11 Jul

Who: Samantha Travis
What: Undetermined; Best guess? A parasite.
Where: Jamaica, Hospital (Mental Ward) – 7+ hrs from home
When: End of May – beginning of June (3.5 days, 4 FULL nights)
Why: Symptoms; nausea, fever, pain in abdomen, blood in feces

Why am I smiling in this picture?

It was a dark and stormy night….
Angie Hoffard’s birthday (a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer and good friend).
I traveled to see her in the lush parish of Portland but felt sick the next day 😦
I called a Peace Corps nurse who told me to go straight to the emergency room.
I, being immature (this was before I turned 24), complained that it was dark (true) and raining (true) and that my symptoms could wait until morning.
“Absolutely not, Samantha.” I heard over the phone, “You need to leave now.”
Donned in my most attractive outfit (see photos), I braved heavy rains and took a taxi to the Port Antonio hospital where I hit my lowest low…

Night One:

On Sunday, in an understaffed Jamaican hospital, signing in took over an hour.
The nurses distractedly registered me as my pain level steadily escalated.
I moaned aloud, audibly suffering, while they chatted about the news;
“Ono ‘erd ‘bout da bridge ovah der suh?” one of the nurses asked.

They asked me both relevant & irrelevant questions regarding my past 48 hours:
Q: “What have you eaten since yesterday?”
A: “Gnips (fruit) and tea”
Q: “How many bowl movements have you had in the last hour?”
A: “2”
Q: “What is your religion?”
I paused.
A: “Agnostic”, I delivered.
The nurse looked up. “Repeat?”, she queried.
“Agnostic”, I wavered.
“What’s that?” She looked simultaneously puzzled and disappointed.
At this point, because of the effort it took to speak, I chose to take the easy route.
A: “Christian”, I submitted, much to the nurses satisfaction.

An orderly gave me a shot (in the butt), inserted an IV, brought me upstairs, assigned me a bed, showed me the bathroom (thank G-d), and promptly left.

No one told me (and later, told me in Spanish); My bed was with the cRaZies.

That first night, I fit right in muttering and sputtering alongside the rest.
I counted 18 beds of groaning patients before a relentless force insisted:
Bathroom, now.

Doubled over, I wheeled my IV stand across that disgusting hospital.
Don’t vomit, I commanded myself.
Once I reached, I was lacking the energy needed to maintain a squatting position; I resigned quickly, sat down on the toilet, and tried to ignore both the stench and sticky-sweet way my feet stuck to the floor.

After a time, I felt the wave pass.
I breathed a sigh of relief.

But wait…
There was no toilet paper.


This was a problem of *epic proportions* given the severity of my symptoms.
I continued to sit on the commode, praying someone would come.
No one did.
I soldiered up, did the best I could and immediately went to wash my hands.

No soap.

You have got to be kidding me.

There was no ‘gift shop’ (closed or otherwise) to buy essentials.
I was in too much discomfort to do anything but rinse my hands and pity myself.
I went to bed and laid there, writhing; little soundless whimpers escaped my lips.
Others around me echoed in reply.
It felt as though we were in a 1940s open-air, war-torn hospital.

After a few minutes I felt another urgent need to visit the bathroom stall.
My fever had still not broken.

I was feeling delirious when finally (finally!), a nurse walked by.

“Nurse, nurse”, I laboriously called out, hearing others do the same. — Clearly we were all in need of attention. Mercifully, she walked over to me!
My happiness was short lived — I learned she was from Cuba and didn’t speak English or patwa.
I froze.
I haven’t spoken Spanish in years (and only things like, “There are many books in the library.” Not frantic ideas; “There is no toilet paper or soap in el bano!”)

“Hola”, I started, but this composure did not last long and I quickly broke down:
“Dios Mio! Aydeme, por favor!” [Oh my G-d! Help me, please!], I sobbed.

My mind was reeling and my stomach spinning:
Which to address first; The pain? Or lack of amenities?
Seized by a spell, the decision was made:
“Siento owww.” [I feel owww.] (this, while holding my stomach gingerly)
“Necesito medicina!” [I need medicine!]. “Mucho”, I added.

