Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Expat Diaries: Do Not Underestimate Dehydration - A Personal Experience and Warning from an Expat in Malaysia

Dehydration is a very real threat to your health - foreigner or local - in the hot and humid climes of Malaysia. 

Located close to the equator with 90% humidity and daily temperatures year-round of between 32-36C, it is hot and wet.

Dehydration occurs when the amount of water going out from your body exceeds the amount going in. For example when there is more fluid lost from urinating and sweating and water vapour dispelled when you breathe, than there is from fluid being consumed by drinking water, you may experience mild, moderate or severe dehydration.

This is particularly useful to know if you are an expat in Malaysia and may not be accustomed to such high temperatures and humid conditions.

I've been living in Malaysia for around 9 years but I've learned to NEVER underestimate dehydration. Some of the signs that you are dehydrated may include: 
  • a dry mouth
  • feeling thirsty
  • stomach discomfort
  • feeling nauseous
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • confusion

Now I will share my personal experience with dehydration:

On October 15th, 2012, I began to feel unwell. I hadn't drank much water in the preceding couple of days and I was beginning to feel rather nauseous. Around 7pm I was very weak and noticed my mouth had become particularly dry. It was difficult to drink water, even a little. I started vomiting, 4 times. Then the diarrhoea came along. I was becoming increasingly distressed. My body was going hot, then cold and I started shivering. My wife helped me get to the bed and that's when the scariest part of my ordeal occurred.

As I lay on the bed, I started having convulsions. It started with my hands. I couldn't stop them from shaking. My wrists bent inwards and became locked in place so tightly. The same with my fingers and thumbs. Sharp pains followed before they became completely numb. That's when I screamed out for my wife to call the ambulance. My legs soon started shaking too and were likewise starting to get very tight and slightly numb.

For a few moments, I thought I was going to die. It's funny, when confronted with the prospect of death, I actually wasn't afraid. I was in physical distress and pain which I had never before felt, but something inside of me said, "If I'm going to die . . .then let's do it!"

My wife later told me that the 2 minutes I thought it took for the ambulance to arrive was in fact 20 minutes. Whether I passed out I don't know. I vomited once more outside the ambulance while people were carrying me in my bed sheet.

Then the IV drip was inserted into my vein in the ambulance and everything suddenly changed for the better. I was no longer 'going to die', but I knew that I'd be alright. The saline drip of sodium chloride is heaven! Over the next 48 hours I would have a further SEVEN bags of sodium chloride pumped into my veins!

Here I am in the Accident & Emergency area of HTAA Kuantan with the IV drip working its magic.

I was diagnosed with food poisoning and severe dehydration. Spent that night in the hospital, all day on the 16th (which incidentally was my birthday!) and was discharged after lunch on the 17th.

Here I am in my hospital bed at HTAA Kuantan

The moral of the story is: If you're living in Malaysia or places of a similar climate, especially if you're an expat, you need to drink plenty of water daily, coupled with electrolyte drinks like 100plus, Revive or Gatorade. Dehydration can both hit quickly, and creep up almost unnoticed. Make sure you have access to clean drinking water wherever you are, and drink it regularly, even if you think you are not doing much physical exercise or sweating rapidly.

Stay happy, healthy, and hydrated in Malaysia!


  1. Phew... that was some terrifying experience!

  2. What a horrible experience Duncan..we have to watch that here in Australia also, when the temp gets in the 40C's for days at a time, it's easy to forget to drink enough water. I bet you won't forget again hey!

  3. I was scared when it happened last October, finding out that you were in hospital and me being so many miles away and completely unable to come over and help out in any way,babysitting for example, but reading this I feel it was even worse than I imagined! Please take care, though I know you will now. How blessed we are to have hospitals and medical experts and how thankful we should be every day for pure clean water to drink.
    Love you Duncan xxxx

  4. Urgh that's scary!
    And I'm getting up to drink water now, because I tend to forget.

  5. Wow, that sounds really horrid. Glad there was help close by.

  6. best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery Duncan. get plenty of rest and take care.

  7. What a story Duncan, fortunately it ended well.
    Indeed drink water is very important.
    Here it is almost spring, but it's really still quite cold.
    Here are temperatures of -5 or - 10 degrees normal.
    Greetings Irma

  8. Glad you made it through OK, but what a scary experience! Dehydration is a big issue where I grew up (tropical, hot area) and many parts of the states, especially Southwest, where there is lots of desert.

  9. Hi Duncan, I understand exactly what you went through as when David was admitted to hospital before Christmas he was very severely dehydrated. It is indeed scary. Take Care.

  10. Wise words for everyone!

    Popped in from the Blog Blitz.

  11. Hi Duncan. Glad that experience ends well. Though it is rare to be dehydrated in humid Malaysia, it can happen, especially when you are out and about, sweating and not drinking enough. Not only dehydration, but heat stroke too. Not so bad when you are say in Las Vegas or Phoenix. Now if you had a food poisoning or an infection like Dengue Fever, and not treated, dehydration is almost a certainty. So take care.

  12. Oh my, I am so glad that you had good and quick medical attention. It is so easy to become dehydrated. While in Seville, Spain I got dehydrated and spent two days in a hotel bed. By the time you think you are thirsty it is too late!

    Great post, Duncan.


  13. Ok, dehydration alone shouldn't have been so bad. I guess food poisoning aggravated it. The only solution - very obvious, but rarely observed, (including by yours truly) is to drink a lot of water in the hot weather. My mum used to constantly remind me to drink, drink and drink more water. I guess now that she is not around, I have to remind myself.

  14. oh poor friend, so sorry for this moment...I hope you are feeling well now. Please take care and thanks for the hints!

  15. Hallo Duncan. SO sorry I'm late checking in here. Excellent advice you have given in this post. Dehydration is certainly such a dangerous thing. Thank the Lord that you had the appropriate treatment and are now back with us as good as new!! Hope all the family are keeping well.

  16. P.S. Love your mum's comment above!

  17. I hope your doing much better. That is my problem. I hate water and I never drink enough of it.

  18. Hi Duncan, What a terrifying experience. I've been at that point where I thought I might die (recently on an airplane during turbulence which spiked my imagination of the afterlife). It was comforting to know that my dad and grandma were already on the other side. That being said, I'm so thankful that you are recovered now! It would be a terrible loss to all of us if you didn't make it through. So, I'm thankful for good medicine and for those bags of saline. I bet you scared poor Fidelia out of her wits!

  19. I'm glad you were able to recover quickly from such a frightening experience. Bob suffered dehydration while we were in Peru and he really had a bad time of it.I hope your weekend is off to a great start. Blessings...Mary

  20. I know the feeling! I got this bloody bacteria in Guatemala which made my intestins go crazy. When I came back to Lisbon, I was so dehydrated that I had to spend a couple of days in the hospital.

  21. Blimey! That sounds very scary indeed. I'm so glad you were able to recover so quickly though.
    Your poor family too, they must have been so frightened for you.

    Keep well, and happy.


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