Whistle Belly Thumps

by Tara Livesay on April 29, 2016

One after the other after the other – after.the.other … The people, both large and small, that reside in my home, clenched their buttocks with superhuman strength and ran in desperation for the latrine.

What began as one person with some loose stool for a single unremarkable day, somehow turned into a three-week multi-generational back-door trots EVENT.

It all began with my husband.

Isn’t it just like any respectable, god-fearing man to attempt to lead in every area of life, including and not limited to leading his family into several weeks of the green apple nasties.

Thanks, honey. I see you.

Because we are unnaturally and preposterously proud of being tough and “gutting it out”, we sought no help for our malaise.  I was the second to fall prey to the whistle belly thumps.  Several days after I joined my husband in extraordinary-toilet-time, our children began to fall, one by one.

Two weeks passed, toilet paper consumption increased, as grocery consumption decreased in direct correlation. Troy dropped ten pounds.

We focused on the positive. Perhaps I will write the donors and let them know we have cut our food bill in half, they will be thrilled with our frugality, I thought. (joke!)











As the days ticked by I heard from the kids that underwear had been thrown away a time or two. I heard from my husband that he hadn’t made it to the toilet on one particularly difficult day. Well  – that will off-set the grocery savings, you guys!

One morning more than two weeks into the event, I received a voice message from the co-chief in charge as I drove the winding roads of rural Haiti. He said, “You know what? I’m still really sick. I tried some Cipro and it did not work and I’m kind of afraid now. Why do we still have this terrible diarrhea?”

I listened as I drove and I thought, “Oh, so we are not gonna tough it out, huh? Dude is afraid. Alright then, Momma is going gang-busters. Time to act.”

I called immediately on my favorite physician in the great North. While her specialty is pediatric emergency, she has more than dabbled in tropical health and disease. Her instructions were clear. Do not mess around. Treat for Giardia, Typhoid, and a few other sporidium just for kicks. Nail it from every angle.

Because we are nothing if not capricious, earlier this week we deployed every single weapon known to mankind, the opposite of “tough it out.”

Ten years of sketchy hygiene practices finally caught up with us.

Don’t get me wrong, we wash our hands and try to tell our kids to do the same before eating and after touching a goat or a donkey or the local currency.  You know how it is though, kids will be kids and I guarantee you the youngest one carries a chicken around by its keister and then eats a peanut butter sandwich on the regular.

That said, most of us probably wash our hands nearly as much as the next guy, but maybe not our lettuce, our tomatoes, or our cucumbers. I have never fully bought into careful disinfection of vegetables. And now, I must repent.

Because we had never paid the price for ignoring the bleach and vinegar when it came time to wash locally grown veggies, time was simply no longer on our side. A decade of unwashed veggies finally resulted in the gargantuan Giardia outbreak of our time.

By this point, you are probably thinking, well this is TMI. Why the oversharing?

I will tell you why.

This is an essay where I need to reject my spurious nature. I NEED to confess as I tie my refusal to be proactive in my vegetable washing, to my refusal to seek medical help in a timely manner, to my frequent refusal to seek God until I am quite literally more than desperate for His help.

There is a pattern here. A pattern that needs confession and change. Read this as my public repentance of the aforementioned everything.

As I type the final sentences of this entry, everyone in my household is taking chalky, terrible tasting medicine three times a day. Everyone ate dinner last night, a welcome change from the previous nights. We believe that big change and parasite-free days are on the horizon!

Like many of us that live far away from our mothers, I did not tell my mother how sick everyone was until we had a pretty trustworthy solution in place. There is just no point in stressing out your Mom.  Am I right?Her response was predictable. “Move to Texas, please,” she texted.

Oh, Mom.  Please wash your vegetables! We had all the fun destroying her erroneous belief that Texas is a parasite-free Republic. Moms.  You probably know one. They just want their babies safe (or just not filled with parasites) and nearby. I cannot even blame her. (Although, I can -and just did- tease her.)

Perhaps, like me, your years of service abroad have led you to places of pride and ignorance.  If so, feel free to share your favorite story of bodily fluid loss along with your favorite method of getting your veggies clean.

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About Tara Livesay

Tara and her family have lived in Haiti since 2006. She resides in Port au Prince, where she serves as a CPM (Midwife) with Heartline Ministries - Maternity Center working in the area orphan prevention, Maternal and Newborn Health. Tara is a the wife of Troy, the mother of seven children ranging in age from 27 to 9 years old and has recently become a grandmother to 3 grandsons. Tara enjoys friends, laughing, sarcasm and spending time with her family.
  • We’ve done bleach…but that doesn’t touch giardia. Iodine does, but laziness. I’d love a great solution! I’ve haven’t taken antibiotics in 20 years, but I was just on them for 10 days for a raging kidney infection I dismissed for a week as “I sprained my back” and “I don’t have a fever, Africa is just hot.” Being married to a nurse, you’d think I would know better! (I’ve read your blog for years and admired you from afar, so hearing that you are human makes me feel a bit better.)

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      WHAT IS THIS?!?!?!? Bleach doesn’t kill Giardia?

  • amy medina

    Well….after about 8 years in Tanzania, we started brushing our teeth with tap water. So far, so good.

