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Near Death by Cucumber: Getting Sick Abroad F*$#&@% Sucks

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Nobody thinks of a cucumber as a killer, but I guess I underestimated the power it might have over someone when contaminated with some nasty and horrible bacteria. While the title might be a slight exaggeration as I don’t think my life was actually at risk, the feelings I felt were real. At some points, I was begging god to just take my life because I felt like I was dying a slow death.

Round One….

Let’s go back to the beginning of 2012. I was living in Chiang Mai at the time, and I just sat down to a nice and lovely Pad Thai dinner. The woman made it fresh right in front of my face and it came to me with the familiar aroma, and the hot steam melting my make up off faster than the humidity in the air was already doing. I had made friends with the random guy sat next me at the market table already, and we ate our meals together. I went home, and went to bed.

Little devils! All of you!
Little devils! All of you!

The next morning I felt hung over as hell. I searched my brain for a second thinking, did I have beer last night??! Uhm, no. I did nothing. Why do I feel like this? Progressively it advanced to vomiting. Now I was really confused, a bit scared, and VERY uncomfortable because of course, the one time I stay in a dorm, this has to happen to me. At least if I had my own room, it would have been a bit more comfortable.

I was so weak. When I went to go down the street to buy some water, I could only take a few steps at a time before I had to squat down and gather my strength up to keep on going. I was dizzy, feeling faint, and here I was…Trying to walk around town.

Things were looking really grim. I was full-blown ill as fuck for a lack of better words. Thankfully, when staying in a dorm, it’s inevitable to meet people easily, and it was no secret to my roommates that I was very sick. One of guys in the dorm was apparently a doctor from Africa. He was a gem and completely took care of me. He had the right meds on him and he fed me fruit later in the evening since I was too weak to leave the premises again.

Although I was better than next day I was drained. If it wasn’t for my dorm mate helping me, I’m not sure what I would have done.

Round Two…

The second account was when I was in Ubud, Indonesia. I was there for the second time excited to show Dave around. Our first night we had a lovely curry dinner at a restaurant. We ate the SAME curry dish. That night I couldn’t fall asleep. My stomach was bothering me. That progressively turned into violent cramps that left me in tears throughout the night. I kept moving around to try an “ease” my anguish, but it didn’t help. No matter what position I tried, the pain was getting worse.

Unfortunately I kept poor Dave up nearly all night, because I couldn’t stop moving around in pain while weeping. I wanted my life to be over, but there was nothing we could do until morning. I was hoping with all my might that perhaps it was constipation, this would have been a dream! I even made Dave go get me some pill first thing in the morning. I knew deep down that wasn’t it. The pain, the cramps, the feeling of weakness overcame me and I broke down and admitted I needed a doctor.

Dave found us a taxi and luckily Ubud is a modern town with a clinic down the street. I couldn’t stand up straight due to the cramps and limped around like the hunchback. I was crying in the waiting room because the cramps and pain inside we so horrible.

Thankfully a good thing about getting sick abroad in countries like these is that the medical care isn’t half bad, and is cheap. I walked into the clinic and was speaking to a doctor in perfect English within 15 minutes of waiting.

He immediately got me on a IV drip, but not before I had a breakdown. He told me I needed to lie flat on my back with my arm up. I literally couldn’t untuck my knees from chest. It was impossible. Tears are streaming down my face. My muscles were so badly spasmed and cramped. Eventually I twisted around so he could get a good grip on my arm for the needle, but with my knees still near to my chest.

He gave me all kind of pills for relaxing my muscles that had been cramped and strained for at least 12 hours by this point and some “piss water,” as I call it, for electrolytes. I began feeling better within 10 minutes. I was able to lay almost completely flat. I remained there until I felt strong enough to leave.

He left me with three prescriptions, and I was in no condition to gripe about taking pills. I was truly suffering, so I was taking whatever the hell he told me to. The doctor visit and 2 weeks worth of three different pills cost me about $90 USD. I gladly paid and went home.

I’m not one to like taking medication and I tried to go without my meds the next day because “I was feeling much better.” I proved my self wrong and started immediately reverting to crouching over in pain from cramps. I took my pills.

When the pills were done, things still weren’t normal. I won’t go into detail, but I’m sure you can use your imagination. It took me around 3-4 weeks to get everything back to normal. I have no idea what it was that I was fighting, but it was horrid.

