I was in Ecuador on study abroad. Against my better judgement, I had fallen in love with another gringo. It was almost Christmas, which meant he was headed back to the states soon. I would be staying in Ecuador for another few months. We were deeply in love and also deeply unsure of how much staying power our passion would have on separate continents.
In case we never met again, we had a big night out together to do all of our favorite things. We danced salsa and threw back chupitos and made out in the corner of the bar we always made out in.
That night back at my place, I awoke with a violent drumbeat of pain in my lower abdomen. I realized my worst fear was finally coming true: I was about to have diarrhea in front of a boy I liked.
I had thought about this moment since I was a little girl. When I was younger, there was a pretty direct correlation between going out to dinner and me getting diarrhea. When my family occasionally splurged on dinner out — either at the Chili’s by the mall or the local Italian place with a parking lot the size of several football fields — the excursion would almost always end with me having terrible stomach issues. I worried from a young age about how I could possibly go on a nice dinner date without horrifying my dashing suitor.
As the sun began peaking out over the Andes mountains, I could feel the pain in my gut getting worse. The slumbering hottie next to me woke up and asked what was wrong.
With a breathy giggle, I murmured, “Um, I feel like I have diarrhea, but, like, actually nothing is happening.”
This is an actual lie I have told people when I have, in fact, had diarrhea, to avoid horrifying them about what was happening to the toilets in their otherwise pleasant homes. I myself could barely believe it was true.
I was staying with a host family whose strict Catholic values meant that the slumbering hottie was definitely not supposed to be in my bed. I ushered him out the door before dawn had fully broken and continued to wonder what was happening in my stomach.
Diarrhea did not come, but puking did. Relentlessly. Nonstop. All morning. I threw up all of the chochos and salty meat and soupy yogurt and Nescafé coffee and Pilsener beer everything else I had eaten in Ecuador the past four months. (But honestly aren’t you still kind of glad I am talking about throwing up in this story and not describing equally violent diarrhea? It’s cuter, right?)
When my host mom Jacqueline realized that this was more than just a really bad hangover, she became deeply concerned with my rapidly diminishing state. “¿Bridgett, tu comiste algo en la calle?”
Honestly, I had been really good about not eating street food most of my time in Ecuador. My fellow Americans would unapologetically guzzle down meat sticks and fresh fruit that we were strongly advised against eating. I never touched that stuff. But I had not been able to resist the temptation of a sweet, warm churro that I bought after school from a guy at a bus stop. I confessed my sin to Jackie.
“¡Bridgett, te dije que no puedes comer los churros!” She had not, in fact, told me explicitly that I could not eat the churros. But I let that one slide because the fatigue from the dehydration was making me feel like I was about to pass out.
Jackie’s super host mom mode went into hyperdrive, and I received several local indigestion remedies that I had previously been unfamiliar with. First, she warmed up a full leaf of iceberg lettuce in the microwave and placed it on my stomach like a heat pack. Then she made me a sort of beverage/porridge mixture that looked like a cross between apple juice and apple sauce but had been boiled for so long it tasted like papier-mâché.
By this time, a whole day of vomiting had passed, and I was too tired make it out of bed and puke in the bathroom. When Jackie was out on a Pedialyte run for me, I trudged to the kitchen and found a bowl that I could resume puking in from the luxury of my bed.
Listen, I know what you’re thinking, and I promise I am usually a good person. I wasn’t trying to steal a nice woman’s bowl to use as a vomit receptacle without her knowledge. But I didn’t know how to say “bowl” in Spanish, and so I definitely didn’t know how to say “Do you have a bowl that you don’t like very much that you wouldn’t mind me puking in for a while?”
Once I had returned to my bed to resume puking, my three-year-old host brother opened the door to my room holding a toy airplane that he was pretending to fly through the house. I was sitting in bed hunched over my commandeered bowl, puking up the apple/papier-mâché mixture. I peered up at him through the mess of sweaty bangs that dangled in front of my face, locking him in a fierce gaze. This kid is not about to blab on me and get this bowl taken away. I lifted a finger to my lips and whispered, “Shhhhhh…” glaring at him over a steaming bowl of my own fresh vomit. I can only assume it was the most terrifying thing he had ever seen in his young life. He quickly flew his plane out of the room.
At some point, it was decided that I needed to go to the hospital. It all gets a little foggy from here. The exhaustion, paired with my lack of medical Spanish, gives this part of the experience a sort of dreamlike gauze around it that you see in flashbacks on a CW show. After several hours of examination, the doctor explained to me that the churro I had enjoyed at the bus stop a few days ago had in fact been carrying AN AMOEBA and THAT is what was causing all my tummy trouble. I vividly remember him writing me a prescription for an antiparasitio which I took for the next week as I slowly regained my strength and normal intestinal function.
Before he left on his plane back to the states, that slumbering hottie that I was in love with came to visit me while I was recovering in bed. He brought me a bouquet of roses and we kissed one another goodbye. (Before you give him too much credit, roses are one of Ecuador’s main exports and can be readily bought for a few bucks a dozen.)
“So maybe I’ll see you in few months?” I asked, not expecting much.
I dried one of those roses and brought it back to Michigan three months later. I reverently, sacredly packed it into and out of boxes as I moved from one college apartment to another. The slumbering hottie followed, curling up next to next to me on my futon mattress on the floor whenever he came to visit. I brought the rose with me when I finally moved to Chicago a few years later. It’s now sitting in a vase in the apartment we share today.