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South of the border, and under the weather

Community Forums

March 1998

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

As I crouched down over the porcelain and vomited so hard that it hurt my ribs, I thought to myself, "This isn't what I thought Mexico would be like."

Although I have lived in Los Angeles for almost 20 years, I had never visited our neighbor to the south, not even on a day trip to Tijuana. When I thought of Mexico, images of plush resorts, warm ocean waters and a festive party atmosphere would always come to mind, although I was also aware of the many impoverished areas just the toss of a frosty margarita glass away.

As I prepared for my December trip to the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, I kept repeating the mantra, "Don't drink the water." I would divvy up my medications into their daily slots and say to myself, "Don't drink the water." I would ask an AIDS Project Los Angeles treatment advocate if it was necessary to adjust my med schedule two hours ahead to Mexico time and remind myself again, "Don't drink the water." I boarded the plane with a bag full of filtered, ozonated, reverse osmosis processed, deionized H20 and muttered under my breath, "Don't drink the water! Don't drink the water! Don't drink the water!"

My friends and I were excited as we pulled up to our beyond magnificent rented house and immediately started snacking. One friend started making blended margaritas while another grabbed a cheese grater from the cupboard, rinsed it off, and began to make quesadillas. That little HIV-savvy red light in my head went off as I thought, "Don't eat! Don't drink! The ice could be contaminated! The grater was rinsed in tap water! Be careful!" Instead, I settled for a protein bar and some bottled water while my friends proceeded to stuff themselves and get drunk. APLA's nutrition specialist, Marcy Fenton, M.S., R.D., would be so proud!

My diligence continued everywhere we went that week. Sure, it slowed things down having to constantly send foods back to be cooked well done or to ask for a fresh glass without ice, but it was certainly necessary. Being the only HIV-positive traveler in my group of six, however, I was secretly jealous of how much more spontaneous my friends could be on this trip. Maybe that's why everything went so very wrong.

A turn for the worse

On a day trip to Sayulitas, a small beach community up the coast, we stopped for lunch.

Maybe it was the restaurant's nouveau menu or the L.A.-style, post-modern decor, but for some reason, I felt very relaxed as I ordered my burnt chicken and bottled water/no ice. I should have known better when the waiter, who seemed flustered from the get-go, brought my water in a glass with no bottle in sight. Next time, I thought, I will ask that he bring out a sealed bottle. Taking a big gulp and swallowing, I immediately realized that I had ingested tap water. Trying not to panic, my friends told me to take a swig of tequila to kill the germs. It sounded like nonsense to me as I obliged!

Six hours later -- almost to the minute -- I found myself hunched over that aforementioned bowl. I literally thought I was going to die. On top of that, I realized that I was not going to be able to stomach my 11 p.m. medications. I didn't know whether I should skip the dose altogether or try again later.

The bill, please

When it became apparent several hours later that the vomiting was not going to stop, my friends called for a doctor. Miraculously, they found a really kind person who was willing to drive a half hour at 2 a.m. to make a house call. Assessing the situation, he informed me that I was so dehydrated and that my temperature was so high, that I needed to go to the hospital.

My pre-conceived notion of what things would look like went right out the window as we pulled up to the Ameri Med Hospital. Not only was it immaculate, but the staff was very kind. When they were able to alleviate some of my symptoms, I took my meds. After an evening of IVs, antibiotic shots and labs, I began to feel better and they prepared to discharge me.

As I whipped out my insurance card, however, they informed me that they only accepted cash or credit. A quick glance at the bill sent me into a panic. Out of the corner of my sleepy eye, I read: $2,883.90.

There was no way I could come up with that kind of money or charge it. One of my friends, however, saved the day as he put it on his card.

Over the next few days, as I slowly regained my strength, all I kept thinking about was that bill. I knew I would have to repay my friend. As I sat in the sun trying to read a book, an extra helping of sun block covering me and protecting my immunity, I could only see those dollar signs floating above my head. They were taunting me, daring me to enjoy my vacation with such a large pending debt in my future.

Knowing that I shouldn't let such stress build up in me, I went to my friend to explain that it was going to be difficult to pay him. Looking at me like I was crazy, he pulled out the bill and showed me that the grand total was in Pesos. All told, the house call, hospital stay, doctor and nursing fees, lab work, medicine, etc., came to a whopping $361.74 in U.S. dollars!

One little mistake

As I look back on my vacation, I realized that no matter how much you know about HIV, it is still possible to make a mistake. You can eat the wrong food, drink the wrong water, even miss a medication dose. All understandable mistakes.

But not knowing the bill was in Pesos? What was I thinking?

For further information on food safety and treatment scheduling, come to a community education forum on the topic or schedule time with an APLA dietitian or treatment advocate.


For an appointment for a consultation with a dietitian, call (213) 993-1612. To speak with a treatment advocate, call one of the following individuals

  • Ruben Gamundi (program manager): (213) 993-1483

  • Eddy R. Garcia Fernandez (Spanish-English): (213) 993-1484

  • Nina Marks: (213) 993-1486

  • Ernie Rodriguez: (213) 993-1482

  • William Strain: (213) 993-1459

This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).

A note from The field of medicine is constantly evolving. As a result, parts of this article may be outdated. Please keep this in mind, and be sure to visit other parts of our site for more recent information!

  • Email Email
  • Printable Single-Page Print-Friendly
  • Glossary Glossary

This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.
See Also
More on Traveling When You're HIV Positive