I think I made a serious mistake about three weeks ago. It's not been confirmed by lab tests, but I'm being treated with an antibiotic specifically targeting a parasite classified as Giardia. Thankfully, the antibiotic is inexpensive and effective. I'll be on a 10-day routine of one dose every 8 hours. Today I've had two doses so far, and I am feeling better.
Here's the story...
It was a Thursday, lunchtime, and I was sitting in a nearby city park, under a tree. The weather was perfect: mild temperature, clear skies. I remember being intrigued by a squirrel in the highest branches of the pine tree under which I was sitting. The squirrel was eating immature pine cones, rapidly scraping and gnawing, flaking bits of outer hull to the ground, finally tossing the bare core down, and scampering to snag another delicious cone.
Glancing around I noticed a few young dandelion plants. I've eaten dandelion leaves many times, often fresh picked from my yard, rinsed in cold water and used as a salad, or boiled as a potherb.
With no hesitation, with a sort of pride that I was one of the few people that I knew that could forage for food even in a city park, I grabbed a small bit of dandelion leaves, rinsed them with a splash of water and ate them with my sliced turkey sandwich.
They were young, not much bitterness at all, and they added a fresh, healthy taste to my sandwich, although that may have been largely due to my forager's pride.
That was it. I returned to work and then went home, eager to begin preparations for a week's vacation visiting Yellowstone National Park.
However, that evening, after supper, I felt more full than usual, a bit gassy in the gut. The next day the feeling persisted, and I felt less inclined to eat my lunch.
On Saturday we started our journey, traveling in a 16-foot camping trailer. That night I was feeling more gassy, more stomach cramps, not hungry at all.
Then followed two more days of misery, trapped in a travel trailer, away from home, with persistent, foul, runny diarrhea.
A bland diet, lots of tea, lots of water, and time finally seemed to bring my gut back to normal. We were able to spend an entire day in Yellowstone, and we took our time coming back home, camping a few different spots on the way.
I felt okay. Tired, but okay.
I returned to work, still tired, but no problems with the gut.
Until the next weekend.
It was almost the same pattern as before. Fullness, gassy, fatigue turned into merciless, messy diarrhea.
On Monday I called in sick, saw the doctor, discussed options of a stool sample (on the expensive side, and often not conclusive, according to the doctor), off-the-counter symptom relievers, or antibiotics. When I described (hesitantly) my impromptu foraging in the park, he agreed that that might be the cause, but it could be a virus as well (although my wife had not experienced any symptoms).
The deal was sealed, however, when I recalled the similarity between my symptoms and my daughter's when she was about 6 years old. We'd gone camping near a mountain stream. We'd been warned to not drink the water from the stream because Giardia had long been a problem in that area. We sternly warned our daughter not to drink the water, but we did allow her to go wading in the small stream.
A week after the camping trip with our daughter, she began to have recurring, serious bouts of diarrhea. Three days or so of misery, followed by a week of normalcy, only to be followed by another round of foulness. We let it go for a month before seeking help, getting a stool sample, ending with identification of Giardia. A week of antibiotics finally brought an end to the icky cycle of diarrhea.
So, I'm starting my own round of antibiotics, on the assumption that I do have a colony of Giardia in my gut, causing the persistent, recurring bouts of diarrhea.
Lesson learned? It's hard for me to believe that such a small bit of dandelions, that I had rinsed in water, could have initiated such a violent invasion of parasites into my body. It's disappointing to feel suspicious now of plants I find in the park, or anywhere, for that matter. If rinsing in water is insufficient, what can a forager do? Cook everything? Spray with bleach? Stick with store-bought?
I guess, for me, the primary lesson learned is to avoid foraging in city parks. Too many people, too many squirrels, too much chance of herbicide, insecticide or polluted irrigation water.
Giardia: Quick Facts
- First described in 1681 by Leeuwenhoek
- Named after zoologist Alfred Giard
- Lives in intestines of infected humans or animals
- Infection caused by contact with feces of an infected carrier
- Giardia may contaminate food, soil or water
- Symtoms: violent diarrhea, excess gas, stomach cramps, upset stomach, and nausea
Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giardia, for quick factsDr. Stan Erlandsen (1988) (Public Health Image Library (PHIL), for image of infected gerbil intestine, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ea/Giardia-spp.--infected--gerbil-intestine.jpg