Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 11, 2014

John Cannon: Learning not to drink water the hard way: 02/12/14

John Cannon
The Independent

ASHLAND — Many years ago, when I made the first of four mission trips to Costa Rica with teams from my church, South Ashland United Methodist, one of the first things we were told upon landing in the Central American country was, “Don’t drink the water. It will make you sick.”

En route to the farm where we would be staying, the three other members of that mission team stocked up on bottled water, but not me. In those days, I was too cheap to buy bottled water. Come to think of it, I still am. I think I bought four small bottles that trip, and I quickly consumed all four.

Our mission team was helping to build a house on that trip, and it had been mostly built by other mission teams before we arrived. On the first day, my assigned task was to frame some windows above the living area. The easiest way to get to those windows was by standing on the roof.

The temperature was well above 80 on that first day, and the hot sun on the tin roof must have pushed it to above 100. As I sweated away on the roof, I kept looking down into the yard where there was a water spigot. How I longed for a taste of that water. But then I remembered the warning about not drinking the water.

Then some natives came into the yard and eagerly drank the water flowing from the spigot. That was good enough for me. If the water was good enough for Costa Ricans, then it was good enough for me.

At the next break, I climbed down from the roof and eagerly gulped the water flowing from the spigot.

My friend and fellow team member Ed Spears (who still leads the mission trips, by the way) was sure I was going to get deathly sick from the water. The natives could stand the water because they were used to it, but my virgin stomach would reject it, Ed warned as the two other team members nodded in agreement.

 Well, guess what happened? Nothing. I did not suffer any ill effects from the water. In fact, by the time we headed back to Kentucky, other team members also were drinking from the spigot, but Ed was not one of them. He also would not eat the delicious strawberries I picked at a farm we visited. Well, to each his own, I suppose.

When those of us living in Ashland were warned not to drink the water because of all the leaks in the water lines, I was reminded of my experience in Costa Rica. Because I did not get sick from that water, I thought I was immune from illnesses carried by water. Thus, I ignored the city’s warning about not drinking the water.

What an idiot I was. I didn’t drink a lot of the water, but I did use it to wash down my pills and to make coffee. I also got up in the middle of the night and drank a couple of glasses of water directly from the tap without even thinking about it. I simply did it by habit.

Later that day, I began to feel a little queasy. At choir practice that night, I felt so bad I went home early. Except for little catnaps, I was up all night and most of the next day. For one of the few times in my 40-year career, I called in sick.

However, Thursday is my busiest day at The Independent. By late Thursday afternoon, I decided I felt well enough to go into work for a few hours. I had not eaten, and by that time, I was fairly certain that anything could not still be in my stomach. I worked until about 1 a.m.

While I was feeling better, my digestive problems continued until after I had returned from taking my granddaughter to Hanover, Ind., for a college visit on the following Sunday.  

Once my problems began on that Wednesday night, all I drank was bottled water and diet colas, although the ice I was putting in my colas was made from the contaminated water.

As this is written on Tuesday afternoon, I still am not 100 percent, but I am much, much better. When Ashland lifted its boil water advisory on Monday afternoon, editor Mark Maynard called to give me the news.

I don’t blame the city or anyone else for my bout with bad water. My ailments were entirely self-inflicted. Some say experience is the best teacher, but I should have listened and heeded the warnings. However, the bad experience I had because of that means it will never happen again. It’s called learning the hard way.

JOHN CANNON can be reached at jcannon@dailyindependent.com  or at (606) 326-2649.