My Friend Escherichia Coli

bad face hair is a side effectThe ni-Vanuatu shaman stood over me, his head adorned in a square straw and mud mask with protruding round ears, outlined in read and white, a pigs bone mounted dead square in the middle. He stood amongst the black, shirtless, wearing a grass woven skirt. The roaring fire provided the only light, illuminating the geometrically perfect designs in the thatched roof of the wall-less structure. The sound of drums and rattles shook me in side my cacoon, as shadows lurked to the rhythm at the edge of my vision and the fires glow. I was wrapped in heavy pile of dried mud mixed with feathers. I couldnt move. More than anything it was loud. And hot.

I awoke in a fever state, shivering but soaked in my own sweat. Vivid and intense, I still imagine the nights experience like a ancient spirit quest.  I will spare you the unpleasantries of what happened next. Basically, my body proceeded to collapse into a cycle of dehydration, sleep and complete internal melting. Later, the doctors would call it Dysentery, which I knew was bad from a childhood fascination with The Oregon Trail computer game. My characters usually died when they got that.

The prognosis was Escherichia Coli, more commonly known by its street name- E.Coli. Here is a picture of the exact moment I knew something was wrong, which was actually the best illness timing because it was the second we landed at home in New Zealand.

It can take 3 days for the bacteria to grow in you, so who knows what caused it. Water, street food or even fruit. I dont blame the food, or the hygiene (I’ll skip how its transmitted, but you can guess). Tons of people get sick when they travel, its not a huge deal, if anything its expected and definitely not going to slow us down from saddling up next to the locals in the market for a meal. But this was different, Something about being this sick changed me on a deeper level. As we all do, I freaked out and read as much as I could online, which only made me freak out more.

During my studies, I learned that my strain accounts for 77% of cases in developing nations, most of them affecting and sometimes killing children. Think about that for a second. I was a grown man crying on porcilin and this strikes childern. I was demolished by guilt when I consider how privileged Ive been to live in countries void of such basic and terrible discomfort. $15 cured me.

When talking about Vanuatu, I cant help but bring the experience up, but I dont like it. I dont even like writing about it. It feels like smearing a friend who doesnt know that they’ve harmed you.

Shigella strain is what they specified it as later. I laughed when the doctor told me that, “Sounds like a Curry”. I dont think she got it. I had to register with The New Zealand Board of Health or whatever way-too-long acronym it was. It was as if all of New Zealand was reading my case file.I felt like a sex offender. They called me twice, I had to do phone interviews with pretty sounding women about my bowl movements and if I cooked food for children.

A picture of Linz at the local feast we attended the night before we left. For the record, nothing on that plate got anyone sick.


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