Written on Wednesday, February 22, 2012
This happened yesterday. The effects of my sickness have yet to wear off. Even the rhythm of the sea’s waves as it reaches my ears causes nausea. I’m writing you from Urbiztondo Beach, San Juan, La Union, The Philippines.
At this approximate time of 5:00 pm yesterday I was vomiting in a San Fernando hospital, less than a twenty minute drive away wondering if I had been poisoned.
The day began with a late morning surf at the area known as Cement Factory which is a twenty-five minute drive in the opposite direction on the same stretch of highway leading to San Fernando. Sun, salt water and laughs. After two hours on a board I needed a break. I was getting motion sickness. I also had broken out in a rash from my sunscreen.
A ride back to Urbiztondo with the crew I rode out with. A shower and I was off to find my instructor from the morning. I needed to pay him. We had agreed to meet at a cafe down the road for lunch. I had misunderstood and showed up at the wrong one. I walked to where we were hanging out the night before.
When I first arrived in Urbiztondo, I did what I’ve taken to doing at any new scene. I observe and I access. I try to get a feel of the place, I notice patterns. My impression of the culture was of little surprise to me. A laid back beach culture with a lot of Foreign girls coming and going and mostly hanging out with the Filipino surf boys and instructors who live on this stretch. The scene reminded me of the muay thai scene in Thailand and I came here partially to get away from it. I stuck mainly with the visitors and remained cordial with the guys who live here. I politely declined several invitations to party with them. I wasn’t here for that either.
Two nights ago, after walking by the cafe they often hang out at after dark, the crew I was with paused for a drink. I spent perhaps a couple of hours hanging mostly with my instructor and a few of the guys I saw around. There was a crew of maybe fifteen people in the mix – Pinoys and Foreigners alike.
This was the cafe I arrived at in search of my instructor. Instead, I found the guy running the place. I’ll call him Manila because that is where I’ve heard he spent some time living. I had spent time speaking to him the night before. He had been one of the people I had previously declined an invite to party with. Two nights previous, I thought, maybe I shouldn’t be so uptight. In short, I thought maybe it was time to let my guard down. I agreed to come back later to hang. I had left our discussion and was walking away when he called me back. He handed me a plastic bag with a brown cookie in it. He laughed and told me to eat it slowly, not all at one time. As I was walking I sniffed the cookie, it smelled like weed.
Now intuition kicked in as did judgement of myself. There was that momentary fight within. Taste the cookie. Don’t taste the cookie. Don’t trust this guy. Stop being so uptight. You’ve seen him hanging with girls all week. If he’s that big of a creep, he wouldn’t always be surrounded by people.
I compromised somewhere in between. I took a taste, which is by far less than a bite of the cookie and investigated its flavour. I was assessing it for any trace of chemical, even the slightest indication of anything unnatural, including something as mundane as paracetamol would have been grounds for me to spit it out. I tasted nothing other than what I thought was weed. I had never eaten a weed cookie and wanted to test it. I wasn’t looking to get high. The taste was perhaps 1/8 of an Oreo sized cookie, double the thickness. I put the cookie in a side pocket of my purse and went to get lunch.
Perhaps it was two hours later when I stumbled out of my room in search of Pacita, the owner of Hacienda Peter, where I was staying. I had just vomited and I knew I wasn’t okay. I had come back to my room earlier thinking perhaps there was a ton of weed in that tiny taste of cookie and wanted to lie down. The room was moving and I thought perhaps the motion sickness from the morning had returned and I couldn’t handle it. I took 1/4 of a Gravol to assist with my nausea. The only thing I could do to not feel plagued by unnecessary thoughts was to focus on a white circle decorating the curtain in front of me. I felt a red heat emanating from inside my abdomen. I believe I had been asleep when the urge to vomit appeared. It was so violent in its manifestation. I took it as a serious warning.
Had I been poisoned?
Had I been drugged?
I had never felt anything to this degree before, I wasn’t simply high. When Pacita and staff followed me to my room, I could barely move or speak once I collapsed on the bed. I just stared at that white circle.
Was I going to die?
