I experience life in cycles, which is another way to say I learn from past experiences to better live now. I recently added another cycle – getting massively sick thanks to the wilderness. I have giardiasis. From contracting the disease on expedition to diagnosis took three weeks total, lightening fast when compared to my original wilderness-related illness, described as it happened in the blog I kept in Egypt. I’ve learned how to recognize wilderness-related illnesses, and I learned something about the big city through this cycle.
Four years ago I studied abroad in Egypt and started feeling ill. Between late September and mid-October 2012, and then in small week-long waves for the next three months, my large joints became excruciatingly painful. (Stomach flu, diarrhea, and allergic reactions that made my legs swell and itch also were companions.) I visited doctors around class, and eventually I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis; I learned in March 2013 that I was, in fact, living with Lyme Disease. I unwittingly had been bitten by a deer tick in late August 2012 while leading a backcountry expeditions in Wisconsin.
This year, my first symptom was awful diarrhea. I lived with diarrhea for a week before finally calling in sick to work to visit a clinic. Again, I had a Muslim doctor, and she also ordered tests to be done on me. However, in Egypt the tests were x-rays; in Minnesota the tests were tissue samples. Two days later, my test results came back – giardiasis. Again, my pharmacist was a Muslim woman. Again, I had led a backcountry expedition in late August in the Upper Midwest.
The rest of this illness is different. The expedition at fault took me backpacking in Minnesota, and I apparently consumed non-purified water. I lived with the ailment for a shorter period because I live in a city whose doctors are familiar with the disease I presented – giardiasis is not rare in Minnesota. Lyme Disease is more complex – there are countries that don’t have the disease for reasons of ecology and climate, yet there are doctors in the appropriate climate who refuse to recognize Lyme Disease as legitimate! Lastly, the treatment that killed Lyme Disease took thirty days, whereas my giardiasis prescription will take me only five days total.
One major learning from the first wilderness-related illness: big cities offer resources of which I, as a resident, can take advantage. In Egypt, I refused to believe that I needed the help of a doctor for my joint pain – I am no wimp! I also didn’t believe doctors would or could diagnose a disease after a single visit from a patient. Because I’ve vomited in big cities across the world, I know now that the medical system exists for the exclusive purpose of freeing a population from as much distress as possible, no matter how many times a patient sees a doctor.
Note: having friends and family with chronic ailments, I see long-term relationships between doctors and their patients as healthy, and I know that doctors won’t judge a person for their pain tolerance. I still struggle from the “no-wimp!” syndrome, but I’m learning.