Illness in Indonesia

Sleeping something off on the couch - at least she's cute when she's sick!
Sleeping something off on the couch – at least she’s cute when she’s sick!

This seems like a good time to tell you in more detail about being sick here. It’s good timing because we’ve all been sick this week – J missed the whole week of school, LittleB was sick through the national holiday we had yesterday and I took today off work to recoup.

It’s really not that different than at home. We’ve always gotten colds, sniffles, coughs, fevers, stomach bugs. But there’s something about being in a place where we don’t have comfortable knowledge of the medical system or even over-the-counter medications that makes it more difficult. We do have a small pharmacopia that we brought from Canada, and luckily it has served us through the past several months. I honestly don’t know what we will do when we run out!

Now for some, ahem, gory details. This could be a TMI post, so if you don’t like gross sick stories, move on and come back for the next entry!


Living here, in the humid climate, has actually cured both me and LittleB of all our dry skin ailments. It’s fantastic! He used to suffer so brutally from eczema that his skin would bleed from all the wintertime scratching. I wasn’t much better, but I had more control over my scratching frenzies. Since moving here, we now both have baby-soft skin and it’s fantastic. B’s more oily complexion isn’t doing as well, but it’s manageable now that he uses oil-control face wash as shampoo. The problem, however, is that sometimes we get irritated skin from … I’m not sure what. Perhaps it’s the questionable bathing water, perhaps it’s the harsh laundry soap (there’s no PC Organics brand here, surprisingly), perhaps it’s all the beach time and swimming we’ve had, perhaps it’s the filthy cats that live in our yard that we play with, or perhaps it’s some kind of awful bacteria or sweaty athlete’s foot issues. I don’t know, but it freaks me out a bit. Eh, I’m sure it’ll go away. Right?


So, cuts. Because we live in perpetual summer, the kids are perpetually falling and scraping and bruising and cutting up their legs and arms and faces. And cuts don’t heal quickly here. Maybe it’s due to some of the same reasons above (see: rashes). But I also think it’s because we just have a really hard time finding bandages and ointment here. I don’t know why. Here’s a fun story: I went for my scuba test two weekends ago and had borrowed someone else’s fins. They didn’t fit, and they rubbed quite a lot on the backs of my ankles whenever I finned (which is, you know, kind of an important thing you need to do under water). After the first day, my ankles were rubbed raw. But I was swimming in salt water, which is a natural antiseptic, right? And me being me, I scoffed at such a small amount of pain. So after the second full day of swimming, the raw skin was now gone – literally. There were a few spots that were dangerously lacking in skin. Again, me – no big deal, I’ll just shove some tiny bandaids on those bad boys and they’ll get better in a few days. Well, no. A few days later, they were festering pustules of yuck. I soaked them in some water and table salt and sent B out to find some larger bandages, hydrogen peroxide and antibacterial ointment. He managed to come home with the same size bandaids, a strange alcohol spray and some weird oily iodine concoction. Anyway, I plastered myself up and only covered most of our sheets with iodine juice. Two weeks have passed and the wounds are finally closing up. So where was I? Oh yeah, don’t borrow someone else’s scuba fins.


Having a cough is a recent thing for us. In fact, until the past month or so, I was pleasantly surprised at how great my breathing and LittleB’s has been (we both have touches of asthma, so I figured with the pollution and humidity, we would both have a hard time here). I was pleasantly surprised too soon. About three weeks ago, a nasty cough went around work and thus the family. I got it first, just a chesty cough, not a throat problem, and I figured it would be gone in a few days. Not so. For the past three weeks I’ve been hacking and choking, coughing up congestion and just generally sounding disgusting. Now both kids have it too. We all sound like a bunch of octogenarians sitting around a card table smacking our gums. We just need some rheumatism to go with it. I think I’m finally on the mend, although I can still feel some tickle down inside the ol’ wind-bags. It would seem that, like every illness here, what is normally a small thing back home is compounded by pollution/heat/ dehydration/bacteria/non-immunity and takes weeks to get over.


