Posts tagged Travel Health

I Lost 20lbs in India and almost Hospitalized: Why You Should Watch What You Eat When Traveling.

Traveling isn’t always frolicking through fields in the Italian countryside, or living out childhood fantasies exploring ancient ruins like Indian Jones or Lara Croft. And though it would be nice if life always involved fried cheese and beer in Prague — life on the road isn’t always fine and dandy. Actually, I will rephrase that — life on the road can be much more challenging than sedentary life in your comfort zone. Which makes sense, because of course you chose to break out of your cushy comfort zone to explore the world, taste exotic flavors, and conquer your fears.

Stress like running late to work because you had to wait in line longer at Starbucks for that “half-soy-mocha-cino-latte-extra-hot-light-froth-2.75-caramel-squirts-dusted-lightly-with-pumpkin-spice” becomes waddle-running to catch an overflowing Indian train with 50 kilos strapped onto your stomach and back like a pregnant tyrannosaurs rex. Yeah, it’s exactly what you just pictured, and if you’re a traveler, you know that run well.

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It’s the stress of trip planning and trying to make your planes and trains and buses on time. It’s arriving a your destination after 14hrs under the sweaty armpit of your seat mate in a cramped van to find out there is no more accommodation available. It’s trying to do everything you can to have the energy and confidence to make new friends in a strange new place when you’re completely exhausted. It’s not letting tempers fly when you don’t have it in you to deal with the throngs of people demanding to take a photo with you and their whole extended family. One by one. It’s a lot more than that, and it adds up. But that is why nomadic-hearted people like us do it. Not because we like smelling of that seat mate’s armpit or wearing the same clothing for a week. It’s because there is freedom of exploration of ourselves and the world that takes effort to do, and easy doesn’t pay out life experiences. Challenges do.

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Yet, there is a whole different side to travel challenges and life on the road that most don’t talk about.

What about your body staying healthy on the road?

What about our bodies combating fluctuating types of new foods in varying states of cleanliness? Or our erratic diets of beer drinking and fried street foods? What about when we fall seriously ill in a foreign country?

This is something that isn’t brought up much because of course it’s not Buzzfeed worthy or inclusive of “The 10 Best Beaches“. Unless of course it’s some new strain of plague threatening our existence. But failing health is the reason I have been absent on social media and the blog ever since leaving India 3 months earlier.

I got severely ill, and my health was fast deteriorating.

After our team completed the Rickshaw Run and survived the mayhem that it involved, my health was already at a very low. At that point, I had dropped 4 pant sized and was poking crude holes in my belt to hold up my pants. None of my clothes fit, and my normal small but broad build was wiry and weak. There had been many bouts of extreme dehydration while on the race (which I will be going into in a post soon) and stomach illnesses that added to it, but I had also not been getting the proper amount of nutrition that my body was used to or needed.

It wasn’t just Delhi Belly as everyone claims. It was the severe dehydration making me not keep anything down and wreaking havoc on my digestive system. And eating street stall Indian food, as tasty as it was, usually lacked anything more than a couple of pieces of potato and carrots. Added to that, my immune system was weakened and for most of the trip I had cold like symptoms.

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Lots of bread and soup, roti and curry, but little veggies. And “green salads” were oddly enough just a few slices of onion and tomato.

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By the time I got to Australia, I had gone from a 32/34 waist size to a 26 waist, and from 155lbs (70 kilos) to 135lbs (61 kilos).

You’d think that eating so much fried food and bread would fatten me up! But I could barely stomach meals halfway through the race.

Once the finish line was crossed and we went our separate ways, I kept traveling around India for a bit going from Darjeeling to Kolkata to Goa. During this time I attempted to recover with a normal eating habit, but no matter what I did, it didn’t seem to help. I was still having stomach issues, even when I cut out all meats and mainly ate rice. I was feverish with hot and cold sweats, and a constant dizziness. When I made it to Goa, I even stayed at an ayurvedic resort paying more than I have for a room in a long time thinking the diet and environment may help. I tried to do some running, meditation, and yoga to get the blood pumping and give me some energy. Didn’t work. Then I sat in a beach chair for weeks relaxing and eating and trying to regain my energy. It helped slightly, but I was still feeling zombie-like mentally and physically from the race.

Western food is what I needed surely. Big meals with lots of extra grub. My stomach was this empty pit and I needed to fill it. I needed to regain that weight fast.

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The moment I got to Australia, I went on a binge. I over-ate daily with massive meals of burgers and fries and pizzas. I thought that by consuming a lot, and consuming a lot of foods I ate stateside, it would balance out my falling weight and finally give me some energy back. I was eating my greens as well, but I was also inhaling McDonald’s at an alarming rate. I couldn’t quell the cravings.