Something connected because she left…
(I used this time to silently brainstorm various ‘toiletry’ words en Espanol)

…and returned with 8 pills!!
Bless her heart.
“MUCHAS gracias!”, I drooled, as I swallowed and prayed they were strong.

Now, to tackle this next topic…
I made an effort, cleared me head, and worked within my vocabulary.

“Soy sucio” [I am dirty], I confidently began after I took the meds.
She looked at me and raised her eyebrows.
“Si”, I continued, my head agreeing, “Muy”.
“El bano no es bueno. Necesito lavar mi (what is the word for hands?!)”
[The bathroom is not good. I need to wash my (frantic miming of hands)!”

She seemed to understand and replied in rapid espanol.
Oy Vey.
I listened closely.
hmm…what was she saying??
I heard the word for soap, jabon. (or, at least, I thought that I did.)

“Si!” [Yes!] I responded enthusiastically (without certainty of what was said).
“No jabon en el bano! Un problemo!” [No soap in the bathroom! A problem!]
She shook her head sadly. Uh oh.

“Es verdad.” [It is true.], she commentated, “No jabon en el bano. Nunca.”
[No soap in the bathroom. Never.]
“Nunca?!”, I repeated incredulously.
“Nunca.”, she confirmed.

I recoiled a bit.
“Tu lavarse (miming hands)??” [You wash your hands??]
“No.”, she replied.
I gasped.
She shrugged.
My vocabulary exacerbated, all I could do was lay back and watch her walk away.

4:00 – 5:00am
The 8 pills weren’t working.
I texted Angie, “if you visit tomorrow please, bring soap & toilet paper”

My fever rose, my nausea mounted, my abdomen burned, & no nurse was seen.

At this point I began bargaining with G-d:
Something about eating healthy and promising to learning Spanish if only…
…Seized with a bathroom impulse, I fervently increased my negotiating tactics.

Day One:

Monday, my first full day at the hospital. – Miserable is an understatement:
I was sick, in pain, alone, lonely, sitting in my own filth, and lacking sleep.

Angie and Ana called!
They came to the hospital but since it wasn’t visiting hours they were not permitted inside. I, however, was allowed to walk outside.
Bent in half (and pulling my IV stand), I received their smiles, doused myself in hand sanitizer (thanks, Ang!), and warned them against getting too close.

My eyes grew teary as they showered me with goodies! – The love was palpable.

We exchanged stories and treats: My health and status update, visiting hours (6-7pm) , soap, toilet paper, toothbrush (!), birthday news, information regarding mutual friends, ect.

Given my atrocious illness, I, unfortunately, soon had to excuse myself and go get some rest. I was exhausted! Once inside, though, I received good news; a call from Peace Corps! A nurse was on her way to come visit me!
“Yay!”, I gushed through the phone, “You’re rescuing me!”
“Well, we’ll have to see when I get there”, she realistically replied.

To celebrate, I washed my hands (with soap!) and wiped my bottom (with t.p.!)!

It's the little things

When my Peace Corps nurse arrived she ladled me with care and attention but, remorsefully, was unable to whisk me away until the hospital gave consent (we were not sure when this would be). Still, she brought many exciting toiletries (!) and stayed for over an hour (seeking out doctors and nurses) to answer all of my questions:

“Do they know what I have?”, I asked, wincing.
“They took a blood sample. Your bilirubin levels are high indicating jaundice. – But you aren’t yellow. (I grinned) They are going to take more blood and retest it. Meanwhile they are working on eliminating other possibilities including ecoli, ulcers, cysts, and salmonella.”, she expertly reported.

“And why don’t I feel any better?”, I pleaded.
“You are passing fluids too quickly; your body is not absorbing medicine. The doctor is switching your treatment – you will be receiving medication intravenously from now on. This will be more effective.”, she conveyed.

