giving a ‘donation’ to the clinic. In addition, that doctor had been technically off work that day. A young man hopped on a motorbike to get to the next village to alert the doctor about the tourist lady with the swollen hand.

Over the last couple of days while I’ve been convalescing, I searched Google for “Tulum” and “parasites.” I found a woman’s blog post that has a fantastic list of how to reduce risk of future infection, based on her experience. (There is a really gross picture of a roundworm before you get to the list – be forewarned.)

Numbers one and nine on her list stand out to me as needing more of my attention, more diligence.

The source of my tummy invaders remains a mystery. But considering billions of people on this planet have parasites, I accept this may not be the last time I host a parasite party. It wasn’t the first time.

I’m grateful I have $22 to spend on medicine. There are people in such deep poverty in this area – and around the world – who don’t have money for medicine and doctors. They just suffer through whatever ails them.

If you’re reading this from home, and you’re thinking you’re safe from these kinds of tummy troubles ’cause you’re in the States, check this out.

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