Monday, August 15, 2011

On hunger and tropical fevers

I've recently recovered from a whopper of an illness that included a staph infection caused by itching a mosquito bite, and a tropical fever, thought to be dengue, that quite probably sprang from the same mosquito bite. This my friends, is tropical living at its best.

I spent about three weeks in bed, crying mostly, and watching DVDs (thank goodness for lax copyright protection in Cambodia, where DVDs cost $1.50 each). The strangest thing about the whole illness, other than seriously wondering if I really was going to die in some Phnom Penh alley that reeks of rotting garbage, was that I lost my appetite.

I mean really lost it. I just wasn't hungry. I'd think that maybe I should eat something, but couldn't think of anything that seemed tempting. A friend brought over Indian food and I couldn't force myself to eat it. I felt like I'd already eating three lunches and was trying to eat another -- I wasn't in the slightest bit hungry. I went for entire 24 hour periods without thinking about solid food.

This was a strange experience for me. Bizarre, even. I am always hungry. Even if I am not hungry, I am capable of eating a full meal at any given time, even if I've just finished one. When I've been sick in the past, I've never been able to figure out whether you are supposed to feed or starve a cold or flu, so I'd feed both. Terrible bouts of food poisoning wouldn't put me off eating -- I'd just have lunch and wait for it to come back out again. I've never lost my appetite before.

It took dengue fever to give me an insight into what normal people live like. I've always wondered what it must be like to be stupid, and finally got the opportunity to find out after having my wisdom teeth removed and being rendered mute and moronic by the dental drugs for over four hours. By the time I "got" a joke, it would be minutes later, far too late to respond. I finally understood what my high school classmates had to endure, having hit every branch on the way down from the stupid tree. I felt guilty for every "duh" I spit out at them over the years.

And now, being indifferent to food. I finally understood the girls who said "Oh I don't care," when you ask what they wanted for lunch. "It doesn't matter. Whatever." "Oh, I'm not hungry." Uh, yeah.

If you ask me what I want for lunch, I always care. It always matter. But not with this tropical fever, it took my very humanity away. I had become one of them -- those people that don't care about food.

Nothing sounded tempting, and after a few days of consuming nothing but water, I knew I had to force myself to eat. The only things that sort of sounded halfway edible were sweets. But the sweets selection here is lacking, and I was unable to leave my house. Finally, I managed to source a few -- and I'm ashamed to admit this -- Better Crocker cake mixes. I've got no oven of course, because I live in Cambodia, so once a week I'd pull myself to a standing position and dump the whole lot into my Crock Pot, wait four hours and force some slow-cooked instant cake into my mouth. The old Lina would have been able to eat an entire cake in one sitting, relished it, in fact. New, normal Lina found even a small piece of much-anticipated cake overwhelming.

I'm back to my old self now. Indeed, I just had to eat a curry to get through writing this post, but I'm glad that I had the opportunity to be exactly the person I've never been before and with any luck, will never be again.


  1. Glad to know you are feeling better! Go out and eat, eat, eat like only Lina Goldberg can!

  2. both!

    (glad the appetite has returned, and your good health of course)

  3. Oh, man. I got dengue in Thailand last year and it took me nearly 10 months to totally kick it. The first few weeks were hell; the first three months purgatory.

    It aged my 5 years.

    I'm just full of great news, eh?

    Anyway, I read your blog and enjoy it. Hope you recover fully and quickly.


  4. red faced ambiguousAugust 19, 2011 at 5:47 PM

    Sorry to hear you were ill. Is it the first serious illness you've had in your travels? Your immune system must be in very muscular shape by now. Be sure to ingest a lot of raw garlic. It kills almost everything. And yogurt!

    "O wrangling schools, that search what fire
    Shall burn this world, had none the wit
    Unto this knowledge to aspire,
    That this her fever might be it?"

    John Donne

  5. Jenn: I wouldn't be able to beat a single employee of the Phnom Penh Pho 24 right now, my muscles have atrophied!

    Kinsy: SAME

    John: I hope mine isn't that bad. I am still weak but not awful. I am forecasting a full recovery in two months.

    Red faced:

    This is the first really major illness. Am making another batch of yogurt so hopefully it will be the last.

  6. I had dengue too, and didn't eat for 8 days, and, like yourself, I am always eating and love food so was totally gutted that I couldn't bring myself to eat :( on the plus side, I lost over a stone in weight! :)