The year was 2015 and I had come down with a terrible stomach bug or sickness. Probably triggered by dehydration. I was staying in a small guest house. On the tuesday night I went to bed at 9:00pm and I never woke up until 9:00 am, not 12 hours later: a full 36 hours later. I still felt groggy, and I needed some kind of suitable medication, so I got dressed, went downstairs on wobbly legs, and found a tuk-tuk to take me to a Pharmacy.
When I went in the three staff were stocking the shelves and chatting lightly. One of the young women came to the counter and asked if she could help. I tried explaining about my upset stomach but also my headaches and the alarming 36 hour blackout. In my rambling kiwi accent however, I probably sounded drunk, I couldn’t convey what sort of medication might help. What did she suggest?
The assistant kindly invited me around to her side of the counter and gave me the freedom to find the medication that I needed. There was a whole wall of unfamiliar bottles and creams and boxes. here’s where my problems multiplied. I’d forgotten to bring my glasses. The labels all looked like a blur. I tried my best to make words from the fuzzy shapes. I could see from the names that many prescription drugs were made in India, and reasoned that these were probably knock-offs of well proven western medicines.
I looked for anything that might relate to stomach, or head-aches or fever. If you use Dr Google you’ll know the same feeling. You start by typing in a brief symptom, a sniffle, and before you know it you’re scrolling through the awful possibility of leprosy or gangrene.
My fuzzy-eyesight obviously took me to these same uncertain places, right here in the pharmacy. Still, after 20 minutes I felt I’d found two bottles of pills that would do the trick. I paid the shop assistant and went by tuk-tuk back to the guest house. I was dying for sleep once more so I took two of each type of tablet and drifted off.
Well 12 hours later I woke feeling very weird. My stomach was settled but I felt, well, just out of sorts. I felt – I can’t describe it – but somehow strange. An out-of-body feeling. What were those tablets I’d taken?
This time I put on my glasses. Bingo – one of the bottles contained tablets for the relief of upset stomachs. Smart choice. But the other bottle? Well it wasn’t what I expected and may well have caused my disorientation. It was a bottle of female hormone tablets.
PS. Incidentally in 2017 the Cambodian Ministry of Health placed a ban on selling anti-biotics without a prescription. It seems I was not the only one rocking up to a pharmacy and buying stuff without a prescription. The concern was raised by doctors that if the population kept using enough antibiotics, then the population would lose their resistance to serious infection: a case where less is better than too much.
For another true story from my Brush with Medicine files: click here.
For a local health issue see a report on Cambodia’s fight against smoking: click here .