Once my nurse was gone I tried to rest but the lady in the next bed (green dress) would randomly (and shockingly) scream. Occasionally, men came, turned her on her side (while she literally yelled “rape!”), and administered a shot in her derrière to induce sedation. Poor thing! It was very traumatic for both of us.
— I curled up and eagerly anticipated visiting hour.

6:00pm (on the dot.)
Angie and Ana arrived!!!!!!!!
Bringing positive energy, they sat with me on my bed appraising the situation:
Angie was angry; My IV had run out hours ago and no nurses had taken notice.
Her displeasure and rage were comforting. It eased my burden; I felt cared for 🙂
She has her own blog and you can read her account of more of these events here: http://angies-everydayadventures.blogspot.com/2011/06/visiting-hours-in-jamaica.html

Visiting hour was way too short – the girls left with promises to return soon.

Eye of the Storm

When the nurse finally changed my IV she noticed that my needle had become dislodged; they needed to re-stick me (boo!) before administering my new medicine intravenously.

I didn’t think to ask if this changed was going to hurt. — No one mentioned it.
“Gaaaa!”, I started yelling! “Oh GAWD!”, I cried out! “It really hurts!”
“Hush”, mumbled the nurse as the liquid in my veins attempted to rip free.
I sobbed, grabbing at the insertion point.
A woman next to me started to scream.

Night Two:

12:00pm (approximately)
I could not fall asleep, the memory of antibiotics a cruel phantom in my veins.
The Cuban nurse passed by my bed. ‘It must be her shift’, I thought. Seated on my bed (the only nurse to do this), we spoke Spanglish: At first she told me about herself and her ninos [children] but then she asked me if I was still in pain.
“Si, senorita.”, I concurred.

Then she told me that it was all in my head!

“QUE????!!”I gasped, taken aback and unready for such horrendous accusations!
“Si”, she continued, pointing at my head and nodding ‘yes’, “loco en la cabeza” [crazy in the head].

I was appalled and insulted!
“No es verdad!” [No it’s not true!] I shouted, hardly believing her audacity!

“Si, si”, she patiently went on as I struggled to keep myself calm.

More words were exchanged but you and I know the exciting conclusion to this bilingual story — I was not the crazy one — I was sleeping in the mental ward.

It took minutes to sink in. – This was the only bed available.

As I was grappling with reality my eyes became heavy – The meds were working!
My Cuban nurse noticed this, gently put a hand on my shoulder, and whispered “Buenos noche” [Good night].

Day Two:

I was feeling much better; I hadn’t eaten in 48 hours and I finally felt hungry.
Great sign.

Antibiotics through an IV + Soap + Toilet paper = Fabulous!

Things that jumped through my hospital window:
1. A cat

Apparently a cat (or several) live outside of the hospital thus accounting for some of the screams I had been hearing. Fittingly, there was a woman in my ward who fancied herself as a cat. She and the felines would converse (argue?) for hours. On this particular Tuesday, however, one kitty decided to confront her adversary face to face – it jumped through the window and onto a bed.
Pandemonium broke loose:
The woman jumped on the cat, hissing!
The cat reared on its claws and hissed back, narrowly escaping!
The woman chased after it on all fours, yowling and knocking things over!
The cat saw an opening, pounced, & retreated, exiting the hospital quickly!
The woman scampered on, leaving in her wake pandemonium and madness…

On a separate occasion that same day, a different lady in my ward got vexed and began throwing anything she could get her hands on (!) until a security guard wrestled her into submission! Shoes, pillows, cups, all weapons of assault! I ducked, kept still, and was happy to not be a victim during her violent outbreak!

Needless to say, I eagerly anticipated visiting hour; confessing to the girls that I was in the psychiatric ward and relaying anecdotes, we laughed and laughed.

