Who knew we Americans were such wimps? Our bodies that are hale and sturdy on this continent become trembling blobs of mush in other parts of the world. Cross a border and our intestines become 30 feet of danger. You’d think eating Taco Bell at 2 a.m. might prepare us, but you’d be wrong. Our digestive systems can’t handle the water and some of the food so, if we’re not veeeeery careful, we might suffer from travelers’ diarrhea, which is a nice way of saying ‘trying not to crap yourself in public.’ We might just pass out from high altitude or an insect the size a comma might send us to the hospital.
I am going to Peru in several weeks and will be living in a village in the Sacred Valley. The wonderful organization with which we have planned our trip gave us a list of DON’TS (alas, not as fun as Glamour Don’ts, instructing women my age not to wear tube tops) in order to help us make it through the trip without disaster. DON’T: eat cheese or other dairy, eat salad, eat meat that hasn’t been cooked within in inch of its life, eat any hot food that isn’t lava hot, eat fruits that can’t be peeled (but no apples, those skins are too thin!), eat ice cream, drink water, brush our teeth with local water, accidentally swallow water in the (cold) shower, stand next to local water, look sideways at local water. DO: drink only bottled water, brush our teeth with bottled water, cover ourselves in blankets of DEET-containing insecticides, wear sunscreen, eat guinea pig when it’s offered, pray to God we don’t die. I may have paraphrased.
But we’ll be fine. Really. Because modern medicine has to come to our rescue. Pharmacologists have made a series of lovely injectable and oral cocktails to help us un-wimp ourselves. In preparation, I have been vaccinated with tetanus, hepatitis A & B and typhoid. I’ve had a blood test to see whether my childhood vaccinations for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) will hold out. If not, I’ll have boosters for them as well. I have started a course of probiotics to make my innards buff enough to keep bacteria from throwing a party in my colon. I have prescriptions for altitude sickness and severe diarrhea and/or general illness. I have anti-emetic strips. I have over-the-counter meds for headaches, creaky knees and sores on my feet from climbing. Half of my suitcase will be filled with items from the drug store; fingers crossed this doesn’t make the TSA suspicious that I’m taking a meth lab on the road. It’s comical, really, all these preparations, but ‘prepared’ is the key word. I’m grateful for the pills and needles I’ve been subjected to if they allow me to have a trip that’s untainted by an unexpected visit to a third world medical clinic or doubled over a bucket and one that makes me not seem oh-so-American and feeble. So thanks, all you science geeks, for making this trip of a lifetime possible!
Better living through chemistry? You betcha.