the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Thus spoke the travel clinic, and I kind of paid attention

Very early Friday morning I returned from Haiti via New York, a 16-hour day of travel door to door. The previous morning I had picked up a small bug and subsequently spent almost all of that traveling time locked inside the bathroom either at various airports or on the plane. You didn’t think I could take a blog post about Haiti and make the focus of it poop, did you? But it is totally happening. It’s unfolding in front of your eyes right now. How dare I? Have I no decency? You already knew I was tacky, but this? Not poop, Heather. Not poop.

(Psst. This isn’t a post about Haiti. That’s coming later on. This? This one’s about the precautions the travel clinic told me I needed to take and why I did or did not heed their advice as some of you have asked about specific preparations. A lot of this applies to travel to many foreign equatorial countries, in case you’re headed some place in the same region. Like, say, Canada.)

I’m not really going to recommend traveling if you have a bad case of diarrhea. Sorry. I’d really like to, but I can’t. If you wake up one morning and find yourself running to the toilet, you’re probably going to want to stay close to home, okay? Maybe crawl back into bed? Snuggle your stuffed bunny? Don’t go stand in a three-hour security line and then get into a very confined space where people are sneezing and coughing and sitting next to you drinking tomato juice. Also, tomato juice? You’re given the choice of Coke or Sprite or BEER and you choose tomato juice? Please give up your seat for someone who deserves TO FLY. IN THE AIR. LIKE AN EAGLE.

If you must head to he airport go grab some Imodium or some Pepto and something to wipe the continual stream of sweat that will coat your forehead for the next 24 hours. I’d filled a prescription for Cipro before I left in case I developed the fabled traveler’s diarrhea (you have got to love that traveler’s diarrhea has its own Wikipedia page), but the over-the-counter meds were keeping me somewhat (emphasis on SOMEWHAT) stable. Several members of our group had earlier in the week bemoaned the side effects of Cipro and, yeah… let’s take a look at a few of those:

– severe dizziness, fainting, fast or pounding heartbeats;

(Oh, you mean it causes anxiety? Because I need some more of that.)

– sudden pain, snapping or popping sound, bruising, swelling, tenderness, stiffness, or loss of movement in any of your joints;

(Snapping? Popping? WHERE IS THE CRACKLE?)

– confusion, hallucinations, unusual thoughts or behavior;

(I thought this was Cipro, not a cult.)

– numbness, tingling, or unusual pain anywhere in your body;

(Right. This had to be the one the lawyer threw in so that their asses would be totally covered if anyone experienced any kind of pain whatsoever anywhere even if it was totally unrelated. You took Cipro and got a toothache? WE WARNED YOU.)

And then there’s this one:

– severe skin reaction — fever, sore throat, swelling in your face or tongue, burning in your eyes, skin pain, followed by a red or purple skin rash that spreads (especially in the face or upper body) and causes blistering and peeling

(So, basically… molting? Cipro turns you into a snake?)

Hoooookayy. I had just gotten through the second of two security lines in Port-Au-Prince when I had an internal debate about which scenario would be worse. How long would the Cipro take to work, and even if it did, what if any of those side effects would manifest while it did so? Someone had regaled me with the lovely story of traveling to Ghana and developing a case of diarrhea that Cipro had only made ten times worse. Why yes, this did just turn into a medical website. Diagnosis: we all die.

In the end I stuck with Imodium because I don’t really have an ambition to transform into a reptile. I am happy with my decision.

Before leaving I also got a hep A vaccination and a typhoid vaccination. I declined the hep B vaccination (wasn’t planning on getting a tattoo or having wild, unprotected sex with strangers while visiting maternal health facilities), the tetanus shot (I’d had one within the last few years), the rabies vaccination (agreed not to snuggle with dogs), and the flu shot (I have no reasonable explanation for this other than I don’t ever get a flu shot which just told the Universe to send me the flu wrapped in a giant pink bow). I DID fill a prescription for malaria medication. There is some back and forth about malaria medication in the comments on one of my Instagram photos, and my experience is this: I don’t think I’d enjoy contracting malaria.

