To Sheree Beddingfield, Latin America means a few different things. It’s a place where she loves the culture and language, and it’s also a place where she has encountered full on adventures as well as episodes of GI distress. However, just because she’s had a few bouts with intestinal issues, do not think this traveler has a weak stomach or is a damsel in distress. Beddingfield is one tough traveler who has taken on Hemorrhagic E. Coli in Honduras and super potent laxatives while on a bus traveling through terrorist territory in Peru.
Beddingfield, a physician assistant originally from Texas, first traveled to Latin American at 19 when she had volunteered to help at a medical clinic in Cayos Cochinos, Honduras.
Living solo in a small village, she befriended the children who helped her fine-tune her Spanish. Because “Sheree” was hard to pronounce, the kids called her “Shitty” (not knowing really what they were saying). The women, who hadn’t yet warmed up to her, called her “Espaguetis” (Spaghetti) because they said she’s skinny and white.
That would change. One day, after a long session of snorkeling, Beddingfield had badly burned her bum.
“They thought that was hilarious,” Beddingfield maintains. “Then they started calling me ‘Espaguetis Quemados,’ which is “Burned Spaghetti.” And because I was able to make fun of myself…It totally broke the barrier with the women.”
After Beddingfield won over the women in the village, they helped her with her burn and basically welcomed her as another villager.
In addition to a bad burn, Beddingfield later contracted Hemorrhagic E. coli after she, ironically, ate spaghetti in a Honduran restaurant. She became very sick while she was staying in a “crappy hotel with no running water,” and at one point, her traveling companion brought a priest and doctor to see her. The priest asked her friend if her parents would like her body buried in Honduras.
“So I sat up in bed and said in my crappy Spanish. “No me voy a morir! No me voy a morir! (I’m not going to die; I’m not going to die!) I asked Pablo to get him [the priest] to leave.”
With the help of medical attention and a strong will, Beddingfield not only recovered but continued to travel in Central America. However, she had become anemic and weak from losing weight from the experience.
Ultimately, she finished her travels in Central America came back the US, but soon made plans to go back South. Her featured Travel Oops happened two years later, when she was 21 and traveling in South America. Here begins the interview.
What kind of traveler are you?
I like to always have a book. I always got the Lonely Planet books and I would read it months before I would go.
I like to think about where I’m traveling a lot. It’s exciting and I have to save up money and be prepared. That’s part of the joy in it for me: the preparation and being excited about it. But when I get there I’m much more go-with-the-flow. I never have a super firm itinerary. I just like to see what the next few days feel like.
I like having a big chunk of time. A two-to-three-month block of time I love. I really like going somewhere and establishing relationships and connections. I like being spontaneous but at the same time not unprepared.
You have your backpack. Everything is in your backpack, and if you don’t have it, you don’t need it or you can buy it there.
Where was one of your most memorable Oopses?
Tell us about it.
So the plan was to go to Peru with these three guy friends who I’d been friends with for a long time, and I was really comfortable with. I still wasn’t totally over the whole single bathroom and sharing it with a bunch of people. So we get there, and the food was mostly white rice, meat. We got to the town and we were on a bus for a long time, so we were pretty sedentary.
It took a couple of days before I realized, “wow I have not gone to the bathroom, and I’m getting pretty uncomfortable. So I hadn’t said anything to [the guys]. I’m not going to share that I haven’t pooped in 24 hours — at least not at that point. It was three days in, and I said, You know guys, I’m really getting pretty uncomfortable I haven’t pooped [since they arrived]. So they tell me:
“Oh you should drink more coffee.”
And so I drank like six cups of coffee and nothing was happening except that I had a lot of random energy.
And then we thought if you smoke a cigarette then you’ll need to poop. And I went out on to the street, and you could buy single cigarettes so I bought one cigarette.
So I’m in the bathroom. We’re all sharing a hotel room so they’re reading or journaling or something, and I know too that they can kind of hear me. And it’s just not working out for me. So I’m in the bathroom smoking a cigarette, which just feels weird because, you know, I quit smoking. I had smoked a little bit in high school and then quit.
And one cigarette didn’t work so I thought maybe I should get another cigarette and a cup of coffee. And that didn’t work and so days are just going by and we’ve got places to go, things to do and cathedrals to see.
And I went to this store, because I thought if I could just get some fiber cereal then that would be the ticket for me. And not only do they not have fiber cereal, but no cereal at all except for oatmeal, which wasn’t going to help. And so they had these little fiber biscuits, like these cookies, so I bought a package of those and crumbled them up and put some milk on them and they turned into this big glob of mush. I ate it anyway because I just really thought I needed the fiber.
That didn’t do anything except that then I was really bloated. And I still had to go to the bathroom, so it was coming up on a week and then the week comes and goes and I kept spending a lot of time in the bathroom. And the guys I was traveling with were super friendly and encouraging but none us knew what to do.
So finally we were going to go on this long bus ride to the southern part of Peru and it was like a 23-hour bus ride, so I knew that I had to poop before I got on that bus, or I was going to die. At this point, I was feeling really really desperate. So I went to the pharmacy, and I said I need something for constipation.
And the [pharmacist] handed me two little white tablets in a piece of foil. And he said one is probably good two is “muy fuerte” [very strong]. And I was like, “Oh, all right.”
So I’m kind of nervous. I’ve never taken a laxative in my entire life, and I didn’t know how that works. I didn’t know anything about it. I go back to the hotel room and I take one. And I was in the hotel room all day. I was like, “I’m going to be in this hotel room; I don’t want to be in the square; I don’t want to be anywhere where I don’t know where the bathrooms are. I just need to be here – all day.”