I didn’t think so, but I also didn’t know what was coming next. Was this going to get worse? I thought this to be a ludicrous way to leave this world.
I had told Pacita about the cookie and had given it to her from my purse. No one knew what to do. I was contemplating my fate and thankful I wasn’t alone, that Pacita had believed everything I had said. I’m uncertain if it was before our after Pacita left to bring Manila to my room that I looked at the faces, looking down at me. I was like viewing a photo shot in a fishbowl lens, or perhaps the opposite, I don’t remember, but I do remember knowing things weren’t dandy. I could see it in their faces. I could hear it in the tone in which Tagalog was spoken. Pacita kept asking me if I wanted to go to a hospital. She was frightened and her demeanor was urgent.
It was her informing me that not only had my face lost its colour but that my lips had gone white that I said, “Yes, I want to go to the hospital”.
Despite feeling fear, I don’t believe anything in my body was capable of showing it. I had asked if my heart rate was alright. I couldn’t feel it. I was incapable of panic. I tried to stay focused and not fall asleep.
I vomited before leaving for the hospital and again in the car. I wasn’t able to either sit up or walk unattended.
Manila kept saying that there was only weed in the cookie. I knew he was lying. But what else was in it? He came with me to the hospital but I never found out.
The entry ends and so it continues the next day…
Better but not alright. The nausea continues and my brain is slow.
Back to the story. In the hospital.
I was in emergency for I believe somewhere in the range of two hours. Details as remembered.
I continued to vomit violently. With each expulsion of whatever it was invading my system, my condition slowly improved. This eased me.
I was incapable of emotion. I was lost staring at a point before me.
Pacita, resort staff member Nicole and Manila stayed by my side and attended to all of my needs.
I explained to Manila that if there were any chemicals in the cookie, I needed to know. The most I got out of him was that maybe there was some cocaine in it and the guy who gave him the cookie had said it was good for six people. I partially believed him, I knew he was worried about his involvement. I sat and wondered if this man who was holding my right hand was only frightened and remorseful or a frightened sociopath. I didn’t have the facilities to wrestle my hand away when he grasped it.
I was incredibly weak. My brain was fully functioning but I had little control over my body. My hands, feet and left shin kept going numb. I would vomit after any attempt at ingesting fluids, but slowly my condition was improving.
I had my blood tested upon arrival and when the doctor came back with my results, she informed me my issue was that I was anemic. Upon arrival I had repeated that I had believed I had been poisoned or drugged. I had mentioned the burning in my stomach. I, on occasion will get it if I ingest a substance my body doesn’t want. Sometimes the burning sensation creates a visible reality on my abdomen – cherry red patches over the areas of pain inside. I explained most of this again and asked if they found any drugs or chemicals in my system. The doctor responded –
You want us to test for drugs? You need a urine test for that.
Why had they given me a blood test? How can this woman think my condition is anemia? She prescribed me medication to stop the vomiting and an iron supplement. Meds to keep the poison in my system and another to further that by causing constipation. Wonderful.
Pacita mentioned something about complications regarding me receiving a urine test. I didn’t care either way. I just knew I wasn’t going to be left in that hospital alone. Pacita and the doctor kept asking me if I wanted to stay, the doctor stressing my need for an IV. I declined on all accounts and signed my waiver for release. I wanted to leave with Pacita for the following reasons: she listened, she cared and she had proven to be the most capable person in the room.
We all made the trip back to the resort together – Pacita, Nicole, Manila and our driver, a local surfer from the beach. I crashed on my bed. Pacita, Manila and my surf instructor came by to check in on me. Pacita provided me with a bag of electrolyte drinks.
Two days later and I don’t know what I ingested. From the info I gathered from people on the beach, the cookie was most likely laced with a mix of weed, cocaine and some type of tranquilizer, possibly Ketamine. Perhaps, but what was it cut with, Drano? And Manila? He paid for a portion of my medical bills and has since checked up on me.
Thank you to all who were responsible for helping me out.
“This ain’t no space cake, this is a gnarly cake.”
-Matt from Stoke, when helping me explain my story.
For San Juan hotel reviews and info, check out my post Surfing The Philippines.