I have now taken both forms of malaria medication (one you take every day while traveling in the foreign destination [the kind I took when I went to Bangladesh], the other you take once a week and continue to take for a few weeks when you return home). I haven’t experienced side effects with either medication. Your mileage may vary, but again. You weigh your options, right? Or have a medical professional weigh them for you. If you google malaria and read even one or two sentences, you might be just like me and think these thoughts: “I do not want that. No, I do not.”

In addition to medication I also sprayed my clothes with a heavy duty insect repellent and bought a few travel-size tubes of a very specific kind of DEET formulation:


Okay. So. DEET has its own possible set of side effects: seizures, rashes, insomnia, and mood disturbances to name a few (THOSE FEW ARE PLENTY, THANK YOU VERY MUCH). But I should probably mention here that there is something about me specifically that mosquitos cannot resist (my personality? my charisma? because I pay them?). The first early morning in Haiti as we all gathered for a quick outdoor breakfast, someone mentioned that they were worried they hadn’t packed enough bug spray. I was like, do not worry! You are in luck! Because you happen to be traveling with the piñata at the mosquito party!

The mosquitos will show up, realize that I am sitting RIGHT HERE OH MY GOD IS IT THEIR LUCKY DAY OR WHAT, and they will ignore you to the point that you will take it personally.

I expected to get eaten alive. I always do. If I am in an area prone to bugs, half of the mosquito population will go home drunk on Armstrong blood. This, however, is the first time I have ever used a bug repellent that works (MAYBE BECAUSE IT’S DEET, HEATHER), but what’s even better is that it lasted 12 hours. Everyone else was using a formulation that they had to reapply every few hours, but I’d put it on in the morning and not even think about it all day. We did spend a couple of days in a lower altitude, more mosquito-prone part of the country and I noticed that the bugs found the two fingers where I had accidentally wiped off the lotion and those fingers looked like they had grown tomatoes. Which just shows you how well it works when you use it the right way.

AHEM: do NOT under any circumstances doubt the heartiness of equatorial mosquitos. Tyrant had recommended I use an organic bug spray he found at Whole Foods that might be fine for the mosquitos in Utah (mosquitos across the world are laughing that I just typed “mosquitos in Utah”) but then I got a frantic text message from my friend Kristen pointing me to this:

It’s fun looking at your daughter’s legs and thinking about how your commitment to avoiding chemicals on a trip to Haiti has come at the expense of her poor, welted skin.

So glad I listened to Kristen. So glad. And you should, too. Listen to Kristen. And to your travel clinic. Or someone who knows what they are talking about.

  • Kathryn

    2013/11/26 at 7:16 am

    I hope you’re feeling better by now! The scoots are the worst!

    Also, glad that you didn’t take Cipro. I know you’re not running marathons anymore, or maybe you’re not running at all, but Cipro has been tied to ruptured tendons (usually the Achilles). You could be working out or spinning and boom! Happy holidays from you and your crutches!

  • nervrom

    2013/11/26 at 8:21 am

    I am so excited about this Deet situation. Nothing has ever ever worked. Ever. Once, at a bonfire with my two friends, I walked away with forty seven bites and each of them only had two.

  • Guest

    2013/11/26 at 8:28 am

    Deet FTW! I’m glad we only face Wyoming mosquitoes.

  • Kristan

    2013/11/26 at 8:49 am

    FWIW, my fiancé and I took Cipro (preventatively) during our 9-day safari in Botswana, and we had no problems or side effects. (Caveat: Everyone’s bodies are different, of course.) My fiancé also took it during a business trip to India, again without issue.

    I mention this mostly because I am surprised to hear that people were reporting problems with Cipro; we didn’t encounter any talk of that during our research before the safari. It’s the malaria meds that we had been warned about — but also had no trouble with, perhaps because we paid more for the name-brand pills that supposedly don’t cause any hallucinations, etc. (My travel doctor said he thinks those side effects are overblown, though. Perhaps even purposely exaggerated for the sake of promoting the more expensive meds.)

  • Lindzgrl

    2013/11/26 at 9:24 am

    Cipro is pretty toxic. It sent my former father-in-law to the hospital, and it specifically affected his colon so….pretty much the opposite of what I’d think you’d want to take for diarrhea.

