Nothing like a bit of colitis while abroad to get the bacteria moving, wouldn’t you agree? Getting sick while travelling abroad is nothing new to me, but this was a very uncomfortable feeling. I remember curling up between the choke and kill manifold, just giving up on life and succumbing to the power of 47 degrees (C) of desert heat.
“This is some other kind of feeling”, I kept telling myself. The rig crew came up to me and asked if I was okay. I told them that I was feeling a bit unwell, but nothing I wouldn’t be able to deal with.
So I got back up and carried on with my work. It was around 10:00 and normally the time I would head to the canteen with the engineer and have a light snack. But this time I couldn’t be bothered. My appetite was gone.
The bloating started
I went anyway, with the engineer to the canteen, but didn’t eat anything. He asked if everything was alright and I said that I just wasn’t hungry. I figured I was probably dehydrated, but knew deep down that I was always drinking water.
So I went to fetch myself another bottle of water, but every sip I took felt like I was downing a gallon. My stomach started to bloat and I was feeling uncomfortable in my own skin.
We carried on with the survey regardless, but I was starting to get really tired. I had only been in the desert for a week and a half at that point, so fatigue wasn’t something I was worried about. Besides which, I had already spent months before in the desert during other trips.
Now I don’t feel good
I completed the survey and was time to leave. As I never ate lunch at the camp (only at the hotel), my escort would take turns going for their lunch, then we would leave for my hotel. All I wanted to do was to lie down. So I put the seat back in the truck and tried to sleep.
It felt like ages before my driver and the military escort had finished their lunch, but eventually they turned up and we headed for the hotel.
When we got to the hotel, I went straight to my room to cool down. I fell onto my bed and thought this is the end. By this point, I had not eaten anything, except the bowl of cereal I had at 06:30 in the morning. Perhaps some food will sort this out.
Time to go to the doctor
I walked to the restaurant and, as always, greeted in a very friendly manner by the staff. The manager came to me and said, “Mr Fox, please. You okay. Please sit. You not look nice”. Had I not known them for a long time, I might have taken offence at that.
I told the manager that I wasn’t feeling to well, but hopefully some food and some rest will sort it out. They were very considerate and offered to make me something I wanted, instead of from the menu. You know that feeling that you are hungry, but don’t know if you should eat, let alone what you want to eat? Well it was like that.
My choice was a chicken breast with some potatoes. A light meal and something that I eat often. So while I waited I decided to have a coke. “Maybe the sugar might make me feel a little better”, I thought. Well that was a bloody mistake. The gas from the soda made my stomach explode like an air bag after just one sip.
Phone came out and I had the rig engineer on speed dial. He promptly came round to see what was wrong. I said to him that I was not sure, but whatever I eat is making my stomach explode. Not to mention I was by now struggling to stand
Nothing like a bit of colitis
We got in his truck and headed down to the company medical centre. He said that he noticed I wasn’t well on site and why did I not tell him? I told him that these things normally come and go by themselves, so I wasn’t too worried. But clearly this was something different.
Anyway, we arrived at the medical centre and I sat in the waiting room for the doctor. The engineer went off to find him and he promptly returned, with doctor in tow.
“Please! Come!”, the doctor beckoned to me. Now the one thing I learnt down in the desert is how they English is spoken. Admittedly much better than my Arabic was at the time, but its said mostly in words and very abruptly. It is easy to take offense at how the words come across, but as I had spent many months there, I understood how to take it.
Especially after how he spoke to me after his diagnosis.
So I’m not going to die
He lay me down on the bed and lifted my shirt. He then placed one hand flat on my lower abdomen and started tapping it with his index, middle finger and thumb. “Please stop that!”, I yelped. He slowly dragged his eyes from my stomach to my eyes and half grinned.
“Ah! Big…This…Problem….Colitis…Die No…Good…Lucky!”, he said to me. All I could make out of that was, “Am I not going to die?”. He started the tapping again. I was begging him to stop. Was there no other way of doing tests without this insessint tapping that was making me extrememly uncomfortable.
A few words were spoken between the doctor and engineer and I was given an IV line. I lay there, wondering how I would get back to the UK, if my time was up? Then I wondered why there was only half a skeleton in the room.
Back to the hotel
The doctor came back and took out the IV and gave me some tablets. He also presented me with a list of foods that I was not to eat for 2 weeks. We finished up and I thanked him for the physical abuse he subjected me to. I also thanked him for sorting me out.
The engineer was all to relieved that it was sorted out. Maybe because he cared? Or perhaps the thought of the amount of paperwork involved if an expatriate dies on site? Either way I got back to my hotel and went to sleep.
It took about 3 days, before I started feeling a bit normal. During those three days, consuming anything became exceedingly difficulty and I welcomed the moment my eating habits would return to normal.