Amoebic dysentery sucks. I don’t think it sucks more than any other kind of dysentery, because all dysentery is bad, but amoebic dysentery is the flavor I have experience with, so it’s what I’m going to talk about.
I don’t know for sure how I picked it up, but I have my suspicions. It was 2012, and I was staying with some relatives in Kampar, Malaysia. They made it very clear that I needed to boil the tap water before brushing my teeth. One night, I forgot.
What I know for sure was that a couple days later, mere hours before my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Seattle, my stomach tensed up while I was in the shower. It didn’t stop.
All was well, if a little uncomfortable, until we reached cruising height. At this point, the pressure did something to my innards, which at first felt like an improvement. My bowels had unclenched. The crisis, or so I thought, was over.
It was ... not. It turns out that the abdominal discomfort was my body desperately attempting to restrain the oncoming catastrophe. Après relâchement, le déluge.
I’ve always been a big baby about being sick. When I have a cold, for instance, I’m reminded that rather than a being of thought and soul, I’m actually mostly a collection of only barely-organized goop. The fact that my sinuses are somehow capable of immiserating me, a grown-ass human being, is something I find personally offensive, and I respond by being generally useless because too busy pouting.
Being reduced to a mechanism, and a faulty one at that, is a distressing experience. It’s especially distressing when you’re so ill — for instance, you might have amoebic dysentery — that the problem consumes your entire personal universe. I have no idea how often I made the trek between the toilet and my (thank god!) aisle seat, but there were several ashen-faced journeys before I gave up and decided that my final home would be a Korea Air A330 bathroom.
My mind was now entirely focused on its new and horrifically limited horizons. I scrutinized every inch of that toilet, searing the color and hue of the various signage into my memory forever. In between, uh, episodes, I’d try to stand up and stretch to give myself a break; on one occasion I distinctly remember saying “once more into the breach, dear friends” to my butt cheeks before sitting down again. Also, and I don’t know where else to put this, airline toilet paper is a cruel affront to both man and God.
I don’t know how I managed to hold it together when the plane started to descend and I had to leave the seat of unease and buckle myself in. I sometimes wonder what my neighbors made of my predicament. A young man had boarded the aircraft and sat down with them, then vanished for several hours only to reappear, wild-eyed and disheveled, as we landed in Seoul.
Not Seattle. Seoul. My travel plans included a 19-hour layover.
I booked a travel hotel entirely to give myself a private bathroom in which to suffer. Dysentery in a grounded bathroom was a more pleasant experience than on a plane, mostly because I could play Angry Birds on my phone while shitting myself to death, but the improvement was only incremental, and I still cannot recommend the experience.
Not that I thought I had dysentery at the time. I didn’t find that out until several days later when a helpful doctor informed me of my predicament. Next, she told me that I needed to keep a large and unpleasant pill down or I was going to be sent to hospital and put on an IV. Honestly, it felt like a relief.
I had missed a week of work, and missing a week of work because you had dysentery felt a lot less silly than “I missed a week of work because I can’t stop pooping and feel really, really bad.” Sure, the mechanics were as shameful as ever, but dysentery is the sort of illness that makes everyone stop worrying about your lack of blog posts and start worrying about whether or not you’re going to be ok. (Just kidding. Nobody at work worried whether or not I was going to be ok. They made Oregon Trail jokes — for the next three years —instead.)
The hours I spent on a toilet while flying into Seoul, on a toilet in Soeul, and on a toilet flying out of Seoul were the lowest point of my life. I am someone who feels their fuckups pretty intensely, and I find that my encounter with serious illness gives me some valuable perspective. Kid stays up all night crying and you’re exhausted the next day? Remember how much worse dysentery was? Hurt someone you love and feel terrible about it? Hey at least you’re not ... you get the picture.
When I finally got to Seattle, I thought my travel ordeal might be over. But I had failed to consider a new kind of toilet hell: the train. It takes about three and a half hours on the Amtrak from Seattle to Portland, and while it’s a comfortable enough ride in normal times, when your innards feel like they’ve spent whole days being gored by some sort of poop rhino, you feel every jolt in the track.
Unlike my abode on the A330, I have no strong memories of the toilet itself. I hadn’t slept in days, hadn’t been able to eat properly, and frankly, I don’t think I had enough brain left to properly process where I was, or even who I was. All I knew was that I was an unpleasantly-perforated meat tube, sitting down in a train and cryshitting.
I arrived in Portland much the worse for the wear. After 48 hours of traveling, spent mostly on the toilet, I finally made it home and clambered into bed. Two hours later, I shat myself.