Growing up in the 1980s we were the testing ground for education-themed computer games. We only cared about the education part because it meant we could play them at school. Number Crunchers taught us basic arithmetic while Where in The World is Carmen Sandiego taught us history and geography, The Oregon Trail taught us about, among other things, disease…
In The Oregon Trail you have to take on the role of a 19th Century pioneer on the way to Oregon. In addition to managing resources, hunting for food and fording mighty rivers, you must be on the look out for the five game-ending diseases; cholera, diphtheria, measles, dysentery and typhoid. If you didn’t get the only medicine available, laudanum (which in the real world is opium and completely useless), you would die…and have to restart, hopefully before the bell sounded marking the end of computer lab.
So it was in a state of almost childlike disbelief that Fiona and I left the doctor’s office in Loreto with the diagnosis that we had contracted typhoid. We were vaccinated against it before we left Canada, and it was never even on our radar as something to be worried about on our travels. To have contracted a disease featured in a beloved video game from our youth is almost hipster-cool. It’s like collecting pastel coloured typewriters or wearing a monocle or flying a kite.
Typhoid is caused by a bacteria called Salmonella Typhi. It’s surprisingly easy to contract; unpasteurized milk and cheese, unclean water, somebody without good hygiene are all transmission vectors. People can be carriers and not even know it. Typhoid Mary Mallon (1869-1938) is a good example. She unwittingly infected over 50 people, three of whom died. She was isolated from the public for nearly three decades and eventually died of pneumonia.
Typhoid was a much bigger deal back in the day. With modern antibiotics, namely the fluoroquinolones like Ciprofloxacin, it has become a very treatable illness and when diagnosed early on has few complications. But the symptoms are still unpleasant. We never got the fever, thankfully and owing probably to our prior vaccinations, but the abdominal discomfort and fatigue are formidable.
In our previous lives we would probably have gone to work sick; probably not with typhoid to be honest. But for other illnesses, even when we weren’t feeling well and knew that what we needed most was good bed rest, we’d go in anyway. It was the culture and we were a part of it. And we are running into the same problem here.
We have no bosses looking over us, no deadlines to meet, no social obligations and very little responsibility. And yet, we still push ourselves to work. It’s a bit bizarre. Fiona said to me this afternoon on our 30 minute outing (we only have enough energy to leave the boat for a half hour) that she feels guilty for not ‘pushing through’ and continuing to write articles. I felt the same. I guess that’s a good sign. Guilt takes energy. But why do we feel this way, why can’t we just take it easy and relax and rest.
An existentialist might say that our imperative to work is social conditioning. Work equals success, which means not working is tantamount to failure. But it begs the question. Why does society believe that? Ours might be especially focused on work when compared to a place that takes a more laid-back approach like Greece, but what about compared to Japan, or Germany. It’s not just us, it’s everybody. I think it boils down to an instinctual fear.
We are worried that if we don’t keep working we won’t have enough food, or a good enough shelter or be in a high enough place in the social hierarchy to find a good mate. If you watch animals in nature they are always working; always gathering, watching, hunting, hiding. And we are the same. But we also have the luxury of stepping back once in a while. We can look at our surroundings and realize what we do have. Enough money, support from friends and family, a strong social safety net, shelter, food, love…
One of the most important outcomes of this event has been a realization of all the wonderful things we have in our lives. We are so unbelievably lucky and so grateful. And when we remember these things we can sit back a little easier and rest. We don’t have to work right now, we’re looked after. We just need to relax. Relax and marathon Harry Potter.