Conjunctivitis while travelling and taking pills from strangers

This is a guest post from the lovely Neil over at Backpacks and Bunk Beds.

Under any other circumstances, if a total stranger were to hold out his hand and offer me a little brown paper bag full of unmarked white pills, I would like to think I’d have the sense to decline such a generous and yet terrifying offer.  But when the stranger offering you said mysterious pills has the letter D and R before their name, an element of trust is already pre-established, and all of a sudden you can wait to slam the pills down the back of your throat.  Ok maybe a slight exaggeration, but you catch my drift.

This is a position I one day found myself in whilst in Sri Lanka. It was a one off, I would never touch pills normally, but the good Dr told me to take two a day for a week, so that’s what I took.  Brave? Stupid?  Risky?  He was a Dr, but still they were unmarked and in a brown paper bag.  They weren’t my lunch!  Shouldn’t they have been in a plastic container or something?  Ah well, bottoms up *glugs water and swallows whilst saying a small prayer.

The above probably makes little sense without a back-story so let me provide you with one.  In 2006 I spent 3 months of my year volunteering as a teacher and sports coach in both Sri Lanka and India.   As you can imagine, most of my work took place school with young kids, snotty nosed, whingey, ungrateful … I jest, the kids were great.  They were a world apart from kids who I’ve taught in the UK, these little wonders actually wanted to be in school, it made teaching a whole lot easier.  I loved both my placements but sadly had to cut my placement in India shot by a week and headed back to Sri Lanka before I’d move on to Thailand and the rest of my rtw trip.

Neil and his eye pimping it up with the ladies

Upon my return to Sri Lanka I made plans to meet up with Natalie (@girlandtheworld) and the some volunteers I already knew, but before I met them I had a couple of nights by myself in Colombo.  I took in a movie, went shopping, went to the pub and generally enjoyed myself.  On the second morning at my guesthouse, however, I had distinct difficulty in opening my eyes.  It wasn’t that I was tired, far from it; my eyelids were literally stuck together.  A film/gloop has formed during the nights a literally glued them together.  When I finally prised my eyes open I washed them out and knew I had an issue to deal with.

I travelled to the volunteer’s base in Sri Lanka and had a chat with my old volunteer liaison who wrote down in Sinhala an address and some instructions before putting me on the next tuk tuk out of there.  That is how I ended up in a Dr’s surgery being given unmarked white pills.  My eyes were a mess, I had caught conjunctivitis and I knew exactly where I’d got it from, my favourite School in India.


Conjunctivitis (also known as Pink Eye) is swelling (inflammation) or infection of the membrane lining the eyelids known as the conjunctiva.

There are many causes of conjunctivitis. Viruses are the most common cause. Other causes include:

  • Allergies
  •  Bacteria
  •   Certain diseases
  •   Chemical exposure
  •   Fungi
  •  Parasites (rarely)
  •  Use of contact lenses (especially extended-wear lenses)


“Pink eye” refers to a viral infection of the conjunctiva. These infections are especially contagious among children.


Conjunctivitis in my Madurai based School

Conjunctivitis (also known as Pink Eye) is swelling (inflammation) or infection of the membrane lining the eyelids known as the conjunctiva.


There are many causes of conjunctivitis. The most common is looking into he eyes of another person who has Conjunctivitis.


“Pink eye” refers to a viral infection of the conjunctiva. These infections are especially contagious among children.


Can you spot the difference?  Did you see that little pearl wisdom about sight?  In case you missed it …


The most common (cause) is looking into he eyes of another person who has Conjunctivitis.


Yup, conjunctivitis is transferable by sight (apparently).  The kids who had the VIRAL infection were made to come to school with sunglasses on so that no one would be able to see their eyes, or they were sent home.  I sh*t you not.  Andrew (a medicine volunteer who also did a bit of teaching) and I tried to explain to the kids in a couple of classroom based lessons that the infection was VIRAL, and they should wash their hands lots and avoid touching around their eyes, and touching each other, but we think for the most part it fell on deaf ears.  The language barrier probably owed a lot to this, but we did try.

So I was in paradise but looked a state.  I went to sleep scared that in the morning I wouldn’t be able to open my eyes at all.  But to the good Doctors credit the pills did actually work and I made a full recovery.  What took me longer to recover from was his tedious lecture on the Blackburn housing marking, but as he made my eyes better I’ll let him off.

So the moral of this story, take unmarked white pills?  Trust people who know about the Blackburn housing market?  To be honest I’m not sure, maybe I should have more faith foreign medical services, they obviously do a very good job and had me patched up in no time.   Either way,  I just thought it was an interesting tale to tell.  No one wants to get ill on the road but there’s no guarantees that you’ll stay 100% healthy. But, to help you out, here are just a few things that you can do to give yourself a better chance at staying fitting fit …

  1. Wash your hands regularly, especially when coming into contact with kids and questionable toilet facilities.
  2. Check your water source, stick to bottled water if unsure if the tap water is safe.  That goes for ice too, avoid having ice in your drinks if you’re unsure of its source.
  3. If you have meds to take such as Malaria tablets, establish a routine for taking them.  Don’t slip and lose the habit.  You paid for them, take them!
  4. Carry things such as plasters, it sounds lame, but don’t let that tiny scratch get all pussy and infected.
  5. Brush you teeth, this sounds sill in some sense, but I along with a lot of people I met on the road all had some gum issues by the time we’d finished our travels because we’d so rarely brushed our teeth.  Naughty!
  6. Make sure you have all the recommended jabs for the area’s you are visiting.  I hate needles, but your jabs are a must!
  7. Don’t hop into bed without wrapping your tool.  If you have to get tested, clinic’s like to give you your results in person so you may have to stay somewhere longer than planned just to find out that your night(s) of pleasure mean you’ll be on meds for the next couple of days.

If you’re going to settle down in any area for any length of time, it may pay to look up medical facilities in advance.

You can find more from Neil over on his fabulous blog, Backpacks and Bunkbeds, on Twitter @packsandbunks and Facebook.

Has anyone else ever had conjunctivitis while travelling and have an equally sticky story to tell?



April 19, 2012
Thanks Monica, ... looking back I should have acted cool and worn an eye patch. The pirate look is very in right now so i'm told.
April 20, 2012
Haha Neil, that was the last time I saw you and it is how I'll always remember you - with your disgusting gammy eye :P
April 19, 2012
bahhh hahaaa haaa neil!! that foto of your with pink eye is a screamer!! if i remember correctly, did you take the mickey outa me for taking random pills off strangers?! pinkeye ;)
April 24, 2012
@Dennis - mate my pills helped me, yours left you with a bit of a problem. At least mine were from a Dr (i think). My eyes are find now thanks for asking. @Natalie - It had cleared up by the end of that weekend, I was fine by the time you broke all the bones in my hand getting your nose peirced.

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