Saturday, December 13, 2008


This American Needs Fluids

An American can eat so many things while living abroad. One can partake of that country’s native cuisine, or if he/she prefers, imported American food. The latter will probably be exactly the same as in its country of origin, except that it comes in smaller portions and, even more appallingly, without ready access to a salt shaker.

For the American living overseas, however, most of these disparate food groups have one thing in common: They may inflict a beating upon the American’s digestive system on a somewhat regular basis.

For all the American knows, it has nothing to do with the food itself. Said American’s internal organs and/or immune system’s may be the party at fault. True, one may have only found oneself reliving the contents the previous day’s dinner in the most unpleasant of manners possible only once a decade or so in his/her country of origin, and since going abroad it may have happened pretty much on an annual basis, but never let this American be accused of rushing to judgment.

The culpable food may come in any manner of shapes or sizes, but is typically animal-based (you win this round, vegetarians!). It also can take anywhere from 12 hours (if it’s some manner of local cuisine) to 30 minutes (if it comes from McDonalds) for it take effect, but the effect is usually the same. At first there’s a sudden, rather urgent need to venture toward the gender-specific room one finds appropriate. This will get one’s attention, but not set off any alarm bells; it’s not like that sort of thing has never happen to this American while he/she were in his/her hometown.

The return of that rather urgent need within a half-hour may trigger a sense of alarm, though. If not, the third critical requirement in about an hour’s time ought to impress this American that something is really, really not right. If the American is working at the time, he/she she should not hesitate; this situation is not going to get better and they really need some quality alone.

One may be embarrassed to discuss this situation with one’s peers or superiors at work, but no matter what culture one finds oneself in, this is one experience no one wants to partake of vicariously. They will not hesitate to grant you a day, or however many one needs off*.

The American in question may feel guilty at this point because he or she has cleared his or her schedule for the remainder of the day. He or she shouldn’t, because even if what’s been experienced so far hasn’t been so bad, trust this American, spending eight hours behind a desk is certainly preferable to what’s ahead. The best possible likelihood is a day or so of more of the same, after which the American will be so dehydrated that his or her face will have lost much of its usual color and a two-day diet of water, porridge and tasteless medicine will be necessary.

A less fortunate likelihood is that nausea, a much less embarrassing but far more discomforting symptom than the first, will take place. The act(s) one thinks of when he/she thinks of nausea is not the worst aspect of this symptom; what’s much worse is the 60-90 minutes of merely feeling it, and knowing that the act is coming. The American will probably spend all 60 to 90 of these minutes thinking something like the following: Maybe commencing with this action will bring the uneasiness in my stomach to a prompt conclusion. Or, maybe it will carry on until my stomach is sore, I can’t move and I’m praying for death.

By this point, these two symptoms put together will probably leave said American so drained that many hours of intravenous fluids are required. While living abroad, there are two ways to prepare for this possibility: the first is to have a friend you can contact about giving you a lift to the hospital, and who can speak the language required to restore your vital nutrients.

The other option, the one this American prefers, is to cut out the middle man completely and just marry someone already working in that country’s health services profession. That way, one can get the intravenous fluids one needs from home, while his/her medically inclined spouse spoon feeds him/her the rice porridge and supplies him/her with a phone for sending text messages to understanding colleagues about his or his condition.

One can take this American’s word for it that such people will be there. Traveling abroad can lead not only to new job opportunities, but will also introduce one to an untold number of good people who may serve as understanding colleagues or even medically inclined spouses.

With all this to gain, spending one day a year praying for death isn’t to high a price to pay, is it?

*Just a warning for those who, like this American, live and work in Korea: Korean people are often embarrassed to see people kiss, or to discuss sexual matters in public. One thing that does not seem to bother them in the least is discussing bodily functions. If one describes the above problem to his/her Korean supervisor, the supervisor might very well announce something like the following to the rest of the staff: “Okay, everyone, Robert has to take the day off because he has diarrhea!” You ought to prepare yourself for this.)

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