So after these two stories where the hell does a cucumber come in the picture? Both of my meals were hot meals. The first was a Pad Thai, the second was a steaming hot fresh curry in which Dave ate the same exact thing I did. The only thing I ate differently was the cucumber.

Cucumbers are a common garnish in SE Asia. It’s mostly as a palate cleanser and cooler. Your mouth is a bit spicy and after your meal, it cools your tongue off. I like my veggies and my spice, so I always eat mine. Dave didn’t eat his. Again, both of my meals were fresh and hot, and of course, the cucumbers were raw. It HAD to be the cucumber. I haven’t eaten a garnish cumber since the second time I got sick. When I finally put it the cucumber theory together…

Some people might think I’m crazy. It could perhaps not have been the cucumber, but in my head, this is what I have engrained. It’s what makes sense to me. It’s a horrible thing to get sick abroad, I was lucky to have people to help me at the time! I might not have made it as easily without them.

Have you got sick abroad? What did you do? What was it?

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  1. the cucumbers also with me! catched a food poisoning in romania after eating raw old cucumbers, rest of the food was freshly cooked and the rest of the family eat meat instead of cucumbers and were fine.
    i suppose that cucumber easily make bacterias when they arent superfresh anymore, other veggies for sure as well but at the other veggies its more visible that they arent fresh anymore. coz the cucumbers its so full of water it looks still not old even when its old…

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  3. I get this sick from cukes. No traveling abroad necessary. I am quite sure death is looming when I’m in the throws. Today I had a dish with cucumber in it (hidden!–bastards!) it included vomiting and, ahem, the other as well as intense pain which led me to google if anyone else has ever been afflicted like this. What do you suppose it could be and do other veggies get you too? I sometimes get pains from zucchini and avocado.

    1. Whoa! Weird! I assumed it was the cucumber in both cases because it was the only non-cooked item on my plate. The curry and the pad thai were pipping hot and fresh when it was served to me. The cucumber could have been sitting out and some fly could have touched it with a gross bacteria, or maybe the person didn’t have clean hands and touched it. It’s no secret that these places sometimes don’t have sinks in the bathroom no less soap or antibacterial gels etc… I don’t think it was the cucumber itself, I still eat cucumber all the time (just not when it’s a garnish, I know weird, but whatever!) it was the bacteria on it that got me sick. I don’t get sick otherwise, I’m quite lucky, especially from other veggies! Maybe you have some allergy?!

  4. Thanks for sharing this story Nina. Getting sick in a foreign country as a solo traveler is not a lot of fun and language issues can add a little extra challenge to the mix. I spent nearly 2 weeks in hospital in Thailand, first in Ao Nang and then moved by ambulance to Bangkok Hospital in Phuket. The care I received was really excellent, but without travel insurance the bill would have been crushing. I got 6 months full coverage from World Nomads for a little over $300 (including for climbing and other adventure sports) and they really saved my bacon. I also carry basic antibiotics just in case. I’ve been lucky though and managed to avoid food poisoning most places knock on wood.

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  6. Yes and locals get sick too. Regularly. The only way to beat this is to prepare food yourself. Anything you can peel and cook easily. Follow the Chinese tourist example. They have small personal noodle cookers that you can use to make your own noodle-soup. I learned this in China. If you are serious long-term solo traveller this is the only way to survive. Eat out depending on the hygiene standard for the country. India Vs Thailand for example. If you get sick more than a few times a month it will weaken you and you will be prone to more illness. All this food tourism is so much for the increasingly middle-class Asians. I was glad you seem the first blogger willing to openly talk about your issues. I guess most bloggers are just braggers hoping to score a free hotel stay on the back of their boasts…..

    1. I love being able to cook for myself. I do miss it while traveling. I eat out the majority of the time though and I’m fine. I’m scared of India though!!! Ek!

  7. Eeks! Sorry you got sick! But, I am glad you are feeling better now! Just wanted to say thanks for sharing these tips- they were very helpful! 🙂

  8. I had this when I was leaving to come home after living on Koh Tao, I went months without being sick, I even boasted about it towards the end of my time there. Until I went to Koh Samui, I went to this little place I had eaten before and ordered Papaya Salad and Fried Rice, I devoured every single last bit of my meal in Thailand. I walked back to my hostel and had a bit of a chill out, two hours later my stomach was severely cramping up; I was being sick, stomach hurting, absolutely exhausted. I had to get up at 5am the next day to start my 18 hour journey back to England; I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had a worse journey in my life. It took ages before I could eat Thai again, so I feel your pain! I hope you feel a lot better now.