Quick, name the first three things you think of when you think about the life of a PCV – exotic locations? Check. Culture shock? Check. And constant illness – check. As with life anywhere, getting sick is completely unavoidable, but it takes on a whole new dimension when you’re in Peace Corps. I would say this is mostly due to A) large distances between you and home (when you’re sick, home only has one meaning) and B) being sick takes everybody back a few developmental stages (I personally get short-tempered to the point where I have no temper at all, and I am so self-indulgent that if you interrupt my plans I will bite your head off).
The past two weeks have been so full of sickness that on more than one occasion I swore I was dying. Obviously that wasn’t the case, but I think you’re allowed to exaggerate a little when you’re sick. (That was foreshadowing – this story is long – really, it’s long – and exaggerated with all my suffering over the past two weeks.)
It started off with strep on Sunday. I knew I had strep, but what I told the PC doctor was “I think I have strep.” So she told me to wait and see if other symptoms developed (the white spots covering the back of my throat weren’t enough for her). So I slept in on Monday morning, but then decided to go to school at the last minute (also because I had slept through all my morning buses, so I wouldn’t be making it into town to see the doctor anyway). I got out of bed (mistake number one), threw on a puletasi (mistake number two), and went to school (mistake number three). I was planning to be at school for maybe 20 minutes max so I could take care of checking out books from the library and call it a day. But when I tried to explain to my principal that I was sick (mistake number four, should have said I was taking the day off instead of asking for the day off), she just kept asking me what was wrong. Apparently saying your throat hurts doesn’t convince anyone you’re sick. She convinced me to stay and do small groups in the library (mistake number five). So I rushed through all the groups, talked and breathed as little as possible, then left at lunch. I cancelled all my plans for the rest of the day, fell asleep on my floor for two or three hours, then crawled into bed after trying to down half a bottle of IB profen that did nothing to make my throat hurt less.
The next day I took the bus into town. I still didn’t look sick (I was wearing a skirt and nice shirt because I was also planning to turn in a grant application. Even when you’re sick, a trip into town never has only one purpose), and I actually didn’t feel too bad, except my throat wouldn’t function. I had to brace myself every time I swallowed something because it felt like my throat was full of razors. When I got to the doctor, she also told me I didn’t look sick, but then she took one look at my throat and told me it was “rather disgusting.” Finally, someone who knows I’m sick. In addition to amoxicillin, I asked for something for the pain, and she prescribed me Panadol (just like Tylenol) with codeine in it. Unfortunately, nothing made the pain go away, so my throat felt like it was full of razors until the amoxicillin took effect three days later. In the meantime, I was suffering through every swallow of water until I realized that sugary liquids actually made my throat feel better. I realized this because I had been living on ice blocks (frozen Tang with added sugar), and I had a cup of tea with one of my families (also loaded with sugar). Once I figured this out, I downed unbelievable amounts of sugar water. By this point, I was dying of a razor throat, hunger, and thirst. I had missed school on Tuesday so I could see the doctor, but still felt sufficiently awful on Wednesday to take another day of school. Lots of sleep ensued.
I felt about 90% better by Friday when I caught a cold and stomach problems kicked in again. I went into town that night for an Indonesia cooking class (the country director’s wife is from Indonesia, and some of us wanted to learn how she makes such delicious food, so we arranged a “cooking class” with her. Spicy curry does nothing to help with razor throat and stomach problems, but it is delicious!). I went to a movie with my neighbor after the cooking lesson, then after the movie, we got ice cream at McDonald’s (the only institution that is open 24/7 in Samoa, and I think that’s only on Friday and Saturday nights). I didn’t get back to my hotel until well after midnight, and then I was awoken again at 3 in the morning when the PCV I was sharing a room with got home and felt compelled to talk to me about her adventures that night for a good hour. I woke up at 7 to take care of some business on my village bus, and then went about the rest of my day. Please note the lack of sleep.
When I got back to my village Saturday afternoon, I went to talk to one of the families that feeds me (illness tends to interfere with eating schedules.) I have been hosting movie sessions at my fale the past few weeks, and the day alternates between Friday and Saturday afternoon. I had missed the week before due to a PC gathering, and I missed this current week due to being sick. The kids asked me when we would finish the movie, and I said “I promise we will finish it on Monday after school unless I am deathly ill again.” Fatal last words. Saturday night, I went out again with my neighbors and some other PCVs, and ended up back home well after one in the morning. I stayed in bed until the last possible minute before going to church, and even then I wouldn’t have called myself conscience during church. I told my neighbor I would be over to talk to her after lunch (I wouldn’t be eating due to stomach issues), then promptly fell asleep on my floor for two hours. I woke up, decided I was as sick as I had been telling people, read for an hour, then slept for another two hours. I dragged myself up to the women’s committee meeting, but they let me leave early because I looked awful. Then I slept for another ten hours.
Took my first bus into town on Monday morning to see the doctor for stomach issues (I think she was a bit more lenient this time since I had almost died after the “wait and see” about the strep). The Monday morning bus is the only thing worse than the last bus on Friday. I literally could not move because there were so many people on the bus, but that probably wasn’t a bad thing. Made it into the doctor. They weren’t quite sure what was wrong with me, so I spent the morning reading and napping, and drinking a liter of water an hour in the Peace Corps office. Just after lunch, they told me they wanted to keep me in town for the night to see if I got better or if they should put me on medicine. Sweet! A paid hotel room, complete with hot shower and air conditioning (that I only turned on for twenty minutes), all mine! I spent the afternoon lounging around, then went to bed as soon as I felt tired, and slept until I felt like it. I had really wanted to go back to my village because I didn’t have a toothbrush or a change of clothes or anything, and I had also told my cat that I would be back that night, but the peace and quiet of solitude is something I so rarely experience these days that it was well worth it to stay.
In two weeks, I missed 4 out of 10 days of school, and spent more daylight hours sleeping than the sum of all my lifetime naps. I also think I took enough drugs to qualify me as an addict. Recovery seems to be coming along pretty well though.