Stomach Flu is a Misnomer

Growing up in the United States of America I knew of stomach flu, that catchall, grab-bag term of symptoms. Today though many only use a Swifter system for washing their floors, nothing beats the plastic bucket Bozo for the outpourings of a barfing child.

Bozo Bucket

Bozo Bucket


My mother's DIY methodologies for this illness was to ladle a teaspoon of bitter tasting Paregoric mixed with warm water down my gagging throat. "HOLD your breath and SWALLOW it CANDY!" she'd extoll.

So of course when I was the mother I asked my Canadian GP for a prescription of Paregoric for my baby daughter's stomach flu. With a look I can see over 4 decades later, he told me that medication was no longer used and that my alternative remedy of flat Ginger Ale and saltine crackers would do just fine.

It was only years later while reading The New York Times that I later learned that Paregoric was a 4% tincture of opium. Oh my. I had no idea my Southern mother, Virginia, had been drugging me for years though I do remember sleeping a lot when I had stomach flu.

And I wondered about all those babies carried in arms to beg from restaurant patrons sitting outside in Mexico City. We'd heard that the women used something to knock out the kids. Was it Paregoric?


In 1972 Peru I learned that stomach flu is not a flu, but gastroenteritis. As a frequent visitor to our family, we nicknamed it Gastro--complete with a proper name capital letter. It was the cause of the first fight I had with my new husband. I was hot. I was feverish. I was grumpy. I had diarrhea.  I wanted a cold drink, with clinking ice. Preferably a Ginger Ale.

Gary exploded. A cold drink--especially a cold drink with ice would be the worst possible thing for me given my fever.  "Everyone knows if you drink a cold drink with a fever, you'll get sicker!" he growled.

I didn't know that; I didn't believe that. So I reacted with all of the emotional maturity of a new bride to blubber tearfully. Disapprovingly he gave in and let me have my ice-filled drink, though he couldn't find any Ginger Ale in Lima, Peru. As his mother later told me, his certainty about having ice drinks with a fever was based on an old wives' tale he'd absorbed in Peru along with his Spanish-fluency.


Months later in a small pension or hotel, in Cuzco, Peru, I once again succumbed to another bout of Gastro. Though the pension was cheap, the lodgings were adequate and had the additional luxury of having a well-timed en suite bath with it's own toilet. As usual with Gastro, I tried to sleep it off. The next day when I awoke to go on our prepaid trip to Machu Picchu, I felt like the walking dead and looked like it too. But we'd paid from our extremely limited funds, so go I did.

That night I fell into bed, passing yet another night moaning, groaning and clutching my aching belly. Whatever was going on in there was not improving.

Early the next morning Gary called the doctor recommended by the owner of the pension. Speaking in Peruvian-accented Spanish to the doctor, Gary described my symptoms. Hanging up with a smile, he said the doctor would come by the pension shortly.

A house call, I thought. How decadent. I hadn't seen a doctor make a house call since I was a child in Princeton, NJ in the 1950s. My pediatrician, Dr. Jeanette Munro only saw sick children in their homes, bawling out any mother foolish enough to bring a sick child into the waiting room to infect the healthy children.

Gary further elaborated the doctor's call was on a sliding scale. Peruvians paid the lowest price, Europeans a bit more and the highest cost went to Americans, so Gary asked me not to say anything to the doctor.

When the doctor arrived, he took one look at his golden blonde, blue-eyed foreigner and the jig was up. Gary explained with a con man's facility that though he was Peruvian, his wife was English, not American. The nuances of my English-speaking accent slid past the avaricious doctor, who diagnosed my distended stomach as gastroenteritis, adding I also had low-blood pressure. Writing a prescription, Gary paid him the Peruvian rate.


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    Candace Drimmer

    TIMELINE June 1972 to June 1973---Candace moves to Lima (Peru)----- June 1973 to May 1974---Candace and The Husband live in Glendale AZ----- May 1974 to August 1974---Living in Toronto, Ontario (Canada)----- September 1974 to May 1975---Living in Aberdeen SD----- May 1975 to July 1979---Living in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada)----- July 1979 to June 1980---Living in Asuncion (Paraguay)----- June 1980 to September 1980---Living in NYC----- September 1980 to November 1982---Living in Connecticut----- November 1982 to January 1983---Living in Ponce, Puerto Rico (USA)----- February 1983 to July 1986---Living in Willemstad, Curacao (Netherlands Antilles)----- July 1986 to July 1989---Living in Guayaquil (Ecuador)----- July 1989 to July 1995---Living in Connecticut (yes, again)----- July 1995 to August 2001---Living in Mexico City (Mexico)----- August 2001---Return to Gringolandia (a.k.a. United States of America)----- I was an accidental expatriate; love and marriage led me to it. One day I was a bandy-legged kid sitting atop my dogwood tree looking out of my small backyard world in 1950s New Jersey, wanting to move somewhere--anywhere, different. Next thing I knew I met a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, fell in love and moved to Peru in the 1970s. WHAT an adventure it's been!! NOTE: I gave up Facebook, so apologies that I cannot answer any comments since it is only set up via FB.

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