Traveler’s Cleanse


All the beds in Asia are varying degrees of hardness from “good for a bad back” to “harder than concrete.” Some of them come equipped with lumps and springs while others sag in the middle. This bed lists slightly to the right. The pillows in Asia are hard and overly fluffed, stretching necks into right angles at night. Yoga for the unconscious.

I have scrunched down below my pillow and am cradled around my stomach. The room is dark enough that I can’t see the low ceiling so I know it must still be the middle of the night. I flop onto my back and my stomach flips. I realize this is why I have woken up.

My stomach is round and bloated. It feels like I’ve just eaten at an All-You-Can-Eat buffet. It’s been at least six hours since I’ve eaten, I muse, as my stomach gurgles. This can’t be a good sign. I wonder if I have to throw up.

I stand up. The bed creaks and groans with every movement. The hotel room we’re staying in now is too small so I crawl over the bed between its edge and the table holding an ancient television. The bathroom door opens with the sound of ripping tape. The door does not latch closed so we’ve taken to taping it shut.

I pull my underwear down to my ankles and sit on the toilet. It’s so much hotter in the bathroom. I would guess close to 90 degrees. In Saigon, it never really cools off at night and the bathroom window is broken and permanently open, letting the wet heat into the room. My stomach flips again and vomiting becomes less of an “if” and more of a “when” as the heat and humidity wrap my body in an unwelcome blanket.

I begin to realize that I’ll need a bucket – or something. I spy the trashcan, which mercifully doesn’t have holes. What happens next cannot be described in words as my body rejects all food I’ve eaten in the past day. Stomach heaving, abs clenched, it goes on for what seems like hours. I’ve given up all pretense of trying to be quiet. The holes in the bathroom door are not merciful.

I wash up with shaky hands. Wipe the sweat from my forehead. Rinse out the trashcan-turned-vomitorium. Wash my hands. Swirl water in my mouth. I open the door to see Kelly sitting on the bed with concerned eyes. I crawl over the edge of the bed to my side.

I collapse.

My breathing begins to even. “Are you okay?” Kelly asks. Sweat is drying on my body as the cool air from the a/c hits my skin.

“I think so,” I say. I did feel a wave of relief after I had finished praying to the porcelain god. “Maybe I just needed to vomit and I’ll be okay now.”

Another trip to the bathroom convinces me otherwise.

The next five hours become a blur of pain, nausea, and sweat. I gamble between whether it is worth it to take the 10-step trip to the bed to rest between bouts of body betrayal. In the background, I am vaguely aware that Kelly is handling everything else. She is switching our flights scheduled for today now that it’s apparent I am not travel worthy, extending our hotel reservation, going out to get water, toilet paper, juice.

While she’s gone, I return from another bathroom trip and collapse on her side of the bed. My body feels like a wrung-out rag. My lower back is a nest of pain shooting up my spine. My stomach clenches and rolls like the decks of a storm-tossed ship. My hands are shaky and my knees bow inward like a baby deer learning to walk when I stand. A headache is pounding out a rhythm behind my right eye.

Kelly returns and I am refusing medicine, water, some Vitamin-C fruit drink. She asks if I want to go to the hospital and I can only moan no. Exhaustion takes over and the world goes black.

I wake up 20 minutes later. “Why am I so sick and you’re fine? We ate the same things.”

“I think it was the samosa. I didn’t eat one of those.”

I groan. Just the mention of food is enough to set me off again. “It’s not fair,” I whine. Under Kelly’s urging, I break down and take a small sip of water. Exhausted from the effort, I fall asleep again.

The rest of the afternoon is spent in a daze of naps, sips of water, and bits of the Discovery Channel playing on the grainy TV. My body has relented, only because there is nothing left inside of me. I am a shell. By the end of the night, I manage to keep down a cup of water.

When I wake the next morning, I am empty. My body is weak. My stomach clenches as I take a few ginger sips of water. I pull myself together. I shower. I pack my 13-kg bag and hoist it over my back. We have to catch our flight.

I am a traveler. This is what I do.


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