Time for something a little bit different. You know they say that if you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel. And the biggest reason for that is medical emergencies. Since my first solo trip in 1999 I have had my fair share of hospital visits whilst travelling. I’ve had malaria, severe food poisoning and severe anaphylaxis that have all taken me to hospital. I’ve also had a couple of other things I don’t wish to go into!
I’ve been to hospitals in – Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, India, Georgia, Japan, Pakistan, Malaysia, Serbia and Singapore. And taken photos in none of those! The reality is though, that the more you travel for long periods of time independently (or even with people), the more likely it is that you will have something occur that takes you to a hospital. And you’re going to want it to be a decent place.
The reality is, however, that some parts of the world do not have the standard of medical care we expect in the western world. No, I’m not down on them for that either, that’s the sad reality of world economics (not to mention pharmaceutical companies and their demands for profits).
Consider then how fortunate we are in the western world, and even in an emergency situation. We can demand the best a country has in health care with our travel insurance, provided there is some nearby – when you get malaria in a smallish country town in Burkina Faso you have to take what you can get.
In 2002 I took a university trip to Bangladesh, and I went out with a couple of people from my university to try some food that wasn’t served by our guesthouse for once. I have a dietary issue – I am allergic to peanuts. Peanuts can kill me. But all research into the cuisine in Bangladesh and that part of the world suggested that peanuts were not commonly used in the cooking (unlike in many parts of Africa).
I had some curry, quite a bit of curry actually. By far the worst anaphylactic response of my life. The only time I’ve ever had to use my epi-pen. As a result I was taken to a nearby doctor, who sent me straight to the closest hospital. With a professor and students along for the ride, very weak and barely able to walk, I took a rickshaw to the hospital.
There are many hospitals in Dhaka, I don’t know which one it is. It was dusty and not particularly clean and it looked pretty bare-boned. They monitored me for a couple of hours I think, I threw up a couple of times. I think I was in a room with maybe a dozen beds, but I was the only person occupying a bed. So that was pretty weird. I was seriously delusional for many hours and once they decided that I was out of danger, I was able to go back to the guest house. It was traumatic, especially for those around me. I remember one doctor, no nurses or other staff and I had friends on the satellite phone to the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne to get advice because this was clearly something rare for Bangladesh.
And that’s something you face when you travel with a serious nut allergy. People not understanding your condition because it’s rare in some parts of the world. Or it never gets diagnosed there. It obviously increases the odds of a medical emergency too. My advice to anyone wanting to travel who has an allergy – don’t let it stop you, but know what it means, and have an action plan should a reaction occur whilst travelling.
So, my first hospital overseas was survived. My next visit to an overseas hospital would be in 2004 on a long, round the world trip. Actually there would be a few. More on those next time! May the Journey Never End!