What a terrible week I have just lived through, made all the worse for the extraordinary week that preceded it. Let’s start with the good stuff.
I left home in the afternoon of July 1st to board a first long flight, followed by a second even longer flight to Bujumbura, Burundi via Brussels. It was the annual general meeting of the Coalition PLUS (http://www.coalitionplus.org/), and an occasion to see and better understand the work of the Association nationale de soutien aux séropositifs et aux malades du sida (ANSS) along with this small African country on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
The organization does amazing work, treating thousands of people living with HIV with a level of care that rivals the developed world, within the technological limitations of the setting. Even at that, the ANSS now has equipment that allows it to do analyses of CD4+ counts, which is excellent. In a country where homosexuality is illegal, they even have prevention and testing activities aimed at gay men, another thing to admire.
Of course, in addition to visiting the organization and reflecting together on the issues facing the members of the Coalition PLUS on four continents, we had a chance to see the beautiful country and to experience the sounds and tastes and sun…lots of sun! I was clever enough to prepare myself for the sun and the possible biting insects by procuring and SPF100 (!) sunscreen and a little spray-pump bottle of insect repellent. I was also careful to drink only bottled water (and other bottled beverages) and even to brush my teeth only with the bottled water (beer didn’t seem appropriate for that).
I set out for the even longer trip home, and during the voyage the horror began showing signs of stirring. Several visits to the toilet in the airport in Brussels, a few more on the plane. By the time we landed in Montréal, I was so anxious to get to the bathroom inside the terminal building that I pushed past someone (something I really never do), causing him to call out “Dude, what’s the rush?” I spared him (and those around us) a detailed response.
So here we are a whole week later and my system is only now showing signs of returning to normal. I have missed a week of work (plus the next two days, to truly recover) and I am left with thoughts of what might be the true horror of this experience. Do I need to avoid travel to any but the most developed countries? At the price of what I have just lived through, I fear the answer may be yes.