This is the scary one – only in so much as we’re always on the lookout for the big bads – Dengue, Typhoid, Chikungunya, etc. Thankfully, both kids have only had a few reasonably low-grade fevers since we arrived. But it’s still hard to watch the poor kiddos suffer for 2 or 3 days. J had one since Monday and lost about 5 pounds over the week. I cannot thank our foresight enough for having brought over two big bottles of children’s Advil. That stuff really does work on fevers. It doesn’t make it go away, but they do get to sleep it off more comfortably. The rule of thumb here is: 3rd day of fever, get thee to hospital. Luckily we’ve never passed 3 days before, so we haven’t had to experience the fun of a hospital trip.


Hand-in-hand with fever is vomiting. Unfortunately, the kids end up sleeping in our bed every time they’re sick. I’m honestly not sure what’s worse – the kid being sick or the sick kid being sick (literally) in your bed. We had to recently institute a new rule that anyone who shows up in our bed has to bring their own pillow. I’m sick of ours getting barf on them. Here’s an awesome vomit story from just yesterday! LittleB wasn’t feeling well, so he laid down in our bed. We gave him a “barf bowl” and left him to rest (J even sang a “You Get the Barf Bowl” song for him, she’s special). Of course, about 10 minutes later we heard those sounds you never want to hear when your kid is sleeping in your bed. We came in to check and, yes, he had been sick, and, no, he didn’t make it to the barf bowl. The worst was that the night before, J had been sick in our bed, so we had taken off the mattress cover to clean it and hadn’t put it on again yet. ARGH. But as I was cleaning him up in the en-suite, I heard B yell “AMAZING!”, so I came out to see – we had forgotten that J’s previous christening had soaked through a bit, so we put down a towel under the sheet. LittleB managed to barf ONLY within the radius of the towel, saving our mattress from the experience! There is always a silver lining.


Yes, I’m going to go there. Anyone who has travelled – anywhere – knows that even a little change in water, food, bacteria, will give you some extra “viscosity” down there. And when you travel far away, there is a multiplication factor of, oh, A BILLION. So yes, we’ve all suffered from this ailment fairly often since we arrived. Sometimes it’s just a one-time thing after a particularly spicy or greasy or slightly-off meal. Other times it’s a week of rear-end explosions that leave you wishing for some kind of special cork to plug ‘er up. My two best friends when this happens are acidophilus pills and the bidet attachment on the toilet. Nothing leaves you feeling better after a violent evacuation than a nice rinse-off. The best part about diarrhea, though – as if there is one – is that it’s not a taboo subject here. It’s a common topic of conversation among the expat group, especially when someone has been experiencing a particularly difficult bout or we all seem to be sharing the same bug. In that sense, it’s important to talk about it so we know what’s going around! At our house, it’s totally open for discussion, and we even have some cryptic but descriptive names for the different, erm, varieties. And when you tell someone you gotta go here, it’s a real thing. You gotta go!

I do want to point out that this is obviously my first-world take on illness here, and of course I meant it in good fun. The true illness is in the local population, on the streets, where we see the poorest of poor folk begging and sleeping in filth. Many of them have obvious physical ailments and deformities, and their quality of life and life expectancy are accordingly low. Our housekeeper once mentioned casually that her daughter has a “tumour” and needed to see the doctor. B and I have spent many hours wondering whether what she calls a tumour is the same as what we would – and if it were, does either she or her daughter understand what it is or how potentially serious it could be? When you grow up with poor health and poor access to care, I guess it’s just part of life for you, your friends and your family to have serious illness and often die young. Indeed, in just the past few months, at least four of my Indonesian colleagues have lost a parent or close relative quite unexpectedly.

In closing, we are four strong and healthy folks with access to high-quality health care if we need it, so please don’t worry about us (Mom).

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