Saturday, January 01, 2011

A Conversation

So I posted on Facebook that I was packing for Kenya, first things first--TP, Kaopectate, and Pepto Bismol.

"No no, take activated charcoal," said two friends, Frieda and Jennifer, who ought to know, especially Jennifer.

So I stopped at Walgreen's today and looked for activated charcoal among all the other tummy remedies. I wasn't sure what I expected, maybe a rattly paper bag with black chunks in it, but all they had was a bottle of capsules, and the label said it's for gas and flatus.


I went to talk to the pharmacist. He was a friendly young man.

"I'm traveling to Africa," I said, "and someone recommended activated charcoal in case we get sick from the food. Is this what I want?"

"No no," he said, "that will just bind the bacteria and keep them inside. You want to get rid of them. And really, if you get a foodborne illness, you'll want to see a doctor and get on antibiotics."

I thought but did not say, "Yes. See a doctor. In Kisumu, Kenya. On short notice. Indeed."

"But," I said, not really comfortable discussing such a delicate subject with a young man, "there are times you really need to, you know, deal with the symptoms."

"Yes," he said condescendingly, "but like I said, you'll need to see a doctor and take antibiotics."

"But," I persisted, "if you're, like, on the plane, you really need something immediately."

He repeated his spiel and I should have looked to see if someone was behind him pulling a string out of his back and then letting it go.

I looked at him. "Have you ever traveled overseas?" I said.

He smiled, a bit humbly but not as humbly as I thought he should. "No, I haven't," he said.

How did I guess? I turned and left, leaving the activated charcoal for another day and time when I've talked with someone who is experienced in its use.


  1. Okay for one thing, hilarious, and for another, how I wish I could foist some of my Kenya/typhoid/Dr. visit memories on that poor young man.

  2. A bottle of activated charcoal won't cost you much in space, weight, and treasure -- better take it.

    To the above mix I add (seriously and highly-recommendingly) a box of ginger root tea bags. As all things good-for-you and medicinal, the stuff tastes awful at first.

  3. Hans says the same thing about taking things that keep the bacteria inside instead of letting the body get rid of it like it wants to. However, I agree with you, sometimes one just has to deal with present symptoms and deal with consequences later!~e

  4. It is true you don't want to keep the bacteria inside but as you said there is a need sometimes to deal with the symptoms. I don't know if you want to consider this or not but when I went to Ecuador and to the Ukraine on a missions trip for 2 weeks I took an antibiotic along in case I needed. I never needed it but there were some people on the trip that got very sick and were glad they had it along. Just something to think about.

  5. The activated charcoal keeps things inside you????? My nutritionist said I should take that when when I had food poisoning to move the poisons OUT of me. And indeed, it does move things out of you. I've used it when I knew I had food poisoning, and another time when I suspicioned that's what it was, and it worked wonders! I know it moved things OUT and not just trapping them, cause I was passing the most awful stuff!!!! I even use it just as a preventive if I start to feel queasy on my stomach and I know I've been in contact with the flu bug.

    C in OH

  6. I wish you well. Have a good, foodborne illness-free, trip.

  7. If you'll be near Nairobi, which of course you probably won't be, there's a good health clinic there where my husband got antibiotics for his food-borne illness. Papaya enzymes help with stomach issues. And McNess makes a good-tasting anti-diarrheal stuff. And the charcoal stuff says it works by binding up and passing stuff OUT. Whatever, never used it. Have a good trip!!!! Sarah S.

  8. Even if you should take them carefully, a good anti "run" medication is really important. Like Loperamide. especially when you travel.
    It may not be the best thing to do but sometimes, I take them preventively before a long train trip or a job appointment. Just one. To be on the safe side.
    Anyway, have a safe trip!

  9. You can order activated charcoal at Hope your trip is wonderful, and I love your books!

  10. Activated Characoal rates next to oxygen if I'm traveling where clean water is scarce, food suspicious or if you will be surrounded by unhealthy & new-to you bactaria. If you are back in the bush and are hit with horrible, stomach cramping diarhea and have no sanitary bathroom facilities to speak of, characoal is a lifesaver! Characoal can relieve the pain in minutes and effectivly deal with the actual issues usually in 2 hours or less. It can be taken in a capsule form, but for the most rapid relief, dissolve a tsp in 8 oz of water, drink it every 30 minutes or once every hour depending on the severity of the symptomns until you are relieved. Google IT!!! But I would never want to be in a third world country without it!! And, oh, what the guy said about characoal "trapping things" inside is inaccurate! It is useful for all kinds ailments and it actually works!