This story really begins many years ago when we vacationed in a popular all-inclusive resort in a popular Mexican town. You would recognize the resort and town if I named them, so I won’t. In addition to the spartan, yet not unattractive, rooms and very attractive beaches, pictures of the resort featured their water purification plant. Yet when we arrived, the staff failed (1) to mention that their water purification plant had failed and (2) to offer any potable water. Predictable, this fairly quickly led to a realization that the one toilet in the room (and the one roll of toilet paper) was not sufficient for someone who was “sick at both ends,” as they say. Since only one of us was sick, the other went to the resort’s infirmary for advise and medicine. He was met by a huge line of other vacationers outside the office. Finally at the front of the line, as he remarked on the length of the line, he was told that no one at the resort was sick. He took the one pill he was given back to the room. Within minutes, this pill was vomited up, and so back he went for another pill… This was probably the exact moment that we decided never to be in that situation again. We would be prepared for any third world country.
Fast forward to February 2013. That year we traveled around the world, embarking from Miami on a trans-Atlantic cruise ship as far as Rome. After 10 days at sea, we stopped at Malaga, Spain, and enjoyed our first wonderful meal off the ship. Knowing that we were headed to countries where we could not trust the water or many foods, we were relieved to be in a food-safe country. Two days later, the ship stopped at Barcelona, a city we had visited several years before. We decided to eat on Las Ramblas at a restaurant we remembered fondly from that earlier visit. What could go wrong? Food poisoning is what could go wrong. By the next morning, back on the ship, I was delirious. The ship’s infirmary was efficient, and, after a day in bed, I was recovered enough to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa the following day. We did not get sick in any of the countries that we had worried about: Egypt, India, Thailand, or Cambodia. I got sick in Spain!
Now we are headed back to to try our luck and test our preparation for more tummy-unfriendly countries: Thailand (again), Laos, and Vietnam. In addition to the antimalarial medicine Malerone, which kills bad stomach bacteria, we have packed a PLOMB kit of over-the-counter medicines:
- Probiotics, to improve digestion
- Loperamide, an anti-diarrheal (“Imodium”)
- Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS), to replace fluids lost by diarrhea
- Melatonin, a sleep aid
- Bismuth subsalicylate, for relief from diarrhea and upset stomach (“Pepto Bismol”)
We do not wish to revisit l’estomac de PLOMB or le PLOMB fondu!
(With apologies to Francophiles around the world for phrases that translate literally as “the stomach of lead” and “molten lead”)