Bolivia I loved ya but you made me sick. Real sick. Looking back at my journal I realize now I had been sick for the first 3 weeks of my time in Bolivia. Nothing goes together better than Bolivia and food poisoning. Everyone got sick at some point. Those lovely breakfasts we shared often involved one or more people talking about how they had spent the entire night running to bathroom and exploding out of both ends. Getting through an entire conversation without talking about puking or pooping was a rare occurence.
I hadn’t been feeling great – really tired, very little appetite and lots of trips to the bathroom but I thought that was just normal. Maybe I was rundown from all the travel? My body was adjusting to the altitude? Bolivian was just different? Turns out I was wrong. Then one morning after feeling particularly crappy for a few days I fainted in the shower. Thankfully I didn’t full-out faint, I was able to slide down the tile wall and sit on the grubby shower stall floor all while willing myself not to black out. I was able to get out of the bathroom, get dressed and have the hostel call a doctor for me.
I took a cab to the doctor’s office but the cab got lost and ended up yelling at me and making me just get out. Horrible. I was only about 2 blocks from school so I was able to walk over and find Jo and Abel the owners. They were both shocked because I looked so bad. Abel called the doctor, got the address and took me over to see him. The doctor who “spoke English and had worked in Europe” turned out to be awful. He was wearing sweatpants and seemed far more interested in asking about the Statue of Liberty then helping me.
He took my blood pressure and was surprised that I was even walking because it was so low and I was terribly dehydrated. At that point I couldn’t keep anything in. I literally timed it, one sip of water and I was in the bathroom 2 minutes later. I needed IV fluids but he couldn’t provide them for one reason or another and instead he offered to walk me to a clinic. He wanted to charge to me $150 which by Bolivian standards is an obscene amount of money. He didn’t even treat me! I felt like I was dying but also super pissed. I refused pay him and just walked out. When I refused to pay he just stood there, shocked, in sweatpants. Even on my deathbed I think I could have taken him.
I hailed another cab and went to the hospital. Needless to say going to a Bolivian hospital was the last thing on my Bolivia Bucketlist. I was pleasantly surprised, it was clean and somewhat modern. Bad news, I had to wait about two hours to be seen. I finally laid down on a bench in the waiting room because I didn’t have the energy to sit-up. I’m pretty sure that got me bumped up in line because only a few minutes later I was seen by a doctor. He too was shocked. I had developed an intestinal infection. I was so tired and weak because my body was unable to absorb any nutrients. He demanded to know why had I waited so long before seeing a doctor? Eh, I thought I just had to stick it out? Bad call, Sarah. The doctor wrote down about a million things I had to go get from the pharmacy. In Bolivia you buy your own medical supplies. Your own needles, antibiotics, syringes, IV fluids, tubing.. the only thing they provide is the alcohol wipes and medical tape. On the plus side you know it is clean. On the con side it’s more effort and more waiting.
Ok, now so all I want to do is fall asleep on the exam table but the doctor is shooing me out the door. Down the hall there is a pharmacy. It feels miles away. I finally make it there and they tell that they don’t have the supplies in their pharmacy I have to go outside of the hospital to the pharmacy across the street. That’s it. Final straw. I’ve lost it. I start to cry but I am so dehydrated that I can’t produce tears. That then made me angry. I go back to my doctor’s office and tell him the pharmacy doesn’t have what I need. He says, fine go across the street. I say, you’re coming with me. You will help. RIGHT. NOW. He was both confused and not at all pleased but I took his arm and made him walk me to the pharmacy, order my supplies and walk me back to the hospital.
I finally get the IV and I kid you not, it was one of best feelings of my life. I literally felt my veins refill. I got a full IVs and was told to still drinks a lot of liquids. I had no idea how bad dehydration could get. My blood pressure returned to normal, my coloring came back and I felt amazing. I ended up spending most of the next three days in bed and had to follow a strict broth and cracker diet for a few days but I was feeling sooooooooooooo much better. Once I got back and the word had spread that I spent the day in the hospital everyone fawned all over me. People brought me crackers and Gatorade and incredibly disgusting but effective electrolyte fluid replacement solutions.
One good thing? The hospital visit, the IV fluids and the 10 days of antibiotics were all less than $30 in total. I have international travel and health insurance but it wasn’t worth the effort of doing paperwork to have that covered. Which just further proves that Dr. Sweatpants was full of it and I’m glad I didn’t pay him!
Looking back I feel dumb. I should have seen a doctor sooner. I should have listened to my body. I really should have taken someone with me to see the doctor. That is one thing about solo travel – sometimes to you become a little too independent. While traveling you make fast friends and I just have to remember, it’s ok to ask for help. After that every time someone was sick for more than three days I nagged them into seeing a doctor! We had it all Colitis, E-coli, and just various kind of food poisoning.
I think it speaks incredibly highly of both Sucre and the people I met that even with all the health issues Bolivia was one of my most favorite places on my trip! Since Bolivia I did get some sort of chest infection in Ecuador but I was much better at getting to the doctor and on antibiotics for that right away! And knock on wood… I am safe and healthy in Colombia!