Getting Weirdly Sick In Strange Places

While lying in bed sick Monday evening, I decided to take the time to think about what to write for this week’s blog post. A couple of headaches, fevers, and chills later, I came up with the incredibly original idea to talk about getting sick! And not even while away from home, but in a whole different country!

1. Buy travel insurance

Even if you don’t get sick, even if you only get a little sick, even if you only have to go to the emergency room once — don’t leave home without some insurance backing you up. You probably won’t end up using it, but it is much better to be safe than sorry. You might only have one small emergency over your entire time away (which will probably cost you almost nothing in comparison to the fees we get charged in the U.S.). Insurance can reimburse you for the small things, but it’s the big things you want to be prepared for.

Like breaking your foot, or your back, or splitting your head open. Or, as a friend of mine had to go through: getting food poising, violently throwing up, then collapsing in the bathroom causing you to throw out your back (all of this also unfortunately happened right after she was robbed of her passport, camera, and other personal effects). She had a long week. Insurance can help cover misadventures and sometimes even help cover the cost of getting you to a good hospital, or even back home.

If your parents have insurance, and you are still covered by it, you also might be able to upgrade your plan so that it covers you while you are out of the country. Plan it out, and see which option comes out cheaper.

2. Pack what you can

Don’t go overboard with a full to-go crash cart, but bringing stuff like bandaids, aspirin, and Neosporin can go a long way. You can always find first-aid supplies on the road as well, just make sure you have a tiny, personal kit stocked in your pack for small emergencies.

3. Take time to rest

Most of the times you encounter sickness (if, you do at all), it will usually be things you can take care of on your own. The occasional burn, scrape, cute, sprain, cold, flu, food poising, etc. can all be solved with your first-aid kit, some rest, and some optimism (and perhaps a shot of your choice). Even if you have a plan set in place, or want to be somewhere by a certain time, take a few days to just slow down and rest; it’s is no fun being on a moving vehicle while sick/in pain.

Also, if it’s food poising, lay off the local fare for a while. Go to the supermarket and buy things you recognize (crackers, bread, other safe things) or plan meals you can cook yourself. Sometimes ingredients you don’t normally consume can upset your body, and it can take some time to adjust.

4. Don’t be afraid to go to the hospital

Even if you’re in completely different country, don’t know the language, etcetera, if something doesn’t feel right after a couple of days, go get it checked out. There might be a little bit of a language barrier, but hospitals are big places; there might someone who can translate. Hand gestures also work. And, well, if your ulna is sticking out, I think they’ll get the gist.

If you can (and if your prefer), find a hospital that practices a form of western medicine, or that people recommend. Written guides and hotels/hostels are also a great resource to help find a hospital/clinic.

As I mentioned before, emergency room fees (as well as prescribed medications) are usually much cheaper outside of the U.S. I went skiing in Granada, Spain with some friends one day, took a really bad fall, and had horrible migraines and a ringing in my ear for the next couple of days. Eventually, people convinced me to go to the hospital, and turns out I had whiplash and a possible concussion (yay!) The emergency room visit cost me around $40 and painkillers only and extra $5. I was in awe.

5. Don’t freak out

Don’t use webMD! You WILL think you are dying. Keep yourself composed and remain calm, and don’t let your mind wander to the worst possible scenario; it will only make you feel worse.

When I was in Cambodia, I was working in the south of the country and had just gotten a tattoo. A couple weeks later, I came down with this horrible cold, my lymph nodes swelled to a point where it was painful to swallow, and I was severally achy. I sucked it up and went to the hospital where the nice ex-pat doctor calmingly said she would test me for everything—including HIV! At this point I was FREAKING OUT. It took most of the day to run tests and blood work, and my paranoia almost drove me insane. Turns out it was just a virus… aka, a pretty bad cold.

So, when you get sick, stay calm and take care of yourself. You can’t do anything if you’re incapacitated anyway.

Hopefully I didn’t bum too many people out with my sickness talk – Stay healthy!

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