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That had the reverse effect. Obviously.

Migraines lasted 24 hours and were debilitating. If I wasn’t passing out resumés for work, I was laying in bed not able to muster the strength to get up and do anything. I slept majority of my time the first month in Melbourne. And my immune system was rock bottom, leaving me with flu-like symptoms and weak and achy muscles. I couldn’t think straight and my coordination was off. I couldn’t ever eat much, but I was always painfully hungry.

Something was very wrong, and my body was shutting down. 

I consider myself a healthy traveler overall. I’m always active and exploring, and though I love to chow down on the street foods around the world, I also make sure to eat plenty of fruit and drink plenty of water as well. Ya’ know, the good stuff. And when I can, I eat tons of vegetables, which I normally do in “every day” life as well. But sometimes, you just can’t get that good stuff. And more than any trip I have taken I found it harder to eat healthy while on the Rickshaw Run across India. In a photo post of the Rickshaw Run I showed the mayhem and madness that took place and how driving across India was no easy feat, most of the time not even a difficult feat, but more like an impossible feat that we got through by a lot of luck we chased out on that journey.

And through all the harrowing moments, the thing that defeated me was food. While driving 2,000km across rugged northern India, there aren’t many places to stop along the road for a big ole’ green salad. Manly, the street stalls served up fried samosas and various curries with rice. Though incredibly tasty, not nutritious.

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It was when I arrived in Australia that the real problems began.   

For the first month or so I ate terrible here in Melbourne. And with those migraines and stomach issues and weakness worsening, I sought out some help. Since I don’t have travel healthcare (I know, I should) I rarely visit a clinic unless it’s dire. Last time I was in a hospital was, coincidentally, for a stomach virus I got in Thailand after Songkran over a year ago. And in Australia, it isn’t just a handful of change to visit a doctor or a stroll into the chemist for them to give you antibiotics. It costs a few hundred dollars. I couldn’t wait any longer, and I couldn’t deal with the state I was in. The nutritionist found that my body was extremely low on most important vitamins and nutrients and the doctor gave me an antibiotic for my stomach. But the nutritionist told me I seriously needed to completely change my diet to get everything back to normal.

How do I repair the damage? Start from scratch.

Since it was painful to eat anything, I had to start from the bottom and work my way back up. For the first week, I drank only blended smoothies of kale, beetroot, carrot, ginger, bananas, spinach, and various other vegetables high in vitamins and iron or easy on the stomach. Even just a week of that I noticed the headaches were going away and I had a bit more energy.

After that first week, I did only smoothies 3 times a day, and raw vegetables 3 times a day for another week. It was hard at first trying to find time to keep this strict regiment given that I had just started working at the hostel reception and found a restaurant gig, but I had to do it.

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After two weeks of this raw diet, I noticed a drastic difference.

I wasn’t experiencing pain in my stomach and I wasn’t having headaches. But I still had to keep at it. After the first week of smoothies and the second with raw vegetables, I would only eat vegan and strayed away from gluten, dairy, rice, and pasta for the next month. Those foods were just too hard for me to digest, and I always noticed a tinge of pain or discomfort when trying to eat it, so I cut it out.

It wasn’t at all as strict and torturous as that might seem. 

The best thing about this super strict diet, besides feeling healthier of course, was that I was getting super creative with cooking. I began learning how to make things other than instant noodles and hostel spaghetti! I was making zucchini “pasta” and vegan gluten-free tacos. I made of recipes for veggie nori (seaweed) rolls. And all the while I was feeling amazing.

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A month and a half later I had gained back weight, energy, and focus.

I started doing ghetto backpacker workouts in my room using my bag and whatever I could find. I had energy again to get out of bed early. I had created a routine and habit of eating clean and healthy and I really wasn’t missing much of the baked goods or meats. But I will say, I always miss cheese. Throughout the second month, I began trickling in breads and dairy one day a week, which I deemed a “cheat day” to start getting my body used to processing them again. But even on cheat days I found myself craving the good stuff. This diet that I was forced into had completely changed my tastebuds and cravings. I have never liked avocado or coconut or mushrooms and other foods like them, but I began to love them. I was exploring cooking with what would have previously been crazy combinations, but now it was normal and delicious.

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Three months into my year visa in Australia and I am back on my feet. It took a little over two months of strict eating to get back to 100% but I am happy to say that I am healthy again.

It was also spiritually taxing in it all as well, given that I am a creative person and I just didn’t have the energy to write on the blog and post stories from the Rickshaw Run or how life in Melbourne was. But now I do. It’s great to be back on the keyboard typing away, and reviewing the insane footage we got from the race that I have yet to post. But with my spirit and energy back to normal, and my strength, it’ll be fun editing these into videos.