Nothing is happening, and the bus is going to leave at 9 pm. We’ve already bought our tickets. The guys are out having some adventure, and I’m hanging out in the hotel room reading a book. And it gets to be about 6 p.m. and nothing is happening. It’s been hours. So I take the second pill, and still nothing is happening. And so I’m almost in tears when they come back and they said, “How’d it go?” And I said, “Nothing, I didn’t go.” And they said, “Oh gosh, that’s horrible. What should we do?”
This was a couple hours before the bus and I said, “Well we’re going to go. We already bought our tickets and we’re not waiting around in the city so I can poop.” I said, “You know what, I’ll be fine.” And inside I’m thinking, “I just don’t want to be a bother. I don’t want “Sheree’s poop problem” to dictate how we’re traveling together.” Because I kind of prided myself on being an easy traveler — easy going, can eat anywhere, and not high maintenance.
We go down to the bus stop. Then we get on the bus, and I’m just knowing that it’s going to be bad. But I don’t know how to change the direction of the evening. So I actually fell asleep on the bus. And it was dark and you’re traveling, and it was about midnight when I woke up and my gut is cramping and cramping. It woke me up and I was, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, this is working.”
I was sitting beside my friend Danny and I said, “I have to go to the bathroom, and I’m afraid to stand up.” And he said, “I’ll take care of it; I’ll take care of it.” So he goes up and tells the bus driver, “My friend needs to go to the bathroom.” And the bus driver says, “Okay at the next stop, which was in two hours and Danny said, “No, she really needs to go now.”
And the bus driver says, “Well we’re not stopping here because this is the terrorist territory.” [Sendero Luminoso is a terrorist group up in the highlands credited with causing so much disruption and violence in the 1980s and 1990s, that, at the time Beddingfield was traveling, Peru was rated one of the most dangerous places to visit in the world.]
So Danny comes back and says, “He’s not stopping it’s Sendero Luminoso territory.” So I‘m, “Okay, I’m going to be fine; it’s two hours; I’m going to meditate.” The cramps would come in these waves insane waves. Danny said “just squeeze my hand as hard as you need to.”
And it felt like I was in labor. I would get this wave and squeeze his hand, and I would start sweating and then I started to feel like I was going to throw up.
So Danny went back up there again and then my friend Sean went. He told the bus driver, “You really need to stop the bus. My friend is really sick and she needs to go to the bathroom.”
And finally, Danny said [to Sheree], “I think he needs to see you. If you could move to the front of the bus.” People were sleeping. And I’m creating a stir, and they’re not happy with the commotion. I’m just trying to go up there.
I went up there and I was just drenched I was sweating. I’m telling him, “You don’t understand. I’m going to throw up and use the bathroom in my pants.” That’s what I said in Spanish. “I’m going to use the bathroom in my pants if you don’t pull over the bus.” He was so unconcerned.
And so this old señora in the front seat took pity on me and she stands up, and she starts yelling at him that he is “cruel” and that this “poor child” needs to use the bathroom.
She has her bag, and she’s pushing him in the chair and then she whacks him with her bag. And she’s blessing him out. And I didn’t understand everything she said but she is laying into him.
So reluctantly, the bus driver pulls the bus over and he says, “You have five minutes.” And at this point, everyone is awake on the bus, because there’s been all of this commotion. It’s very interesting because whatever is happening has to do with the white girl who is sweating and walking back and forth.
So I get out of the bus [still in Sendero Luminoso territory]. And the cool night air just feels so good. And I just have to go to the bathroom. There are a few largish boulders, and so I kind of walked behind the boulder. So you couldn’t see me completely, but they could all see me. I have some cover but not very much cover. And so I pooped, and I could not stop. It just kept coming, and then I started throwing up. So I’m throwing up, and I’m pooping.
And the driver is smoking a cigarette and looking at me very disgustedly and he says, “You need to wrap it up.” And I look up and all of these eyes are just looking out the bus all just watching me.
And I was like, “I can’t just stop,” And he said, “well you have to because I’m leaving,” and so I kind of told myself that I just need to make it back in that seat and focus. I stood up, and I walked back and as I got on the bus, some people clapped and of course our seat is way in the very back of the bus.
So I had to walk past all these people. I get back there, and I can’t even tell you how I just needed to keep going. [I thought] I’m going to be so miserable. That started the process, but I still needed to go. So Danny and Sean went up and said you just need to let us off [at the next town where they ended up getting a hotel room at 3 a.m.]
I stayed up all night; I puked all night long and the bathroom had no ceiling and the stars were amazing. I’m star gazing. I was so happy to be off that bus and not in a stinky place. I didn’t even care – it looked clean in the dark. I was so happy to have a toilet and something happening. I thought, “I’m never leaving.” And then I finally finished. I guess I was just cleaned out. And I slept for 12 hours.
What kind of advice would you give to people if they’re in the middle of an oops
It always helps me to think that some day this is going to be funny. And that connecting with the people is the diamond of [the] experience. You can travel and see cathedrals and ruins, but when you get involved with people who are in a foreign place, that’s how you really learn to know that place
I don’t know that you can know people without having those moments of Oopses. It necessarily leads to complications. It’s easy to travel, I think, in a clean-cut way — we’re going to stay in this hotel that we booked, we’re going to see these sights, take pictures and then go home. That doesn’t really feel like travel to me.
You need to ask for help and you need to be okay with not having control of the situation. And to know that everybody else has probably been embarrassed at some point. And the other thing that really helped me was to remember, “I don’t know any of these people on this bus.”
I’m embarrassed right now [during that Oops], but this story is only going to be told if I choose to tell it. I think, too, for what I do in medicine, it helps to recognize that we all have moments of illness or suffering and weakness. Some of us more than others. If you can inject a little humor into it while it’s happening then it doesn’t seem like it’s the end of the world. It doesn’t have to be so bad. [It’s] that part of being human.