As medical practitioners, we spend a lot of time focused on the health of others and often not as much attention to our own bodies. I know I am a terrible patient and I hate going to the doctor (not to mention, the Peruvian doctor, who usually just tells me I am a gringa and therefore I have a weak stomach and just need to ride it out). We all know that I can be a big hypochondriac, so when I started getting some strange symptoms several months ago, I ignored them and just attributed them to my diet/ laundry detergent.
It all started back in March or so. Stomach problems have been a common part of my life in Peru with the changes in diet, water etc. But I began having more severe problems – diarrhea for days, then severe constipation for days, then nausea and absolutely no appetite for days. It seemed to be cyclical but also a constant- I never felt completely normal. I started having strange skin sensations. Whenever my skin was wet, I’d feel like things were crawling underneath it. (Yeah, I know. Gross.) I tried changes in water sources, water temp (Peruvians insist it’s because I was using the wrong water temp), lotion, shampoo, laundry detergent. Nothing changed it. I’ve been super fatigued, too, no matter how much sleep I get. Finally a friend mentioned parasite testing. Looking at websites I realized I had many of the symptoms:
Diarrhea – check
Nausea – check
Abdominal cramps – check
Bloating – check
Anal itching, worse at night – check, check (disgusting)
Fatigue – check
Itchy ears and nose – check
Pain in back, thighs, shoulder – check
Crawling feeling under skin – check
Forgetfulness – hmm, not sure if it’s any worse than normal
Arthritic pains – it’s strange, I’ve had these weird arthritic-like bouts of knee pain starting 4 months ago - checkEtc etc etc.
Even seeing these websites, I was in denial. But, once work slowed down, I decided to do the tests. One test involves sticking scotch tape to your anus and then putting it (the tape) on a slide. The other is a series of three stool samples. (It’s funny how you can poop all day long, yet when the week comes to give stool samples – nothing! Yep, in constipation phase.) Once my host family got wind of my stool samples, the jokes would not stop. (They are still waiting for me to leave one in the fridge for them! I’m sure that they probably all have some type of parasite themselves – they always have stomach symptoms.)
Anywho, I finally got one sample out and sure enough – positive for parasites. Lovely. Fortunately my wonderful parents have already mailed me a “parasite care package” full of herbal treatments for parasites, because it seems that the antibiotics are not extremely effective. Until then, I’ll try to avoid thinking about what’s crawling around inside me. (Internet pictures DO NOT HELP.)
Never a dull moment… getting another taste of the daily life in a developing country- the good, the bad and the ugly! According to a study done in 2008 entitled “Prevalence of enteroparasites and genotyping of giardia lamblia in Peruvian children,” (Cordón et al.) enteroparasites are extremely common here. In fact, this study was done in my very own neighborhood – La Esperanza, Trujillo! Researchers found that out of 845 children tested, 66.3% had enteroparasites, and nearly half the population – 45.6% - had multiple parasites! Wow. These parasites are strongly tied to poverty – poor hygiene and sanitation in particular. Another –quite personal- reminder of the vast health disparities in this world tied to socioeconomic status.