  • theboldsoul

    2013/11/26 at 9:26 am

    Where can we buy that 12-hour stuff? I live in France and every damn summer when we visit my sister-in-law on the Mediterranean the mosquitos are like “Oh great, LISA’S here, let’s party down on some of that imported American blood!” and I am head-to-toe welts. The local spray that my husband uses whenever HE travels to AFRICA (and it works fine for him) does nothing for me. The Parisian mosquitos (yep, they exist here too – oh, and there are NO WINDOW SCREENS IN FRANCE, did you know that?) seem to love me too. But I’m going to see my family in NJ next week and I want to get me some of this good repellant. Because I am sick of looking like I have a disease every summer.

  • Nao Nozawa

    2013/11/26 at 9:47 am

    Where in NJ are you going to be? I got the exact same stuff as Heather at Ramsey Outdoors on Route 17 in Ramsey, NJ.

  • Kristin Mesires

    2013/11/26 at 10:36 am

    A good friend of mine took Cipro and ruptured a tendon in her hip as a result. It is to be avoided if you are remotely active.

  • Jessie Carter

    2013/11/26 at 11:42 am

    You wanna talk about mosquitoes? Russia.
    Russian mosquitoes will suck the life out of you and leave scratching your skin off.

  • Joanne z Filmlady

    2013/11/26 at 11:54 am

    Well now, Heather, I’m glad you’re discussing diarrhea. Because I’ve always wondered what happens when you’re on the plane and you HAVE to get to that bathroom even though they’ve told everyone they have to stay in their seats, NO exceptions?? I’d be that person on the NBC Nightly News that got pulled off the plane in handcuffs, and Brian Williams is laughing his ass off.

  • merm

    2013/11/26 at 1:09 pm

    I thought this post would reference this story, which you must read! When it comes to poop, it could always be worse. My friends and I have been covering the bottom half of our faces and saying “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry” to each other for the last week.

  • Katy Rank Lev

    2013/11/26 at 12:16 pm

    Oh man, my husband spent the entire flight/layover/connecting flight to our honeymoon in the tiny airplane bathroom. He still talks about his “poop to puke” ratio. It must be horrifying to be that sick while traveling.

  • issascrazyworld

    2013/11/26 at 12:52 pm

    I just got off Cipro. I feel like I just dodged a major bullet or something. NO SIDE EFFECTS!!! I will say that the first line of the six page insert they gave me, stating that it’s also used to treat antrax, didn’t give me warm fuzzies.

  • Marie

    2013/11/26 at 1:28 pm

    Cipro is often prescribed for urinary tract infections. I’ve taken it several times. It’s really no big deal.

  • theboldsoul

    2013/11/26 at 2:14 pm

    Oh, thanks for telling me. I think there is a Ramsey store nearer to me in Morris County, so I’ll look into that. I saw it on Amazon as well so that could be my back-up plan.

  • theboldsoul

    2013/11/26 at 2:20 pm

    If I were trapped in the toilet on a plane with diarrhea and they wanted me to come out, I’d be all, “Yeah, just LEAVE ME IN HERE and I’ll take the risk, because if you drag me out the other passengers are going to make you regret it.” That’s why they have safety handles in there, right? So you can grab hold of something in case of air turbulence? (Jeez, I nearly wrote “flatulence” instead of “turbulence”; this conversation is going downhill and fast.)

  • angierae75

    2013/11/26 at 2:34 pm

    Cipro is what they usually give me for UTIs and kidney infections, although this last round it didn’t work and I was hospitalized on IV meds and then did IV meds at home for a week (I have bum kidneys to start with) but my biggest issue with Cipro is quite the opposite of diarrhea. But yeah, me and Cipro have been buddies in the last ten years and I’ve never had any of those other side effects, just the absence of poop.

  • Louisy

    2013/11/26 at 3:30 pm

    So, you’re saying you missed your chance to actually BE a snake on a plane?

  • nyll18

    2013/11/26 at 6:15 pm

    Wow, I had no idea about Cipro! Thank goodness I didn’t know as my hypochondriac butt would have freaked out when I had to take it in Ecuador. As it was I was blissfully ignorant and had no side effects. In fact once on it I could eat anything- anything! I felt invincible.

