Mandalay malady


Dr. Mike Paul usually avoids drinking the water when traveling. Usually.

All images courtesy of Dr. Mike Paul.Thus far, I have used this column as a means to discuss veterinary team and client issues as well as community and marketing concerns for practices. And while I still have much to dissect in these areas, this piece will take a decidedly personal turn.

Last October, my wife and I traveled to Myanmar (formerly Burma) in Southeast Asia. We love learning about other cultures and traveled by boat most of the trip, navigating rivers to visit remote mountain tribes I'd read about whose ways of life are disappearing. It was incredible … at first.   

In over four million plus miles of largely international travel I have been extremely fortunate. Thanks to a lot of cautiousness and a little bit of luck, I had never gotten sick in places where people die of food- and waterborne diseases-“had” being the operative word.

In one village where people were particularly friendly, we were offered bananas and tea. Bananas can be peeled so there is almost no chance of bacterial contamination. And tea is boiled, right? It should be safe, right? My wife wisely declined, but I decided to go ahead.

I took a sip from the not-so-clean glass and realized the tea was tepid. After two or three sips, I came to my senses and put the glass down.

When we returned to the boat I noticed just how dirty the river water was that served as the village's water supply. “Better double up on Tribrissen,” I thought.

Mandalay is a long way from Florida

I began to have abdominal discomfort a couple of days later. My wife wanted to go home, but I reassured her that I would be fine. “Mandalay is a long way from Florida,” I said. “And we'll be on our way home in a couple of weeks.”

Always listen to your wife.

I am told I was pretty out of it by several days later and wandered around Chiang Mai and Kuhala Lampur with a cane supporting one side and my wife supporting the other. I don't recall much of the following few days and nothing of the flight, but we made it back to New York City.

I intended to fly home the next day, but my wife finally convinced me to go to a hospital. That's when I learned I'd contracted Entamoeba spp. A big deal on its own, my case had developed into a sort of tumor-like form called an ameboma.

I spent the next week in ICU and two more weeks in the hospital. Family and friends streamed in, unsure if they would see me again.

Playing it safe … for now

Needless to say, I survived and have largely recovered. When we got home after a month of travel and a month of sickness, we started talking about our next trip. We decided to be a little less adventurous this time and chose Eastern Europe and Norway as our destinations-places we could drink the water without fear.  

Exactly one year after my near-death experience we found ourselves chasing the aurora borealis in Norway. I have never seen such a spectacular sight. From being in a semi-comatose state, somewhat anticipating death, to seeing one of the most beautiful phenomena the world has to offer within the same year, I found myself in awe.

I hope to return to Southest Asia one day, and I hope to see the northern lights again, but the world is a big place. Gotta get packing.

Dr. Michael Paul is a nationally known speaker and columnist and the principal of Magpie Veterinary Consulting. He lives in Anguilla in the British West Indies.

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