Traveller’s diarrhoea is a well known side effect/price of travelling. So much so that when meeting fellow travellers, talk invariably turns to the state of everyone’s bowels. ‘Yep, it’s not all about having the trip of a lifetime, it’s also about having permanent dysentery…’ and ‘If I had guts like this at home I’d be in hospital.’
My husband and I have been suffering from various ‘tummy, toilet and bottom related’ problems recently, nothing serious, but oh so painful!
For those of you not totally desensitised to talking about this stuff, I promise you that the rest of this post is just about coping with pain and not the gory details.
The first part of this week was mainly spent lying down on the bed. Views and objects loomed large. Switches on my side of the bed, one was set in the middle between on and off, I don’t know what it does. The other turns the fan on and off. I accidentally leant on it and did that a few times. The only time we turned the fan off on purpose, other than when going out, was earlyish one morning when it actually felt cool.
Our room gets the sun and becomes blazing hot in the afternoons, it eventually cools a bit then strangely gets really hot again in the night. One afternoon, before getting treatment, I lost control of the pain, crying, sweating, over heated. I had planned to walk to the post shop but the thought of going out was too much.
‘It’s not you,’ my husband said, ‘The pain is not you, it’s not who you are. You’re more than the pain. You’re still there.’
We probably both thought about going home, but that would mean returning to freezing cold UK and getting a job, so no, not yet.
Not wanting to be touched. Not wanting to be in the body. In the midst of the worst, standing on one leg in the yoga tree pose, looking in the mirror, or brushing my hair, trying to have some other experience or view of this body I was in.
Pain and illness is so exhausting, just getting through each day trying not to push it away, and trying to keep one’s mood up or at least level.
One day, unable to feel better at home, I went for a walk, all along the cliff top. I bought an ice cream, remembering something I’d seen once: ‘Be in the moment, unless the moment sucks in which case, eat a cookie.’ I rarely allow myself chocolate or ice cream, so this, chocolate covered ice cream on a stick tasted nice. The big white-headed eagles and the sea still looked nice too. I clambered down over the rocks onto the beach and had a paddle, then stood and looked at the sea.
In bed in the evenings, we watched The Affair on Netflix and once we ate a small handful of chocolate éclairs, just to experience something sweet.
It was so hard to get comfy and such a pleasure when I did. I remember learning at university that positioning is so important, now I see why for myself. One night I lay awake in bed deliberately just to enjoy the sensation of being pain free.
When we arrived, I’d said to myself- and the woman in the little salon downstairs- that I’d get my hair henna-d. So when the worst subsided I went. She told me to sit while she finished up and got ready, and I settled into the waiting chair, a slightly reclined, very padded cane armchair. She gave me a foot stool. I fell in love with that chair. It was the first time I’d felt comfortable sitting for ages. Just being in it felt like therapy for my poor body.
I accepted if not enjoyed (as I usually would) the sensation of her touching me, putting on the henna, washing my hair when it was done. It still felt therapeutic to feel a bodily sensation other than pain.
As I began to get a little better, my mood lifted, I felt like dancing or skipping. Food tasted better. I could appreciate the sea and the sunset view before dinner. I noticed when I noticed things; the palm tree outside our balcony, a big black and white cat on a not so hot tin roof, my sense of pleasure returning.
‘I thought about having sex,’ my husband said. ‘I mean, I don’t want to actually have it yet, but I thought the fact that I thought about it was a good sign!’
We spoke about pain at dinner. ‘I grip my arm, I find a speck on the bathroom wall to hold onto. (In Nepal there’d been these little sparkles in the black wall and floor of the bathroom that looked like stars. Here, the black pants in the bucket, following the bubbles from the water down to black, the black pants being both a reflective surface and being reflected…) And I sing sometimes. What do you do?’ I asked my husband.
‘We’re completely different like that. If it’s really bad I’m just with the pain, I’m not trying to go anywhere else. It’s like how you keep the light off when you go to the bathroom in the night so if there’s a spider you won’t see it, whereas I put on all the lights and look.’
We weren’t going to go out for dinner, I was going to skip eating altogether or just get a parcel (take away) soup but I didn’t want to go on my own really. My husband said, ‘I don’t mind going out,’ so we went and ate dinner- soup and salad (alongside fruit salad and smoothies that’s my staple diet). It was the first time we’d really laughed in ages.
So we didn’t leave on Sunday, instead we’re staying here in Varkala, near the hospital and the doctor. Health services are very good here, we know people, and the food is safe and good. We plan to leave for Hampi on 22nd December now. We are getting better and will hopefully be fully recovered by then.
Thank you very much for reading!
For photographs of our trip see Instagram travelswithanthony
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