Night Three:

It never got easier to tolerate that medicine inside of my veins.
Things that night were somber and excruciating 😦

Day Three:

The doctor came to see me (!)
“Do I still have jaundice?”, I asked
“No. Your blood is normal. Do you feel well-enough to leave?”, he questioned.
I got excited. “Just about!”, I tried to keep my voice even.
“Good”, he continued, “you need an ultrasound and we don’t have the facilities here so I am sending you to a specialist downtown.”
My heart sank. “So, you’re not discharging me?”, I inquired glumly.
“Not yet. Your appointment’s at 11:00am today. Get ready.”, he finished.

I took a taxi and arrived for my ultrasound with a full bladder (as instructed).
I waited; No one was there. First patient of the day and ‘doc’ was late to work.
Uggh, I really had to pee.

‘Doc’ breezed in the door and, fortunately, was ready to see me immediately.
This is good because “my bladder is about to explode”, I told her.
She smiled and got started; laid me on the bed, lubed up my belly, applied her device, looked on the screen, and then promptly informed me that my bladder was “too full”. Will I “please empty half of it?”
A difficult task, indeed.

Awesome news in the end, though! No ovarian cysts 🙂

6:00pm (visiting hour)
Thank G-D for Angie (and Ana)!
Ang was at my bedside yet again bringing treats and advocacy. A HUGE help!

Night Four:

After the arduous torture-medicine entered my veins, I fell right asleep 🙂

Day Three.five:


They discharged me!!!!
Peace Corps picked me up (my diagnosis was ‘parasite’), stopped by Jerry, Kathy, and Angie’s to say bye, drove to Kingston, and got me registered into a hotel!

Now, this particular hotel has a past of being unpleasant (ie dirty, grimy) but…
I had my own room!!!!!!!!
I took a shower (!!!!!!)
I turned on the AC (!!!!!!!!)
I lay in bed with clean(ish) sheets (!!!!!)
I turned on the television (because I could!!!!)

I basked 🙂

Peace Corps kept me in Kingston for two nights, picked up my meds (so many pills!), deposited me in Elim (home), and checked up on me regularly. Their care was comprehensive and compassionate. — Thank G-d I’m out of that hospital!

Given a clean bill of health, I was allowed to travel to The U.S.A. one week later.
And I did just that! It was marvelous. (see previous post)

I am sorry I was unable to blog before I went on my sojourn (but recovery can’t be rushed) and I am thrilled to share all of the sordid details with you now.

For those of you who sent kind words, healing thoughts, or any prayers (especially to my dear mother) during (or after) this ordeal, Thank you!!! Your sentiments are greatly appreciated and your energy is highly valued!
Thank you, sincerely, for taking an interest in my welfare 🙂

From the newly-mature 24 year old, here are some Words of Wisdom:
Do your best to avoid parasites.
Don’t under estimate the power of hand sanitizer.
Always keep toilet paper in your immediate possession.
Loving cats is great – it is unbecoming to think you are a cat.
Emptying half of your bladder is less enjoyable than emptying it all.
If your friend is in the hospital, go, visit, spend time, bring love, and repeat.

endless love & healthy vibrations,

16 Responses to “LowDown”

  1. sarahcmarshall10 July 11, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    I laughed so hard at this post!! Last spring I spent 24 hours in a hospital in Honduras. I thought I had it bad until I read this. At least I had my own room. Still yet, it was broken Spanish, and no toothpaste, so I feel your pain, girl! Can’t wait to meet ya!

    • Sammi Travis July 28, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

      Hey Girl!
      Thanks so much for your response 🙂
      It was so so awesome meeting you! I can’t wait to spend more time with you in the very near future. Pretty sure I’ll be seeing you when you head to St. Anns Bay in a week (and a few days).

      It was fun to swap horror stories!
      Hope training is bearable…. 🙂

  2. Janeen July 12, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    Sammi I am so sorry to hear about your ordeal, Ana told me you got sick but I had no idea to what extent. What an awful experience, I always pray that I do not end up in a hospital here for those same reasons. The doctors and nurses have so few resources to work with.
    I think the question about religion has to do with how they administer treatment to you because with some religion like Jehovah’s witness they can’t do blood transfusions and things like that so it may not be irrelevant. I was laughing though when you said Agnostic, Jamaicans don’t know what that is. Good things you had friends to see you. I would have seen you in Kingston if I knew.

