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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Once Bitten, Twice Shy #filipinohospitals #foodpoisoning #cultureshock

The topic for today; NOT my love-life but Filipino hospitals. Sorry to disappoint those of you that were expecting something different :)
I am thankful that in the 2 and a half years I have been in the Philippines I have only had cause to attend a hospital twice, for myself that is, I’ve been with other people many times.

My first experience was back in 2012 when I had been sent on a challenge team from the Logos Hope ship to a place called Dasmarinas City in Cavite.  Within the first few days of arrival I started feeling unwell with increasingly violent stomach cramps and other obvious symptoms of food poisoning. I re-treated to my mattress-on-the-floor-bed and waited patiently for my recovery. The church that was hosting us were mortified by this turn of events and tried desperately to speed up my recovery. They brought me all the types of food and drink imaginable; most of which made me feel even more unwell as I tried to at least sample a small bit of each to avoid giving offence. The most difficult thing to deal with was a bright coloured energy drink that the Filipino’s insisted would solve all my problems (and replace lost fluids) straight away. The trouble was that even the smell of it turned my stomach and bringing it in all different flavours and colours didn’t help.

Really the worst place to become seriously ill is in the Philippines as the local people often already treat foreigners with undeserved reverence and therefore is just unthinkable for them to allow a foreigner to continue to be ill in their presence as they feel as if they have somehow failed said foreigner. The fact that the cause of my illness was most likely my own stupidity having purchased a coconut drink from a street vendor shortly after our arrival didn’t reduce the attempts to somehow force me back to good health. When you are so ill that you just want to suffer alone and have the time to get better, the pressure to welcome a constant stream of people entering your room with various items and trying to help, feeling the need to be polite and cheerful…well you get the drift.

After a few days I began to recover but then awoke one morning with a huge lump above my eye. Assuming an ant or other such small insect was responsible, I emerged from my room to be reliably informed that it was a cockroach bite and that the swelling would soon go down. It was then that I recalled something during the night that I assumed had been a dream. I had woken up having obviously felt something crawling on me and had then thrown my sleeping bag across the room to get rid of whatever it was. As I did so I saw a large black thing scuttling away across the room. The memory made me cringe with disgust. This has happened twice since; once causing my lip to swell up to three times its normal size and protrude from my mouth, unfortunately that was on the day I had to have my photo taken at Immigration and recently where it just looked as if I had been punched in the face. 

After a day of starting to feel better and even venturing outside I began feeling extremely unwell again and headed back to the safety of my bed. I then got very very ill and was literally crying from the pain at several points over several days and seriously wondering if I was going to make it. The strange thing was that the pain would come and go, it wasn’t consistent. I began to wonder if the original problem (drinking the dodgy coconut juice) had been replaced and surpassed by something that I was now doing. Examining my behaviour and then asking questions and comparing it to the others in my room I realised that I was drinking water from a different source to all of them. The locals had helpfully placed drinking water directly outside our room for me and I had been filling my water bottle from the large blue plastic tub. I discovered that everyone else was either buying water or getting it from the main building. I began to suspect the water but didn’t want to upset anyone. I switched water supplies and we opened up the blue tub, which had been sitting in the sun for a few days, to find it was full of ants! I continued feeling ill but then realised that I was still somehow drinking the old water as I had previously mixed it with the gross energy drink that I had given up protesting about drinking. 

I was advised to try some type of salt solution in the medical kit from the ship to replace lost fluids. I casually prepared the solution having read the packet, thinking that anything was better than experiencing one more hour of excruciating pain. I took one sip, and then to the shock of my crew mate that had given it to me, was forced to immediately spit it out onto the floor and run to wash my mouth out. I still don’t know what was wrong with the solution but drinking it was not an option. It tasted like poison on its own. 

By this point I was becoming afraid of drinking or eating anything as everything I touched seemed to make things worse. It felt like I was being offered a million different things and cautiously testing them only to find they weren’t as they appeared to be. As it had been nearly a week it was decided to take me to hospital and to the supermarket to see if I could find anything I actually wanted to eat. Feeling very weak, I staggered around the supermarket with one of my crew mates pointing at anything I might be able to eat; Pringles and tomato soup were on the list. At the hospital I had various tests and was made to lie on a stretcher bed. Then the Doctor appeared and guess what she was carrying…that’s right it was the dreaded energy drink which was apparently the solution to all medical problems in that part of the Philippines. I tried to reason with the Doctor and explain what had happened as did my crew mate. She then gave me an anti-biotic prescription based on my test results which satisfied us because at least if I took medicine, I was being treated and had a chance of getting better. It didn’t occur to me not to trust the medicine.

Feeling a little relieved we headed back to the church, only for me, on entering my room to promptly burst into tears. The cause of my distress; I had accidentally left an empty biscuit wrapper on the floor next to my bed. The wrapper was now swarming with ants which were also marching in a line (as only ants do) all the way around my bed, up a nearby wall and on into the distance. The thought of having to deal with this “crisis” in my weakened state was just too much and I was eternally grateful when my crew mate took pity on me and dealt with the ant parade so I could return to bed. 

Thinking that I must be nearing the end of my health crisis I happily took the prescribed medicine as instructed. However, the next day I felt as if acid had been poured down my throat and had continued into my stomach. At first I didn’t attribute it to the medicine but assumed it was just another part of my ongoing mystery illness. But as I continued taking the medicine I noticed a correlation between taking the medicine and how bad I felt and my body also was telling me that I should stop taking the medicine. Kind-of like when you get food poisoning from something or drink too much of something and you can never eat or drink it again. So I eventually looked up the medicine on Google to find that it was a very strong anti-biotic to treat a serious infection….? No-one at the hospital had mentioned that I even had an infection let alone that it was serious. And the side effects of the medicine; you guessed it. I stopped taking it and began at last to feel better much to the relief of our hosts.

So when I became ill last week you can probably understand why even after nearly a week of pain I was reluctant to see a doctor or attend a hospital. Eventually I did go as I had regressed to lying listlessly on my sofa or bed, afraid to move any part of my body as my muscles and head hurt so much. The Doctors were all at a 3 day convention?! so I was sent to A and E where I answered some questions and then became one of the patients on beds that you see in all A and E’s lying in hallways looking miserable whilst waiting for a doctor.  I wasn’t really able to rest due to the curious stares of the locals that a foreigner attracts wherever they go in the Philippines. Normally I am quite polite and will greet people but on this occasion I was glad they didn’t get too close as I may have said “Stop looking at me, I’m sick!”

After a few hours of waiting for test results, the doctor told me that I didn’t have dengue fever (which was a relief) but that I did have, wait for it…..a serious infection and she gave me a prescription for anti-biotics. The name of the medicine seemed familiar but as I’m not organised enough to have written it down on the first occasion I can’t be sure. Three days later; not feeling much better, but no acid, so I guess that’s positive!
I have had time to read some good books as I haven’t been well enough for my language classes this week. I found this quote in an article which is helping me to persevere.

“God loves his servants so much that he allows them to suffer, so that his grace will sustain them in order to make his glory known. Our weakness is the God-ordained instrument through which the Holy Spirit fills us with the power of Christ.”  (

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