Sunday, May 1, 2011

In the Mood for Imodium

When I started puking again, my first thought was of the pizza.

I can't really blame the cook, who, as I have mentioned, is normally wonderful. She's never seen a "real" pizza before, of course, and has to improvise an oven each time she makes one. Also, the only cheese for sale in the Kivus (for less than outrageous prices) is a cheddar-like round hailing from the high mountain pastures. It's pretty impressive that she's able to produce anything resembling pizza at all.

However, this time I was admittedly less than tantalized by the cook's pizza-making exploits. In a burst of inventiveness and frugality, she had decided to insert leftover spaghetti underneath the cheese and eggplant layers. When I bit into my slice and discovered this, my stomach turned, and suddenly the pizza lost all appeal.

Fortunately, the housecat was ravenous that day, what with five new mouths to feed, and she was only too eager to pick up where I had left off. After gorging herself on the cheese, however, she abandoned the slice on the kitchen floor, where the spaghetti strands sprawled like worms for the next day. For some reason, the sight of them there, as they slowly congealed to the cement, made me nauseous.

I finally gathered up the will to toss the uneaten slice into the garbage and did my best to put the image of it out of my mind. But the next day, I felt seriously sick to my stomach, and around midday excused myself from the office to puke all over the gravel driveway. I had experienced similar symptoms about a month before, and although I had recovered quickly, I figured it was time to get some official tests done. Likely, I had some kind of internal parasite that would continue to manifest itself from time to time, and I supposed I should nip it in the bud.

The vehicles were all in the field with the staff. As I waited for one to return to the base so that it could take me to the hospital, the diarrhea began. Intrepid, I prepared a sample in a plastic water bottle, stuck it in the fridge, and popped some Imodium.

When I arrived at the hospital, it was nearly closing time. Though I managed to puke on at least three of the nurses who attended to me, the laboratory was, alas, shut for the evening, so I was informed that I would have to come back tomorrow to have the tests done. Much to my disappointment, my stool sample was rejected, and the doctor suggested I supply him with a fresh one in the morning.

And so I returned in the a.m. as instructed, and produced blood and urine on command. But the third, and most necessary, sample was stubbornly unforthcoming. Determined to wait it out, I plunked myself on a wooden bench outside the lab, clutching the awkwardly tiny glass vial that they had given me with which to capture the stool.

You might think that this would be an unlikely moment for romance, but if so you know very little about Congolese men and their infatuation with wuzungu. A good dozen nurses, interns and other passersby seized the opportunity to impress me with their English vocabulary and try to weasel my phone number out of me, discreetly avoiding mention of the glass bottle in my hand. But my number, like the stool, remained locked away, and I reluctantly told the lab staff I would have to come back later, when my bowels started cooperating again.

Funnily enough, on my way back to the car, my bowels suddenly sprang to life, and I dashed back into the hospital bathroom and triumphantly presented the vial to the lab crew soon after.

The results from a multitude of tests came that evening. Nothing was wrong with me, from a strictly medical sense. No amoebas, no intestinal worms, no malaria, no giardia. Nothing.

As I considered this news, my stomach turned anew. My supervisor would be coming to visit the following day. Although my appetite was returning after this recent bout of illness, the thought of his visit suddenly made me very tense. I could physically feel my blood pressure rising.

Then it hit me...the very same symptoms - the queasiness, headache, stomach pain, vomiting - had struck me two days prior to my boss' previous visit, and had gradually disappeared after he had left.

I can only conclude that my nausea in both cases was induced by the stress I felt in anticipation of in-person interaction with my boss.

The good news is that he has decided to leave the country, and as I write this no longer has any authority over me.

The bad news is that somehow I had allowed one person the power to significantly affect my physical and mental well being. No matter how abusive, irrational and domineering he was, I should have figured out a healthier way to deal with his behavior.

But fortunately, there's more good news, if I choose to view them that way, and it's that there are several zillion Congolese males who don't much mind my non-mastery of emotions. They don't even care if I'm physically leaking out both ends. They just want my digits.

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