    • Sammi Travis July 28, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

      Hey Janeen! So sweet that you posted a message — Thank you!
      And, also, thanks for clarifying the medical question! I thought maybe it was because if I died they wanted to know which pastor to call, ha!

      Super looking forward to finally hugging you up next weekend 🙂

  3. Deekes July 12, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    This post was sort a of a love/hate experience. Loved the post, but hated your experience. so sorry we couldn’t be there to help ease the pain. Thank you big time to Ana and Angie. And, Angie, thank you for keeping us up to date on Sammi’s condition. Grateful, grateful, grateful.

    • Sammi Travis July 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

      Love you Deekers, thanks for loving up this post!

  4. Kat July 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Oh my god, Sam! I can’t believe that happened to you… you poor thing!! What a crazy experience… I couldn’t help but laugh during some of the ridiculously absurd moments, although I know it was surely not a laughing matter at the time. (Spanglish!?? Never using soap in a hospital??! Being placed in the mental ward??!) I am glad to hear that you are feeling better though! Did they let you go back to the USA solely because of the terrible experience that you endured? Or had you already planned on making another trip back sometime this year?

    I am glad to hear that you are doing well now, and that you had a wonderful time while you were in the US 🙂 Keep updating! PS – You are an amazing writer. Ever think of that as a career choice?


    • Sammi Travis July 28, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

      Hey Kat!

      I went back to the USA because I already had a trip there planned…it had nothing to do with my hospital experience.

      And I really really appreciate your feedback on my writing skills!
      What a brush to my ego 🙂 I work hard on each post and, seriously, the compliment is mondo appreciated!

      I know I have a few e-mails in my inbox from you…
      As they say in Jamaica…”Soon come!”


  5. Gail Cunha July 12, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    How I feel for you, about 40 years ago I lived in Mandeville, with my family, my dad worked for Alpart. I too was in a hostipal for a few days, and experienced crazy things, a woman in the next room having a baby, I was only 13 years old, no attention from nurses, no parents allowed overnight, kippers for breakfast ewww. Your stay took the cake though, the not so good parts of Jamaica, what a good attitude you have. I admire you for being there. My daughter is a PCV in Ukraine. Best of luck too you, I enjoy your blogs.

    • Sammi Travis July 28, 2011 at 10:45 pm #

      Gail, thank you so much for both reading my post and for taking the time to respond! Your experience doesn’t sounds great, that’s for sure! Being 13 only compounded the situation.
      I hope your daughter is thriving!
      Best 🙂

  6. alongthereservoir July 13, 2011 at 1:52 am #

    Holy moly! Wow, Sammi I am so sorry to hear you were so sick and god, what a miserable time, I can even imagine! That’s an experience right there…props to you for soldiering through that!! I think you probably do almost anything now.
    I am SO glad you are better now and out of the hospital – yikes. Now, STAY HEALTHY! 🙂
    much love

    • Sammi Travis July 28, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

      I know I have a gorgeous e-mail waiting for me from you in my inbox…!
      Can’t wait to have the time to respond 🙂
      Love forever!

  7. Joan July 14, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    You are amazing!I am proud to be relatd to you. Stay well. I guess you can survive about anything now. Love, love and more love. A.J.

    • Sammi Travis July 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

      Thanks AJ. Have I told you what a cute nick name that is?
      I love it! And I love you!!

  8. betsy July 14, 2011 at 2:51 am #

    What a horrible nightmare. I can only imagine how frightening it must have been. You write with such good humor, but oh my god, Sammi! I would have lost my mind in a place like that. So glad you’re all better and had a great time at home. All those small pleasures. So much to love. Take care of yourself. No more mishugas! Love, Mama Betsy

    • Sammi Travis July 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

      Betsaloo 🙂
      Thanks for your sweet, sweet message!
      I love hearing from you.
      And thanks for reading!! eeek! ❤

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