    I’d love to get you and my partner into a room together- she is also irresistible to mosquitos. She covers herself in DEET every. single. day. in the summer. I don’t like it, but she also gets 3 inch welts if she gets bitten. Fun times!

  • Sandy

    2013/11/26 at 10:25 pm

    They should have waivers you can sign and slide under the door in these types of situations! =o/

  • TWM

    2013/11/26 at 11:02 pm

    how did you using deet or not have to do with your daughter’s welted skin?

  • TWM

    2013/11/26 at 11:06 pm

    No way you’ll have mosquitoes next week in NJ. It’ll be December!

  • Meg

    2013/11/27 at 2:35 am

    Thank you for telling us which kind of DEET works best! Even when I’m wearing very protective clothing and have DEET and everything else, I am STILL the mosquito magnet. My mother will stand near me outside because the mosquitoes bypass her and feast on me. I’ve found that some of the organic/natural repellants actually attract the mosquitoes MORE to me.

    Did you know that Frontline (and maybe other pet topical repellant stuff too?) repels mosquitoes? It does. So the dog is bouncing around, not getting bitten alive, while I’m watching the welts rise all over my skin.

  • murgatr

    2013/11/27 at 2:40 am

    Since I’m allergic to penicillin, Cipro is my new best friend when I get sick (read: no side effects). I intend to stock up before I leave as I can buy it off the shelf in any pharmacy here in KSA. Our travel clinic had great advice for us and I got my former boss to give us our Hep shots 🙂

    Pharm. Tech. RDC’06

  • BigFan

    2013/11/27 at 4:56 am

    Heather – Huge fan. Really. Reading your blog daily for 6 years. But this post made me sad, except for the parts where I was laughing. I think it is fine to be worried about side effects, but please consider the power of your words. I am worried that your influence could prevent people from taking something very important. Every medication has potential rare side effects, and they have to list them. The skin thing is like an allergic reaction warning. People can have this reaction to ibuprofen, even to some infections. It is not specific to cipro. That antibiotic (and members of the antibiotic group) is used very commonly. The tendon issues were demonstrated in beagles. In people, it is less clear, but while RARE, it may happen when people are also taking steroids or are over the age of 60 – and still then, it is rare. But I wouldn’t want people to die or suffer permanent injury from an infection because they got scared about rare side effects of the treatment by someone they trust (you). I would gladly take it or give it to my children if they needed it. OK, next. Hepatitis B vaccination. Hepatitis B is way easier to get than just having a tattoo party. It is blood-borne but very common, especially in developing countries where children are not routinely vaccinated like they are here. We have the opportunity to get vaccinated against it. And the flu vaccine – I wonder how many people were thinking of finally getting it this year and then decided not to because you said you don’t. That’s why I am sad. Public health lost 1 today. Again, huge fan. Will continue to read and think that you’re the bees knees.

  • theboldsoul

    2013/11/27 at 5:11 am

    Yes, and seat belts on the toilets as well. ROFL!

  • Cotton Gusset

    2013/11/27 at 6:20 am

    Gosh, imagine LIVING in Haiti.

  • Lindsay

    2013/11/27 at 7:34 am

    Exactly what I get as well. No side effects and it is extremely fast acting.

  • GirlyGirl

    2013/11/27 at 9:49 am

    Thank you for posting this comment as I was thinking the same thing. As my doctor once told me, “those side effects which are listed as rare are VERY RARE.” I’ve taken Cipro before and I work in healthcare; Heather’s post even had me second-guessing the drug. 🙂

    I’m thankful I got my Hep B vax a few years ago and the opportunity to get a flu shot every year.

  • GirlyGirl

    2013/11/27 at 9:53 am

    I agree…Cipro is getting a bad rap in Heather’s post and she didn’t even take it. Cipro is a great antibiotic.

  • Kristen Howerton

    2013/11/27 at 4:49 pm

    All of this an no link to a commercial about diarrhea on a plane? I’m disappointed . . .

  • Trí Nguyễn Hữu

    2013/11/28 at 11:18 am


Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

read more