    Diarrhea is simply an acceptable topic of conversation in the tropics. Enough said.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Yes. Totally acceptable. Fun, even!

    • I drink filtered or boiled water but brush teeth with tap in Iringa and in Dar….. someone in our community who does environmental testing said that the town water was tested and had less bacteria in it than Kilimanjaro bottled water, did you see that whole thread on Team Tanzania a few months ago? Who knows! So hard to know if it’s an ‘off’ day or something more!

      • amy medina

        that’s really interesting! I didn’t know that. I still don’t think I trust the water completely, since there are so many breaks in the pipes that who knows what can get in there. And we definitely have a lot of sediment in our water. But it’s good to know that maybe it’s not as bad as we thought!

        • Yeah, def cannot trust it 100% — we have so much clay in ours! And plenty more stories like where this blog post came from!

  • Oh… giardia. An unwelcome visitor that our family knows well. Mike gets it regularly ever since Afghanistan. If he’s right (and he may not be) once you get it it can pop it’s nasty head up at intervals just for fun. We keep flagyl in stock for him, and cloxacillin in stock for me. Ah these bodies. I hope you all feel better really soon and figure out what might be going on.

    • Elizabeth Trotter

      “Ah these bodies.” So much truth and angst wrapped up in that little statement. 🙁

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Ah these bodies. So.Difficult.To.Maintain.

    • Oh, he’s right. Once you get it, it never fully goes away. Probiotics help, but laziness usually prevail. I still remember after being on my 2nd furlough, my brother drove me sick sick sick to drop off a prescription. The chemist laughed and said ‘Either this is for your pet, or you’ve just been abroad.” Apparently, it was for worms AND giardia. Thus kicked off an off and on adventure for the past 8 years…. I have entire groups of friends who have named their stomachs after their personalities and refer to them as their own entity at times…. POLE SANA to all of us and may God be with us 🙂

  • Tracey

    I’m curious to know if others have used kefir (milk or water) for gut health. . .
    As for veggies and diarrhea and such. . . I use vinegar. . . .usually. We have clean water in Costa Rica. . . . usually, but not guaranteed. Here they recommend yearly parasite treatments, but, my turn to confess, we’ve only followed that advice 1x. Turned out my kids had pinworms (we probably did, too). Who knows what’s living in us now!!!!

    • amy medina

      I make kefir here and we try to use it daily in smoothies. Not sure if it has been making a difference….but we are pretty healthy, and we are in the tropics.

    • I drink kombucha and have probiotics that I brought with me to Tanzania.

  • Paula Troutman

    I use bleach to soak vegetables but would like to know more about usin vinegar. One time while our in laws were visiting she got sick and had quite an audience as she vomited in the street. I felt so bad for her. A number of times when our guys were little they were quite distressed when they didn’t make it to the restroom. I always felt so bad for them.

  • Sara Lein

    I do believe my worst tummy explosion occurred in Haiti. It was a long night following grilled corn and spicy chicken-hotdog-veggie pâté. There were multiple trips to the bathroom in the electricity free night in the dark, pouring buckets of water in the toilet following each episode-praying it would flush. The determination to get to Port Au Prince Fellowship the next morning via moto in my miserably weak state was just foolish. After passing out in church that morn, being carried out to a seat outside, I was relieved to see your familiar face Tara! I did end up washing out my panties in the bathroom before hopping in a tap tap to return to the school where I was staying. Good times!

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Yes, I recall watching your slow motion slide to the ground. Ha. Love to you today!

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Also – I know you don’t know this — but I had the joy of carrying you out with some other person that watched you go down. 🙂

      • Sara Lein

        Oh gosh! I did not know and clearly never thanked you properly!!! Mesi anpil!

  • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

    Too funny. Oh we would get along so well in real life, Tara…I read an article where a mom was mad at her kids for pulling a dirty plate out of the sink to reuse it and I was all, “Wha? You’re not supposed to do that?” You’ve made me afraid of our future though…I might be reaping the consequences is what you’re saying? Darn. I better read up on these comments of cleaning veggies.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Minnesotans unite in Giardia? I hope not, for you sake! May the forces of steel bellies be ever yours and may you never reap the consequence of unwashed veggies and may you live long on the earth with solid stools.

  • Richelle Wright

    Our local doctor was continually on my case for not being more on my kids’ cases about washing their hands continually – thankfully we only had two really bad episodes while still living in Niger. First off it was me with a very not nice amoebiasis and pregnant so the doctors wouldn’t treat until after I’d delivered. That went on, on and off, for 7 months… at which point I became asymptomatic. Never was treated and so for all I know, those little buggers are still running around my digestive tract waiting for opportunity – or we’ve reached some sort of happy symbiosis and that’s why I never get sick with any gastro – even when the rest of the gang does. One of our girls ended up hospitalized for resistant amoebiasis and resistant malaria at the same time. Strangely enough, that did not happen after the time her dad caught her munching on horse poo. Thankful for grace even despite my sometimes laziness, ignorance or just plain busyness. And thankful y’all are mending/mended.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Richelle, it is pretty crazy to think that perhaps you’ve just made your body a friendly home for the little buggers. Asymptomatic is marvelous. 🙂

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