Monday, May 17, 2004

Over here, over there, it's the same everywhere.

Okay as a little bit of light relief I shall tell you the story of the worm.

I became the worm's home for the best part of five months.

It all happened on my travels, I found out later that I had most likely picked it up during my time on the Perhentian Island of Kecil in Malaysia. I was doing my Padi diving course at the time and when my feet weren't encased in flippers I was barefoot.

Apparently that was when the worm made its move.

From there I traveled back to the mainland and took a fantastic three-hour boat trip up river to the jungles of national park Taman Nagara. The worm came along for the ride, although I was yet to realise it.

Over the next couple of weeks I traveled down to Kuala Lumpur, then onwards to Singapore before flying out to San Francisco. I was still blissfully unaware of the worm.

Shortly before I left San Francisco I did notice a mild skin irritation between one of my toes. I put it down to getting used to shoes again after months of going either barefoot or, at most, wearing sandals.

Very much in denial, I thought it might be athletes' foot.

Soon I flew to Antigua Guatemala.

By this stage I had already spent $20 - $30 on creams. By backpacker and local standards that was a fortune. However, when this failed to work I started to believe that there might be something slightly more wrong.

By this stage I had met London Girl and, like the old romantic I am, I shared my concerns over my foot. I admitted to her, and to myself for the first time, that it might just be a worm.

A week later we moved on to Rio Dulce, where completely loved-up we spent a week at the fabulously idyllic Hacienda Tijax. I must admit we didn't leave the cabin that much but we would sit on the balcony for breakfast and watch the turtles swim beneath us and I had never seen so much wildlife.

All in all it was a perfect few days. Except my foot was getting worse.

Luckily we spotted a sign saying "English-speaking doctor" in town. Now his English actually wasn't that good but I understood the first words that came out of his mouth.

"Ahhhhhh....," he said. "Parasito".

I got the drift.

Thankfully he could help. He prescribed some pills that would apparently kill the worm and my body would disintegrate it and it would vanish of its own accord. Total cost for consultation and drugs $60.

I started taking the pills, which made me feel a little rough. The worm seemed to get angry too. I could feel it moving around on the soul of my foot. During the day it didn't get much of a chance to roam because my weight was on it, but every morning it would have moved and made a new home elsewhere in my foot.

However, by the end of the course of tablets they seemed to have done the trick.

Then about a week later it was back. By this time London girl and I were in Placencia, Belize.

London Girl had by this point developed an acutely painful ear infection to go with my wormy foot. The journey by boat from Guatemala had only made it worse and she was in agony. We went in search of another doctor.

We were lucky to find one, he was Cuban. London girl was a lover of Cuba. London girl flirted and giggled along with Dr Cuba and got excellent treatment. She got all the best drugs and I got another tube of athletes' foot cream. She was cured and I was not.

To cut a long story short London girl and I traveled from Belize back through Guatemala, to El Salvador, stopping once more to see yet another doctor and spending yet another $60 on treatment which I couldn't afford and which didn't work.

I waved off London Girl in San Salvador and made my way through Honduras to Nicaragua where I traveled a while with a group of bright young things. By this time I had got used to my worm. It had become something of a conversation piece with people that I met. Far from repulsing female travelers it actually seemed to fascinate them and I went out of my way to say how little it bothered me, while implying just how brave I was being.

For a while I hung out with this Dutch girl who was lovely. Believe it or not, or so she told me, she worked on the Dutch equivalent of Changing Rooms. She was Holland's less foppish version of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. She was intrigued by the worm. I was intrigued by her, but having agreed to meet up again with London Girl on my return I was tempted, but decided against making a move.

All in all the worm stuck with me through 11 countries defying countless attempts to make it go away. The most scary was a old chemist in Belize who said he had just the thing for it, he came back with a razor blade and some disinfectant. I made my excuses and left.

As an aside it was in that very chemist that I did my most "New Man" performance ever. Apparently, and women readers can keep me right on this, antibiotics may cure most things but they can cause "women's ailments" to flare up, if you get my drift. London girl, suffering both ear and ailments begged me to go down to the shop on her behalf to pick up the requisite "ailment" cream. I had to describe aforementioned ailments to the chemist in my crap Spanish, using hand actions, in a full shop in order to get what was needed. I have never been so embarrassed in my life.

Anyway, when I was back in the UK, I visited my local GP. He was intrigued and made an appointment for me to visit the tropical diseases clinic at the local hospital that very afternoon.

The doctor took a look, and called in a dozen medical students for their first look at a real live worm. He invited them all to diagnose the problem and give a solution. I was quite a curiosity.

The worst part was when he asked me how many sexual partners I'd had while I was away. He was obviously concerned, what with me visiting Aids hot spots like Thailand and Cambodia. No doubt his next question was about condoms.

But what kind of question is "how many partners" to answer in front of so many people? If I answered "yes, one but she was British" it sounded terribly racist. If I said "none" then I looked such a loser, especially in front of these pretty young students who must have been shagging like bunnies. Reluctantly I settled for the loser option. I swear I could see the pity in their eyes.

The good news was that they prescribed me some cream which started to do the trick right away. Within two weeks there was no sign of the worm whatsoever. By this stage I had also worked out that British people are far less impressed by tales of parasites than international travelers.

So, having wasted the best part of $200 dollars over a period of months in Central America, I was cured in an afternoon, for free, in Britain.

Now I know compared to a heart operations or even a broken hips or whatever, this is a fairly minor situation. But I had never appreciated the National Health Service quite so much. If it had hurt me to part with $200 what would it be like for locals to have to stump up that kind of cash? No wonder they resorted to the razor blade option.

We moan too much about the National Health Service. I can't honestly answer questions as to whether it is under-funded, or mismanaged or whatever, but it is an amazing service and we should be very proud. Being able to nip to the doctors and be cured, for zero pence, is something we should never take for granted.

We should also be prepared to do whatever we can to safeguard it.

As for London Girl, we had a lovely week when she came up North and we toured the beautiful North East coast.

But, having talked about moving in together on our return, we ended up going our separate ways. Maybe, without the worm, I wasn't nearly so interesting.

Love, light and peace,


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.