What follows is the continuation of a multi-entry post of my adventures in Costa Rica as transcribed from both my class journal and my field journal kept while traveling. The name I can’t take credit for – that goes to Ms. Alex Fylypovich who created the corresponding Facebook group for us to stay in touch.
We were put into groups so that we could begin to work on our research projects (we were in Costa Rica for an actual study abroad program after all) and I ended up working with Katie, Megan Chase and Sarah Kehlear. Megan is a wispy redhead who refers to herself as a “daywalker” and is a free-spirited girl who brings out my maternal side. I just want to hug her…and then give her a sandwich (she is so thin!) Sarah is the only one in the group who brought a computer and at times I think we all used it for things. She is also the only other person who had a birthday on the trip (she turned 21 on the day we got to Montverde.) We came up with the idea to do a general survey of the leaf-litter composition and its inhabitants within different habitat types (light-gap, dense canopy and swamp). Unfortunately when we were ready to take samples I came down with an awful bug.
Alex and Sarah dancing
A few days prior another girl (Anna Wilson) had been very ill and had actually just re-joined the group the day before I got sick. The night before I got sick, we had gone over to the classrooms for a fun night of dancing lessons. Me and my two left feet ended up dancing with Anna who I am sure simply took pity on me but it was fine since she is an accomplished and experienced salsa dancer. Unfortunately I am sure this is probably where I got sick though. (However Anna if you are reading this, know that this is purely my own theory so don’t take offense!) Although she was on antibiotics, it was the first activity she had felt strong enough to participate in since she had come back from the clinic and we were in close contact all evening. With my compromised immune system I probably was not prepared to fight off any lingering germs she might have been carrying. So I don’t have to spend a lot of time rehashing those awful two days I will simply cut and paste the email that I sent to my husband about my “adventure” to the clinic, the fact that it was my birthday of all things and being sick in Costa Rica – the ONE thing he told me NOT to do.
Officially the worst birthday ever.
I started feeling sick yesterday around lunch and was afraid I had somehow let my foot or the cut on my face get infected. I couldn’t eat lunch or dinner and laid down most of yesterday hoping it would go away and I would feel better if I rested and pushed fluids. I did tell the instructors though, one point for me. By early this morning I was nearly delirious, had explosive diarrhea, a migraine from hell, was hot then had chills and hurt all over, basically flu-like symptoms. One of the girls in my room told me to sit outside so I wouldn’t throw up in their room while she went to get Scott. I wanted to deck her but couldn’t stand up.
Scott told me we wouldn’t have much luck if we went to the clinic right away (it was 3:30 am) and asked if I could tough it out until 7am. He had just gone through this with Anna and was trying to avoid some of the mistakes they made with her. I said okay. I took a pain pill and blessedly was able to sleep for about three hours until it wore off and I messed my damn pants for the first time.
Scott came back and said they called the clinic and because it was Sunday I might not be able to get seen but they recommended I take a common antibiotic (the same one given to Anna) called Cipro. He asked me if I wanted to try it or go wait for what could be 6 plus hours. I asked for info so he printed off the drug fact sheets, read them and didn’t see anything that set off warning bells. I read all three pages. So I took one and just seemed to get worse and worse.
Now in addition to the pain and diarrhea I was vomiting until I had nothing left, and it was just bile and I knew something was wrong. Scott started making phone calls and the taxi driver that had taken them around all day with Anna (these guys are so nice it is unbelievable stayed with us all day today too) knew of a clinic in the next town where he said he knew the doctor, so he called and just like that I had an appointment, I just had to get there and the driver said no problemo.
I don’t remember much of the drive there; I was so out of it. I do remember getting examined, Anna stayed with me the whole time since 1)she was fluent in Spanish and 2) she had just gone through this and at first they had tried to tell her it was her appendix and she had to get all these tests so she was trying to cut out some of that for me. She told the doctor what I take, what I am allergic to and that I had taken Cipro and his eyes got big. Apparently it is a sulfa based drug and had inflamed my intestines more than the bacterial infection causing vomiting and pain, dehydration.
I was given two bags of fluids, an anti-inflammatory and antidiarrheal to combat the cipro and put on observation for about six hours. It was awful. I was so dehydrated when I got there I had a fever of 101 and they couldn’t get a good read of my blood pressure it was so low. They gave me something to bring the fever down and it made me mess my pants for the second time. Gross.
After all of that when I was feeling a little better he explained that yes I had a bacterial stomach bug, common to gringos who visit Costa Rica and that normally yes they give Cipro and they are better in a day or so but obviously that wouldn’t work for me. He also didn’t want to give me the second option antibiotic because after what the Cipro had done to my stomach he didn’t think I would like it because it is really rough on the stomach. So he gave me some more antidiarrheal to take every 8 hours until it stops, an anti-inflammatory for my intestines and something for pain and said the infection would run its course in a day or two if I pushed fluids but to come back immediately if I began vomiting or felt worse again. He was a really nice doctor.
*By the time I left the clinic Anna and I were actually half-laughing because the doctor kept calling diarrhea “leaky-leaky” which just sounded hilarious to us gringos.
So despite spending my birthday in a clinic in Costa Rica, at least I survived and I have to believe I am probably stronger and wiser for it. When I got back from the clinic I opened the package my husband had sent along with me (I had been patiently counting down the days) and there were handmade cards from my kids that made me cry as well as a book from my husband. They had also sent me a video via email of them singing happy birthday which when I opened later that week also made me cry.
Once I had returned to the land of the living, (which basically means I was able to go more than an hour without either throwing up or using the bathroom) I did my best to get up to speed as quickly as possible with everything. I spent a day in the lab weighing the samples that my group-mates had collected. I also sorted through the various macro-invertebrates they had collected with the leaf litter samples and made notes as to what they were. Some of the things we collected were really interesting so I put them in tubes to be looked at more closely once we reached Monteverde. Scott warned me a couple of times not to wear myself out but I just hated the thought of missing anything else. (As it was my appetite wasn’t normal for the rest of the trip.)
Since we were scheduled to leave La Selva just a day after I recovered, I didn’t even really have time to do much with our research project before it was time to leave which really frustrated me. At least I got all the wet weights done and everything recorded so it would be ready to be looked at in Monteverde. I tried not let me frustration ruin my last night in the rain forest.As it turned out I needn’t have worried…
The last night there I was still taking it easy with food obviously so I finished early and was about to get up from the table when Scott asked me to stick around so he could make an announcement. He had done this a few times before and I assumed it had something to do with the next day and the bus trip to Playa Grande so I was not suspicious…not even when they turned the lights down…(did I mention that I am a little slow sometimes?) I even said to Anna, “What is this, mood lighting for dinner?” and then of course Sarah, Alex and Megan came in carrying a cake and everyone in the room started singing happy birthday to me, even the people who were in other groups and didn’t know me! I was so surprised that I cried. It was a yellow cake with peanut butter frosting and absolutely delicious. So it actually turned out to be the best worst birthday ever.
Well that is about it for La Selva…until next time when I will tell you about Playa Grande, surfing and the sweetest old soul who is also a dog. I will leave you with one last photo: