This weekend, I had the pleasantry and excitement of another bout of food poisoning here in Dubai. It’s not uncommon for a meal here to set off an upset stomach, with food handling and sanitation not always under tight control. Every year, we read in the news more and more food places shut down or put on notice for problems with food hygiene and handling. And so, it came to be that on Friday at around midday, I did not feel too good. It was strange, as we’d had our teacher appreciation lunch from the parents committee the day prior, and I’ll I’d had to eat in between was some dried fruit and a bowl of porridge.
But there was chicken.
I believe I fell victim to the chicken once more.
Damn you, salmonella.
Anyway, what I found most interesting, once the whole 5-hour episode had passed me by, was my reaction to feeling so desperately and violently ill. I hadn’t had that kind of reaction since I was in Nepal that time I nearly died. I’d had a parasitic infection from a Dubai airport coffee vendor and was already trekking quite tenderly around on medication to treat my unwanted friend. We’d finished up with our trek into Bakhtapur and our guide took us out for momos at a fantastic little local joint in the back streets of nowhere. Momos, by the way, are Nepalese dumplings, and they are freaking amazing. We thoroughly enjoyed our momos, and being Christmas day, we followed up our lunchtime momos with dinnertime momos at the hotel’s restaurant (even though I’d have much preferred to return to the busy local restaurant we’d had lunch at).
Now, you can all whack me on the head for eating the chicken in a “5 star hotel”, but that I did, and by 4am I couldn’t control the convulsions as every ounce of everything left my body. With temperatures below 5 degrees, a lack of electricity for heating, lighting and showering, limited water and no telephone to call to get to a hospital after 3 hours of not being able to keep any fluids down, I was weak and desperate. Somehow, Andrew packed all of our stuff together while I cried on the bed. The pain and the constant retching added to my panic; as well as the fact that we were in a historical city. The point was that it was old, ancient and lacking in modernization.
I kind of dragged-slash-stumbled down the stairs to the foyer while we waited for someone to get hold of a taxi without the use of electricity or phone lines. We drove past cows and markets, and tumbled across cobbled lanes to a local hospital, “the best in the city”. I cried, vomited, panicked, cried and had never felt so far from home. The nurse tried to warm the saline solution in a bowl of water before injecting it into my veins, but it kept chilling off and pumping the freezing fluids into my body. I cried more, panicked more and cried again when I saw medical instruments soaking in a bucket next to the seat less and filthy staff toilet I desperately had to hold myself over. Andrew scrutinized every needle, syringe and antibiotic they used while our guide Hem ran back and forward between the ward and dispensary filling orders for tablets and fluids.
The doctor had good English.
I remember that.
I cried more, the constant panic setting in. Every ten minutes or so they had to disconnect my fluids so I could go and get rid of more. The cold was unbearable, with the flaming pain of ice running along my left arm, along with the soreness of the nurse struggling to find a vein. Andrew said they were impeccable in their practice. That he’d never seen a nurse work so precisely. He said we got the best doctor. All I remember was sheer panic, cold and wanting home.
And so, as Andrew was forced to rapidly pull off Sheikh Zayed Road on Friday, that same desperate panic came back to me. That kind of anxiety that can only be associated with a horrible experience. It just so happened that Friday prayer was coming to an end, and the service station was inaccessible for all the cars around the mosque. He pulled up on the side of the road by a villa and I opened the door, but even then I could not bring myself to feel better in front of the whole world and outside of someone’s home. I hung my head out of the door into the 43 degrees and cried my eyes out, holding onto the nausea. We made it to the next service station instead, with me hurrying out of the car and racing around the queue waiting for petrol before returning home, going through the whole process again and collapsing into bed. Andrew followed behind with ginger ale and water, and I was dead to the world for two hours. And today, as I still nurse sore abs and a wry neck from sleeping oddly, I am seriously considering a life of veganism.