Don't Drink the Water

June 16, 2004 Baghdad 1:04 pm

• Watch Steve's report

One of the most dangerous things in a war zone is the food. I did my first set of live shots from Baghdad last night, but the producer who was supposed to help me was out sick with food poisoning. I find that most people know exactly what food it was they ate that caused them to become sick. The woman said she suspected it was the burgers from the outdoor grill the other night, that she had watched the cook molding the patties:

"He made the patties, then scratched, then made the patties," she said. While she said this she illustrated it by scratching her cheek with her fingernails.

It is a mistake to eat beef or chicken in most war zones because of lack of refrigeration. In Afghanistan it was obvious because all the meat hung out in the sun, covered with flies. It is also a mistake to eat anything uncooked or unpeeled. Peter Arnett told me the best thing to eat was bananas. They were clean, because of the peel, and they contained no ground water. I had gotten salmonella three times, once from Afghan ice cream, once from a tomato slice while foolishly trying to eat healthy, and once from a shwarma, a lamb sandwich, another foolish decision.

If you have ever had salmonella you know how bad it is. In Afghanistan it caused dehydration bad enough to make me pass out during a live shot. I was standing in front of the camera talking, then they had to take a break to go to a John Ashcroft speech and left me standing there at night, in a dirt Afghan fort, trying to pinch my legs together. Ashcroft seemed to talk on and on, and I didn't know if I could make it. They came back to me with a question and I began talking, but then it seemed like I looked into my own head and it was empty. I remember falling backwards, dragging a light down with me. Some Afghan soldiers came running over in panic. Someone who was watching told me later they thought I had been shot. Somehow my earpiece stayed in, so I could still hear the control room. They put me in a chair and came back to me to show I was alright. I asked them to ask me a question, to show I could talk, in a vain attempt to ease my embarrassment. Ever since then when I hear Ashcroft speak I remember that feeling.

It got worse that night, and to keep from waking people up I laid out in the dirt on a ledge next to a garden, hanging over whichever part of my body was appropriate. I no longer bothered to walk out of the fort to the wooden outhouse. At one point I told myself that if I threw up one more time I was going to call the special number to get medivacked out. The next day, a barefoot Afghan doctor came with a series of pills that I read to a doctor in London. He advised Ciproflaxin, which worked, and which I always carry with me now...

Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.