One Small Strep…

9 03 2009





“Hello doctor? I seem to have come out in spots…”  (Samburu, Kenya)



Whenever I venture off the beaten path, I always carry a small First Aid kit. I first acquired one many years ago and it came stuffed to the brim with all sorts of things I hoped I would never need like enormous syringes, butterfly closures and sterilised needles for sewing stitches. Gradually, bitter experience enabled me to better customise the kit for ailments and accidents that either have afflicted me or might strike me during my wanderings. Although I know it’s common sense to carry such a kit, I still feel like a hypochondriac when I go shopping before a big trip and leave with enough supplies to equip a small hospital!


The key to preparing a good First Aid kit is the assumption that once at your destination you won’t be able to buy anything, which is actually often the case. There are many obvious things to carry like bandages, aspirin, anti-nausea pills, tablets to make you go to the loo and others to make you stop (not to be taken together!), but it’s only through hard experience that you assemble a truly useful medicine chest.


I’d never carried rehydration salts until several days locked in a long-drop left me as dehydrated as a bag of wood chips. A circle of 20 mosquito bites around each ankle that kept me awake night after night led to the purchase of insect bite soother. Brutally sun-burned ear-tops not only taught me to be more assiduous in the application of sunscreen but also resulted in the addition of aloe. A bottle of water purification tablets could so easily have prevented the parched throat and headache suffered in a dodgy equatorial hotel room which offered only brown tap water. And of course a drop of disinfectant is good for any cuts, scrapes and the general purging of germs.


Once while deep in the wilds of Kenya and well away from any medical care, I was struck by self-diagnosed strep throat. In the absence of antibiotics, there wasn’t much I could do for the infection but I did have a small packet of throat lozenges. During the first day, I ate so many that my tongue turned Blueberry blue, swelled up and I lost all feeling in my mouth…meanwhile the pain in my throat maniacally laughed at my efforts and worsened. After a restless night of fever, I awoke the next morning feeling as though my throat was being slit with a hot knife. The lozenges were all gone and I was already rationing my aspirin. I dipped back into my kit to see what else was on offer and found a bottle of Dettol liquid disinfectant.


For those unfamiliar, Dettol is a childhood staple used to clean cuts and destroy every possible germ. If Dettol had been around hundreds of years ago, grannies are adamant that the Black Death would not have swept Europe and that enough administered to the South Pole would cure Global Warming. The bottle says it is made of chloroxylenol, pine oil, isopropanol, castor oil, caramel and water and is described as a general disinfectant and house cleaner. It also clearly states that it is not for internal use. However, in my desperate and almost hallucinatory state, I reasoned that if it was good enough to kill germs around the house, it was good enough to kill strep throat…and besides, just how dangerous could anything with caramel in it be?


Now, I should stress that I did not drink it. No, I am not that dumb. Instead, I diluted it with purified twig-strewn murky river water, and gargled with it. With my head tilted backwards and my mouth open, the scent immediately tweaked at my nose and caused my eyes to water. Bubbles and froth rose skyward as I continued the whirlpool activity. Eventually, confident that not even a hippo could survive the Dettol-isation, I spat out the fluid. I instantly knew it had worked because my throat burned in acquiescent agony…and my mouth shone a foamy white. After several days’ treatment, the pain subsided and the fever disappeared although back in civilization I still visited a doctor for a proper dose of antibiotics just to be sure.


Although I am not certain that the Dettol actually cured my strep, I still carry it in my First Aid kit – but now I also carry a prescription bottle of genuine antibiotics in my name!



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan