Bust A Move are posts focused on what Tyler and Megan are thinking and learning before, during and after their move to another country.
To start, this is just an opinion. I’m no doctor, so don’t listen to me for medical advice—please only take this as an anecdotal tip.
So I know this is my second post about belly issues, but our stomachs have been going CRAZY recently. Plus, I feel that this is an opinion that I didn’t hear enough while Googling this topic at 2am from the toilet.
All too often I read posts that encouraged travelers to “tough it out” and “keep drinking water”, but frankly...that cowboy attitude’s not always realistic. Megan and I were both ready to hunker down and drink plenty fluids, but things quickly spun out of control in the first 24 hours of our sickness. I think the best advice I can give you is that as a foreigner in Bali with food poisoning, you have the option to get proper medical attention.
First, it’s important to identify what kind of sick you are. So far, Megan and I have been two types of sick, and both have felt dramatically different:
Bali Belly is mild. It’s having an appetite, being able to eat but once you eat you’re headed to the toilet. It’s uncomfortable and draining and exhausting and can get bad if you don’t stay hydrated, but ultimately is something you feel like you can power through. We both slept off our symptoms in 48 hours.
Food poisoning manifests itself differently in people, but the one constant is that it will confine you to the bed (or the bathroom floor) without you doing a damn thing to trigger it (aside from eating whatever got you there.) In the moment, food poisoning feels like punishment for all the bad things you've ever done in life.
After cold sweating our way through an unforgettably terrible night, Megan and I asked ourselves an important question: should we go to a foreign doctor in a non-first-world country. As Americans, we've been told that nothing but problems will come from this. “They’ll probably give you tree bark to chew on.” “There’ll be goats in the waiting room.” “They’ll give you a ticket to come back in 3 weeks.” These are all things Americans say in fun (sometimes) , but it gives you pause about receiving modern medicine overseas—and that’s a huge problem when the people saying these things have never actually left the country.
This was our experience at the Ubud Health Care Clinic. Mind you, Ubud is a major tourist hub in Bali which means results may vary. For the cynics, these guys have a fancy western-style website, so you know they at least have dial up. Plus, the doctor dressed exactly like a doctor would in the States—so any xenophobes out there can take that off their “every non-western physician is a witch doctor” stereotype list.
So when should you go to a doctor for help? I don’t know. I’m not lying on your sweated-through sheets right now. But I know I'd recommend it after my own experience here in Bali. These are two reasons I’d decide to go to a doctor overseas:
People get the same food poisoning differently. Starting at 11am, Megan was in-and-out of the bathroom 24 times within a 24 hour period—all while rocking a 101 fever. I got hit six hours later with unreal stomach cramps, a handful of bathroom breaks and a massive 4am vomit session.
Because we all respond differently, I can’t tell you if you need a doctor. I CAN tell you that with “for-real” food poisoning, the discomfort you’ll experience will be without a doubt earth shattering. Unless you're a robot, I assume you've had the flu before—and right now, in these moments of discomfort, it's important to listen to and trust what your body is telling you about what you're experiencing.
While I’m typically a “let’s go to a doctor just to check things out” guy, my symptoms were more mild than Megan’s and I didn’t feel the need to go. It was actually Megan, a girl who hates taking medications of all kinds, who suggested going. She knew deep down that this feeling wasn’t normal, and that it wasn’t going to get better at this rate.
This is the big one. If you don’t stay hydrated, you can die—that is the only medical fact I will dish out here. Our doctor explained that dehydration was one of the causes of Megan's fever. Not only was her body trying to fight off nasty bacteria, it was now doing it without a full supply of the coolant that makes up 85% of her body.
The moment we stepped into the doc’s office, they knew she needed an I.V. She had a fever, sunken eyes, very little elasticity in her skin and her blood pressure was low. They immediately hooked her up, and almost two saline bags of fluid later she felt alive again. Mind you she wasn’t cured, she just finally felt well enough to stand up.
I didn’t have anywhere close to the bathroom visits Megan did, so they just treated me to Indonesia’s version of Pedialyte (note: this stuff tastes NOWHERE as good as American Pedialyte, so maybe that’s a new global medicine stereotype?)
In my opinion, our visit to the medical clinic was a success. Megan got an I.V., blood work (came back positive for bacteria AND parasites), and we both walked away with antibiotics, probiotics and other medications to help reduce cramping and nausea. It’s been about 24 hours and I’m already on the mend. I woke up today and ate some toast for breakfast and had a cup of coffee. Megan is still making the occasional visit to the bathroom, but she’s finally hungry again (she just asked for pizza), and has the energy to get out of bed to do some work on the computer.
So far, we feel our decision to go to a doctor in Bali was the right one. You don’t have to be a hero and tough things out just because you’re a traveler. Food poisoning isn’t some red badge of courage they’ll give you at the end of your trip—it’ll probably just end up being the worst part of it. So, if you’ve frantically Googled this post because your stomach is in knots and you’re wondering what to do...try a doctor. Just remember that their Pedialyte tastes terrible.
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