Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Health: Struck down by a stomach bug

Last weekend, I was on a ride over the spectacular Nankun Mountain outside of Guangzhou when I told my riding partner that I’ve been extremely healthy this year. I’ve generally been spared by the colds, fevers and stomach bugs that frequently afflict us in China.

The second I said this, I knew I had jinxed myself. Sure enough, a day later, shortly after dinner, my stomach began churning and I developed the slightly queasy feeling that I know so well.

Ever the optimist, I laid out my riding clothes on the kitchen table before going to bed, hoping that I’d be well enough to do my workout the next morning. I set my alarm for 5:15 a.m.

But overnight, I made a couple trips to the bathroom and I never fell into a deep, restful sleep. I woke up feeling fatigued, and I scuttled plans for a ride. I had no appetite and felt sluggish throughout the day at work. Lunch consisted of bananas and crackers. Whenever I ate or drank anything, sharp stomach pains would hit, the churning would start again and I’d have to run to the bathroom.

In the evening, before going to bed, I set out my riding kit again on the kitchen table. But I didn’t bother getting out of bed the next morning because I felt worse than the day before. I spent most of the morning in bed falling in and out of sleep. I dragged myself out the door at noon for an important work appointment. When I got home about 4 p.m., I crashed on the sofa.

This morning, I slept in again but was able to eat some oatmeal and began to feel normal. I hated to miss two training days, but then again I lost a kilo. Cycling sure is a sick subculture. We see an upside in sickness. It’s a great way to lose weight.

My body seems to naturally be about 78 kilos. When I stray from my training diet – start eating seconds at dinner, have desert and drink beer on weekdays – it only seems to take a few days for my weight to tick back up to 78. When I get down to 75, I tend to get sick.

I’ve read about the great pains pros take to stay healthy. To avoid germs, they use their elbows to push elevator buttons. In Daniel Coyle’s book “Tour de Force,” he describes a scene with Sheryl Crow turning heads and igniting a wave of worry by sneezing near Lance Armstrong during the Tour.

But club riders like me have to take even greater care of ourselves. After the morning workout, we can’t retreat to our villa in Gerona for a long nap. We need to go out and earn a living among the sniffling masses everyday.

China is a place that’s especially fraught with bacterial threats. Many people don’t have a habit of covering their mouths when they cough or sneeze. Hand washing is a skill still being learned. Many bathrooms don’t even have soap. I was once in a fancy new hospital in the nearby city of Shenzhen and was amazed to see that restrooms off the main lobby didn’t any kind of hand cleanser.

The part of southern China where I live is one of the world's biggest sources of new flu strains because of a dense population of humans living in close proximity with water fowl and pigs. The first known cases of SARS were reported in Guangzhou. The city was the launching pad for the deadly bug that toured the world in 2003.

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