I could swear that I’ve had the swine flu about 46 times since April, which is when the international media started with their oh-my-God-we’re-all-gonna-die sensationalism, if I recall correctly. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m no hypochondriac. It’s just that the common cold seems to pack a pretty big punch here in the mountains, what with the elevation and dramatic temperature changes and all. On any given Huajuapan morning, you can wake up seeing your breath. By noon things have heated up and you’re sweating, peeling off layers of clothes to get to the tank top you’ve cleverly worn under two sweaters and a scarf. Come nightfall and you’re back to shivering under the covers. It takes a while for a gringa gal's immune system to get used to this stuff: Where I come from, it’s either really, really hot or it’s really, really cold, but it’s not both.
These frequent, climate-change-induced colds usually have me so worn down that I’ll swear it’s H1N1. I’ll suck down orange juice and Thermaflu and plan out the monster blog I’ll write about experiencing the phenomenon that may just have replaced donkey shows and getting mugged on the Mexico City metro as the quintessential Mexican experience of our time: The Swine Flu.
“Bravely Battling the Swine Flu in Oaxaca, the Place Where it Supposedly All Originated.” By: Sara Mac, the Gringa Culichi. Has a nice ring to it, right?
But after a few days the symptoms are gone, I’m back to normal, and life goes on. No swine flu. No blog. No glory.
This last time, however, the sick symptoms lingered a bit longer, prompting me to buy an extra-large “freshly” squeezed orange juice from a guy with a cart on my way to work one morning last week. The plan was to blast it all away with a massive dose of Vitamina C, but the quotation marks surrounding “fresh” are foreshadowing for the result: I had to battle some nasty stomach issues – not nearly as “sexy” as the swine flu for blogging purposes – supposedly brought about by bacteria in a bad orange.
By noon, I had to excuse myself from/run out of a meeting at work and barely reached the restroom, where suffice to say, the results weren’t pretty. I won’t be drinking orange juice again anytime soon.
I went home sick and I vomited and shivered and sniffled alone in my apartment that entire afternoon, cursing my misfortune. Why, oh why, couldn’t it be the swine flu? H1N1 would at least have given my suffering a higher blogging purpose, or maybe have even scored me an interview on FOX News, if not just guaranteed me sympathy from my friends back home.
But no, I had to go and get food poisoning from bloody orange juice. Who wants to read about that? (Apparently you, if you’ve made it this far.)
Mexico, however, is almost as synonymous with stomach issues as it is with swine flu, donkey shows and muggings on the metro. A quick Wikipedia search reveals that a full 40 percent of foreigners' travels in Mexico are interrupted by Montezuma’s revenge. In fact, I’d argue that stomach-based maladies are the tie that binds all of us expats living in Mexico. We’ll talk to each other about our pooping and puking in Mexico just as naturally and openly as we would discuss the weather or sports or Sarah Palin’s running shorts back in our home countries.
(At this point it becomes opportune to mention The Tablecloth Rule, which has never failed me, except for the few times I’ve foolishly broken it. The Tablecloth Rule says that when eating out in this lovely, bacteria-ridden country, if you only dine in restaurants that have tablecloths on the tables, you won’t get sick. Just steer clear of tablecloth-free street stalls and, um, men selling juice on carts. Lesson learned.)
At any rate, the good news is that, with such a high rate of ‘em, Mexico is used to dealing with foreigners’ stomach issues. The routine is so common that you don’t even have to leave your bed to get help: I sent a text message to a local doctor (he also happens to be a friend) who came to my apartment, poked around on my stomach, made the orange juice diagnosis and wrote me up a prescription for a cocktail of pills that would make it all go away. I then sent a text message to a local pharmacy who packed my pills into a nifty plastic bag, sent it via boy-on-motorcycle to my apartment, and – 15 bucks and 15 minutes later – I was pumped full of pills and feeling much better.
The doctor wouldn’t even take my money for the house call. Instead, I’m going to treat him to a “thanks-for-helping-me-stop-puking” lunch tomorrow.
And you better believe that we’ll be going to a restaurant with tablecloths. I’m not messing around with this food poisoning stuff anymore. The next time I get sick, I’ll be going down in an H1N1-fueled blaze of glory. Stay tuned for the blog, faithful readers.