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Panamanian Jungle Stomach Bug: Oh! I Don't Feel So Good!

People interested in visiting me in Panama often ask me about getting sick, having an upset stomach that results in them spending more time in the bathroom than sightseeing and enjoying nature. Sure, maybe its not something you want to think about, but you know it is in the back of your mind.

I have been in Panama for over eight years now. I literally can count on one hand the number of times I have felt horribly sick to my stomach. Each of the times have come in the afternoon or evening and I have never found a correlation as to why I was sick. Once I had eaten a meal beforehand at the local restaurant. Another time I had cooked myself. Another time a local person had brought by a delicious spaghetti dinner for me. I always have drank the water from the tap (it is treated in our community and we are in the mountains, so surely getting some of the purest water in the world.) I hadn't done anything too strenuous that day that could result in my ill feeling.

In short, I just didn't feel well. My stomach hurt, I had a bad metallic taste in my mouth, and I had a headache. Once the headache was so horrible that even migraine medication refused to knock back the pain. I won't say it was the worst sickness I have ever experienced, but it was right up there on the scale of awfulness.

After the first such bout I mentioned the situation to my Panamanian field assistant who looked at me straight-faced, nodded slightly, and then proceeded to ask me if I had thrown up. I responded by saying, no, luckily, no! (I am not one to like to throw up so this had seemed like a victory to me.) He then responded, well, that was your problem.

I was taken aback by his response until he explained to me (and of course this makes perfect sense in hindsight) that I somehow had gotten something into my stomach that my body did not want there. If I had simply allowed my body to remove it, instead of fighting the urge to throw up, I would have felt better.

The next time the horrible stomach bug struck I followed this local advice. I made no effort to force myself to throw-up, but when the feeling came, I followed through. Miraculously, I almost immediately felt better! My stomach stopped aching and the headache faded away. I remember waking up the next morning actually wondering if I had been so sick the night before or if it had merely been a bad dream.

From that night on I always advise my students and visitors of this simple remedy: if it doesn't feel like it belongs in your stomach, get it out of there. To this day my biological background has allowed me to identify what the stomach bug is or what it is that I do to catch it, but at least now I know how to cure it!