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Diarrhea in Cambodia

November 3, 2009

I’ve just gotten out of the hospital after a day of stumbling back and forth to the bathroom — yes, I had diarrhea about 30 times between 9 PM on Sunday night and 10 AM on Monday morning. Even rehydration salts were making me sick, and my fever kept rising, up to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, so I gave in and went to an international hospital down the street from the Jesuit Service office.

I was put on an IV immediately, given buckets full of antibiotics, had tests run on blood and stool samples, and was cared for around the clock by a staff of amazing nurses in a beautiful private room with air conditioning, hot water, a huge television, and comfortable chairs for visitors. I was in the hospital for just under 24 hours; my bill totaled $657, which will most likely be covered by my insurance after a few rounds of telephone calls.

Every day in Cambodia, 165 children under 5 die of mostly preventable diseases, about 28 of them from diarrhea of diarrheal diseases (from the Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey, as reported by MediCam). Diarrhea is frequently causes by contaminated water used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning food, as well as unsanitary disposal of human waste. Among children with diarrhea, those whose mothers had higher education were more likely to be taken to health services providers, like clinics or hospitals, and these children had higher survival rates. Mother’s rates of education may simply indicate families that have more money, which would explain the greater tendency to seek professional health care, but mothers with more education also knew more about oral rehydration salts and sanitary disposal of children’s diarrhea, which prevents the spread of infection to other people.

In most cases, oral rehydration therapy will work to stop diarrhea and get a child or adult healthy again. In my situation, that didn’t seem to be true. I’m lucky and so thankful to have been able to go an amazing hospital without thinking twice about how much it would cost. In Cambodia, it’s a standard of medical care that very few people can access.

And yes, I’m doing much better now. I’ll spend the next few days recovering, and be back to Khmer studies and work by the end of the week!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2009 11:56 pm

    this reminds me of a certain story i once heard about this young woman who had a terrible case of diarrhea while she was on a home stay abroad. the woman’s friends were away for a few days, and left the poor infirm to fend for herself. she was so weak that she had to crawl from her bed to the yard every time she had to go to the bathroom (bathyard?). that is what i am envisioning in your case, meg. get well soon!

    • November 5, 2009 12:19 am

      k$, I actually didn’t realize you were talking about me until I got to the “crawling from my bed to the yard” part. It’s all coming back to me now…

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