Fast forward to nine hours later and you’ve already squatted over a dirty, nose hair burning smell of a hole in the ground, drunk some awful cement looking and tasting medicine and you’re asking the bus driver to pull over again so you can try and find any kind of cover on the side of the Sahara Desert before you shit your pants. Repeat this request every. Thirty. Minutes. You are sure if you don’t die of food poisoning you will die of embarrassment.
What sounds like a horror travel story and is the kind of nightmare to anyone who didn’t have to live it, is my reality.
You might be that person with a stomach of steel or it might be your friend that jokes they can never get sick. Once upon a time I was that person and then came my last-minute trip to Morocco and it all changed, leaving me with PTSD and a four-year journey to find out why I couldn’t go back to my ‘normal’.
Hours after my horror bus ride I was in a hotel room with no air con, severely dehydrated, alone and afraid. I hallucinated as I laid on the tiles to try and get any cold reprieve and thought I was going to die, with no energy, unable to even look at my phone to call family. The next 24 hours were a blur of cold showers, panic and fear, barely able to stand in line to board my plane home.
On my trip alone, four of us contracted food poisoning over the five days. Food poisoning affects more than 4.1 million Australians a year according to foodauthority.com.au staggering numbers that result in 31,920 hospitalisations, 86 deaths and 1 million visits to doctors on average each year. This number is dramatically down lower than ever; between January and June 2020, Salmonellosis notifications were 17% lower than the five-year average of previous years, australianfoodsaftey.com.au reported in January 2021.
Food poisoning doesn’t just affect your insides, it can affectyour brain and your phycological health. I like so many of us, suffer from anxiety but immediately after this experience not only did my gut change, my anxiety changed; it no longer became triggered by known things – it turned on me.
The first social setting a week after my trip, I ordered a trusty ginger ale and as the ginger ran down my throat, I felt like my throat was closing up. The sounds around me drowned out, and I went into a tunnel of blackness with sweat running down my face praying I would die quickly as I sat in silence suffering the panic attack surrounded by friends not able to open my mouth and tell them.
I will never forget the fear I felt at losing control of my own body and I still struggle to this day with eating foods if I am under stress as my body and mind start to see it as an attack and consequently an allergic reaction though I am not allergic to anything.
Harvard health released an update on their research site, https://www.health.harvard.edu/ ‘The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.
Dr Vincent Candrawinata, Ph.D. in food science and founder of Renovatio Bioscience says, “there have been there has been a lot of studies that connects the microbiome of our gut to our neuron system, estimator network, which is our brand-new mental health system, humans have two brains; one is the brain we of and one is the microbiome around our gut and intestinal health.”
The after effects of food poisoning can be so severe that it changes the makeup of the gut and the brain, Dr Vincent says this is a common misconception people don’t realise, “Sometimes people say that I never been gluten intolerant. But suddenly, after a food poisoning, or after falling ill, my body seems to not be able to process gluten as well as it used to be it used to. People think especially general public, they think that food poisoning is a short-term health issue”
Having seen four doctors, two gastroenterologists and countless samples, blood tests and colonoscopies trust me when I say that one trip has haunted me for years. Diagnosis like Small intestinal bowel overgrowth, salmonella, irritable bowel syndrome, Coeliac are just a few that have been thrown around. Yet no matter how many restrictive diets, antibiotics and natural remedies I have taken my diagnosis is still officially – unknown.
Take away the ability to go out and take Instagram photos, the social settings and Dr Vincent believes people are looking after their wellbeing with the time and focus on personal health not vanity.
With social gathering taking over our calendars again and travel still a distant dream let’s hope that when able again, all the safe infection control we’ve been practicing stays.
And as a friendly side note – to never ever eat a kebab on the side of the road. For those wondering, I am still on the search for my ‘normal’ again.