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I’m a bit of a green fiend now. Due to the recovery being from eating clean and green, I will most likely be sticking to this vegetarian diet for a while. Who knows, I may just go vegan, because I never feel unhealthy eating this way. And though I can’t help salivate over a juicy burger or pulled pork sandwich or giant rolls of cheese, when it comes to actually wanting it over what I’m eating now — I’m don’t have an urge to.

This health scare taught me a vital lesson as well about traveling. In every country I go to, there are always mouth-watering local cuisines and it’s easy to get swept up in devouring street foods and drinking booze nightly with new friends. But you have to remember at the same time that you have to still give your body what it needs to be healthy as well — especially when on the road.

Hydrate all day. Get bright-colored fruits and veggies in you when possible. And if you have something physically taxing like a trek the next day or even exploring under the hot sun, hold back on the booze. Because eventually it adds up, and your body will take you for a tumble with it like it did to me.

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It took me two months to recover fully, and during that time I had to focus on myself solely, which is why I haven’t been present on social media or the blog and sharing all I have been up to. I apologize for the disappearing act, and not holding to the promise of releasing Rickshaw Run videos. But now you will be seeing plenty more content coming the next few weeks as I play catch-up with the post-Rickshaw Run stories and videos, as well as delving in what it’s been like settling into Australia for a year.

Also, along with that, I will be starting a new series of blog posts and videos called “Road Warrior” which will be focusing on easy ways to stay healthy and fit while traveling!

I’ve got to say, I have some exciting news coming soon, so make sure to check back Lost Ones, and thank you as always for coming along the journey.

In this article I talk a lot about the state on my health because of what I was eating in India, but don’t think for a second that I didn’t like Indian food. Cultures around the world have adapted to certain diets and ways of eating based on what is available or traditional, but as travelers sometimes these foods don’t play nice with us. For example, in Haiti my Haitian friends can go days just drinking sodas, while it was a struggle for me to go even a few hours without water. Also, given that we were on the Rickshaw Run constantly driving and stopping off briefly, our food choices were always highly restricted to grab and go stuff. And though most of my trip in India I noticed that much of the food lacks in quantity of vegetables, it’s still all worth eating. Just remember to also stop and grab fruits or veggies when you see a produce stand!

Have you ever fallen ill on the road? How do you stay healthy while traveling?

Hospitalized During Thailand’s Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai

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The fiery red protrusion on the back of my hand pulsated and throbbed like an angry volcano on the verge of erupting through the two dark holes in its peak — I had been bitten by a bulbous and shiny and demented creepy crawly something that could only have been birthed from the darkest corner of Hell.

No, it was a sickness. A sickness that began with a hoarse cough, like a raspy old hound barking his last warning, the shaking cold sweats consumed me more than the dry Thailand heat caused; eyes yellowed and gums bright red and bloody. I felt faint, nearly hallucinogenic, and as I stood to grab a bottle of water that the dryness of my mouth craved to consume, I collapsed.

No. No, no, no. That is all wrong.

Those scenarios above are exactly that — scenarios. Creepy crawlies and things that go bump in the night and exotic deadly illnesses were the kinds of thoughts that coursed through my brain whenever I imagined something that might land me in the hospital abroad for the first time.

I did end up in the hospital though.

It wasn’t some kind of exciting and strange insect, or disease, or motorbike accident. Fear sometimes grips us and takes over our mind. Our imagination comes up with the most irrationally movie-moment-esque mishaps, illnesses, dismemberments, and deaths. This is especially true when traveling abroad. A mysterious place never explored by your feet and eyes and mind — and everything can be amped up ten fold, whether it be the good, the bad, or the ugly side.

What landed me in the hospital? Well, if you read my post covering the recent Songkran New Year celebrations in Chiang Mai, you may already have a clue. If not, it surely isn’t as elaborate as the horror movie scenarios above, but I got horribly sick during Songkran either way.

Sick and left ill and in pain and unable to eat.

Let’s get one thing clear though…obviously I am still alive since I’m writing this. No need to fret.

So what put me in the hospital? More importantly, how was a hospital experience in Thailand?

The best way to describe my feelings toward hospitals in general is with two words; fear and loathing. I hate the smell of the hospitals, the look of them, and how people are treated most of the time, I also can’t stand going because they frighten me.

Every time I’ve been sick with something and had to go to a hospital, I’m always afraid they will drop something on me with their calm monotone doctor speech like, “Mr. Brown, you do have a respiratory infection…oh yea, and the black plague. You are going to die in five minutes.

Hospitals tend to be just like the DMV, or as I call it — purgatory. You sit there in a chair with a fountain of blood spurting out of you and all the nurse does is walk by and say, “sir, please try not to make a mess“.

