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

    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 my father had accepted a job in Houston TX. I was ecstatic, it was a foreign land in 1961 America. After high school graduation, my parents’ gave me a matched set of fawn-colored hardsided American Tourister luggage. Taking the hint, I went to college; well four colleges in five years--it was the 60s after all. Meeting a young hirsute anti-war, soon-to-be-Peace Corps volunteer, I fell in love. After finishing up college coursework for my degree, but before I even walking a graduation stage, I grabbed the paper airline ticket my boyfriend had sent me, my brand-new passport, and was off to the airport and Lima, Peru.

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