When we heard that Katie Baxter from i-to-i TEFL contracted typhoid in Uganda, we had to hear her story. We’re nosey like that…
I’ve done some fairly stupid things on my travels. Riding on the back of a motorbike in Kenya with no helmet on, swimming in the sea at night in Zanzibar after a booze cruise, zip-wiring in Honduras and getting my thumb jammed in the pulley because the guide didn’t speak English so I didn’t know how to slow it down….
I’m living proof that even if you get the necessary vaccinations and travel insurance, you’re not immune from trouble on the road. Just because you’ve taken the advice of the travel nurse/your mum, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security…
I Contracted Typhoid While I was Volunteering in Uganda
Yes, that’s right; I contracted a potentially fatal disease while living in a developing country. Pretty cool story to tell? Not at the time, no.
This is where I was living:
Look carefully: can you see a motorway? Car? A road even? Nope. But stunning all the same, yes?
I’d been living in this guesthouse for a few weeks and I got complacent; I’d had all my vaccinations back home. The guesthouse had no running water, so you purified the rainwater collected from the roof into a big container. You washed using the rainwater; you washed your dishes with this rainwater. The toilet was a hole in the floor; great for toning your thighs!
If You’re Wondering What Typhoid Feels Like, Read On…
One night I started feeling awful. REALLY awful. (I’ve been told by Gap Daemon not to spare you any gruesome details, so don’t think badly of me!) The pain was so bad, my stomach would be gripped by spasms every few minutes. At one point I wondered if I might even be in labour and that these were contractions!
There’s nothing like throwing up and ‘other ending’ while using a squat toilet to perfect your aim and target practice. Oh my, it was horrible. I was sweating, crying, burning up a royal temperature. I was swearing revenge on anyone and everyone and all the while it felt like someone was giving my stomach a Chinese burn.
Let me remind you at this point I was in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night and our phones had sporadic signal: a bunch of Westerners in a tiny village in Uganda.
Cows gathered outside my window to see what all the fuss was about and I, in my delirious state, asked them to be a dear and fetch me an air ambulance. One of the guys at the guesthouse collected together a bunch of pills and I took them without question; I’m sure they made a guest appearance in the toilet soon after.
Medical Treatment in Kabale
Morning finally arrived and we got a taxi to the nearest town, Kabale, roughly 40 minutes away. Kabale has a smattering of tourists, but a Westerner is a massive novelty so I was pushed to the front of the queue at the clinic ahead of sick babies, which I still cringe at today. The outside of the clinic is cluttered with families who need medical help but cannot afford the 50p entrance fee.
Try and picture a Ugandan clinic in your mind. Are you thinking filthy, crowded mayhem? Well crowded is right, but I was pleasantly surprised at how clean everything was. I sat in the waiting room getting stared at a lot, then a doctor called my name and I gave him my symptoms. He told me I’d need a blood test. Cue panic. A blood test? In Uganda? Eeek.
I needn’t have worried. I’m so bad at drawing blood that the nurse got through four needles, each one out of its own brand new sealed wrapper. At one point the nurse was praying to God that my blood would come; I prayed that she’d stop slapping my arm to get blood in the syringe.
I sat back in the waiting room and got stared at by everyone again. The doctor called me back in and confirmed that I had contracted a strain of typhoid. Intense! I felt quite far away from England at that moment. I was bedridden for the next few days while my new friends, the antibiotics, kicked in. Inappropriate as this may be, I’ve never lost so much weight so quickly, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a diet plan…
This is What Happens When You Get Careless
I never found out exactly how I came to contract typhoid, but if I think about it, I got careless. I cut my legs while shaving in rainwater, I drank my fair share of rainwater purified with iodine tablets, I’m a nail biter and I DREAD to think what lurked under my nails (trim your nails if you’re a biter).
Lastly, I ate bananas that might have had little flies on them, but I thought ‘ah well, you don’t eat the banana peel, I’ll be fine’. None of these things are life threatening on their own, but it shows when you get comfortable somewhere, you let your guard down.
When I recovered from the illness, I had a look around the touristy shops for any ‘I went to Uganda and all I got was this lousy typhoid!’ merchandise, but clearly there isn’t a market for it.
I got back home and had a check-up at the doctors, fully expecting him to high-five me for surviving typhoid, but he was singularly unimpressed. I’m still waiting on my medal now.
Good read? Then check out our guide to five common travel ailments and how to avoid them…