Like Beetlejuice, your number never gets called.

There’s also the stress. A small version of Mr. T inside your brain punches it over and over shouting, “they gonna’ take all yo money foo!” causing you to rock back and forth holding your head and yelling “SHUT UP!”

Next thing ya know you’re in the looney bin.

Okay, some of that is a little over-exaggerated, like the nurse calling you “sir” but I digress.

So what happened to me in the Songkran Festival?

Before coming to Thailand, I’d say I had a tad bit of bad luck with injuries or illnesses. At one point, my work was calling me bubble boy because so many illnesses or injuries had hit me in a row, and majority of the time I didn’t have health care.

For me to go six months without a doctor visit (though I have picked up some antibiotics for a cold from a pharmacist) was a pretty good streak.I guess it couldn’t last forever.

The pains began after the first day of Songkran, but worsened. By the third day it was a slicing and burning sensation in my stomach. I hadn’t eaten anything in two days at that point — I had tried to but it hurt too much.

I decided to cave. I put off going to the hospital for a few days because I’m stubborn, but once the festival subsided I knew I had to.

I guess caving is better than dying!

The dreaded hospital visit

The hospital I ended up at was Chiang Mai Ram hospital, located near the north-west corner of Old Town outside of the moat. To many, It’s known as the “expensive” hospital, but at this point I knew the location and I just needed to go.

I half expected the place to be a little dirty and outdated and swarming with ill foreigners.

The inside was like all hospitals; buzzing florescent lights, neutral white walls, and the occasional gaudy floral wallpaper slapped on them so your eyes don’t drown in negative space. But, to my delight, it was surprisingly empty. Normally when you go to a hospital in the United States, it’s like you are fighting through a battle to just get noticed. Not here, I was the only person to step up to the counter.

Hello sir, what’s wrong?

I informed the delightful woman behind the counter of my symptoms; severe stomach pains, headache, achy joints, and weak muscles — and then she asked me to go to registration.

Once there, I had to fill out a tiny registration form, have my photo taken, and I was already on my way to the waiting area with a cue number in hand. Done in 5 minutes. All the while she was calling me “Mr. Brown” and “sir“.

In the waiting area, one with just a handful of Thai people, I sat expecting it would now be a much longer wait. Soon after I sat down, a nurse walked around passing out juice to everyone, giving me an iced juice and a hot tea…just to give us a refreshment while we wait. Hell, I wasn’t even done with my juice and the next thing I know I’m being called into the office!

The doctor, an older Thai woman who didn’t speak English well, was still able to speak clearly enough when conversing with me. She had me lay on my back on a couch and squeezed my lower abdomen. She moves fast I guess! I never knew the tickle maneuver was a way to diagnose an illness, squeezing different parts of my stomach and abdomen asking me to inform her of where it hurt. I just hoped she would stop before I either began to giggle.

After a couple of minutes, she diagnosed me.

You have bad intestine infection. Did you go to Songkran?

I told her I had been to the festival water fighting and I felt sick the next day.

Oh. Songkran water bad. Very bad. Make you sick.

That brown, murky moat water that I had been sprayed with in the eyes and mouth in during Songkran, inadvertently gulping down a gallon of it, is what caused the infection most likely.

After she prescribed me medicine, I went to the pharmacy counter inside the hospital and waited for my number.

My bill? $2,000 baht or around $60.

Okay, I’ll admit it…I don’t have travel health insurance. Why? Just as in the States, I don’t have heaps of money to drop on it. Though once I begin my English teaching job I will definitely be making that investment!

2,000 baht is my budget for 3 days, and the was four times cheaper than what I would have paid at home. It’s wild, I always hated and feared hospitals, but my experience at the hospital in Chiang Mai was fine. In and out in nearly an hour and along the way calling me “sir” and being incredibly kind.

The after effects

A few days after going to the hospital while on 3 different types of pills, an antibiotic, and an electrolyte powder to drink, I was feeling a little better. For that few days after I still couldn’t eat most solid foods. The intestine infection, which has symptoms like something I’ve had in the past in my stomach, makes it painful to eat things like breads, cheese, meats, or vegetables. Oh, and anything acidic. So basically I had to stick to eating rice soup — what I now call “gloppity gloop” after having it 7 times that week after.

And to think all of that came from a little fun during the Songkran festivities in Chiang Mai. Next time I’ll make sure to get some goggles at least.

Hospital Info for Chiang Mai

Note: Make sure to bring your Passport, they will need this to process you.

Chiang Mai Ram – 8 Bunrueang Rit RdMueang, Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai, Thailand (north west corner of the moat)

Have you ever been sick or hospitalized abroad?