Travel + Illness (an almost inevitable occurrence)

20 Apr

So, I should probably introduce myself before I get started. My name is Sandra and I happen to be enrolled in the degree which has the longest name of any at Macquarie University: Bachelor of Science with a Bachelor of Arts in Natural and Cultural Heritage and Museums. Quite the mouthful. Yet, of more interest, is the fact that my degree has very little to do with Development. I guess this information is neither here nor there, yet it gives a context to where I’m coming from.

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about in this post is my experiences with being sick while volunteering in the Philippines. During my 7 week stint there, I was not sick for approximately 2 weeks. The rest of my time was divided between catching a flu, then a cold and then a flu again. While this was, to put it lightly, annoying, I find myself being eternally thankful that I wasn’t plagued by internal parasites like some other volunteers I have spoken to.

The thing about being sick in a developing country is that – while you know you should go to see a doctor – it’s such an inconvenience to do so, that you put it off; constantly saying to yourself “it’s okay, it’s just a flu, it’ll go away, it’ll go away”. This is a stupid thing to do. I cannot stress this enough, do not do what I did! I found out the hard way that, whilst travelling, my body was no longer capable of kicking out the sicknesses that it was usually so adept at doing. I learned this when, in the middle of the night, I awoke to the nastiest ear ache I have ever had in my adult life.

The next morning I was ushered into a  Jeepney (after a bumpy ride on a tric) with my group’s in-country team leader. After a switchover to another Jeepney and then yet another tric ride, we arrived at the hospital closest to our base of operations (which was at the Bahay Tuluyan centre in San Antonio, Quezon). My memory fails me here as I cannot remember exactly how long it took for us to get there, but it must have been well over an hour. (For my own ailment, this was not such a big deal; but I often wonder what the local San Antonians do in the case of an emergency: how do they make a speedy trip to the hospital and what happens when that isn’t possible? These are questions that I find painfully hard to dwell on as I know that, ultimately, it was my relative wealth which enabled me to travel to the hospital in the first place, let alone dish out the cash for the required medications.)

Of my actual experience in the hospital, there is not much to tell. It was a speedy visit and I was there for no longer than half an hour. The hospital was clean enough, although it was a little dilapidated and I was struck by the fact that the hand washing sink had no roof over it. (This relative cleanliness is in contrast to my experiences with an airport clinic in Jordan where cigarette butts littered the floor.) The doctor who saw me took my temperature and my blood pressure but did not deem it necessary to look in my ears nor listen to my chest before declaring that I had both an ear and chest infection.

I have since come to the conclusion that my flu should not have had the chance to develop into two infections. Once I first started to have inklings that I was sick, I should have organised to see a doctor or at least taken the antibiotics that several team-mates offered me. I was stupid. But I was also lucky. Because my ailment was easy to get rid of and I was within relatively easy access of a doctor. Other travellers have surely not been so lucky.

So, fellow travellers, I want to hear your experiences with treating illnesses whilst abroad. What did you catch? How did you gain treatment? Did you have to be admitted to hospital? How long were you struck down for? Tell me all; my ears (or eyes) are wide open.


4 Responses to “Travel + Illness (an almost inevitable occurrence)”

  1. bec4890 April 20, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    While I was on the plane on our way to India, a fellow traveller offered us all a Mintie. Harmless? Not so much. Another girl we were travelling with was happily chewing away when she pulled a half chewed, saliva covered mintie out of her mouth. We all laughed and joked but then saw the expression on her face when she said to us “half my tooth is in this mintie!” Before we had even arrived in India, we had a girl with half a missing front tooth. We rushed to get a cup of milk to try and save the tooth. We then put it in a click zip plastic bag. When we changed flights at Singapore, we had to empty some of the milk out of the bag because we had more than 100mL of liquid. We phoned through to the in-country coordinator and she booked a dentist apointment for the morning after we landed. So the next day, with a gap toothed girl we all took a rickshaw through Bangalore to a dentist. When the dentist opened the bag of milk, it stunk! A bag of milk with no refrigeration for almost 48 hours! What’s worse is that the dentist didn’t clean the tooth before gluing it back into her mouth! She was grateful she could smile again and called home to book a proper dentist visit.

    • scronk April 26, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

      I cannot even imagine how stressful that must have been for your friend. But it’s interesting that she was able to get an appointment in such short notice; imagine trying to do that in Australia!

  2. ladybec April 26, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    I got sick when I was in Vietnam. Just the flu, but a pretty bad case with the worst cough I have ever experienced. Unfortunately I got sick when Swine Flu was turning everyone into a paranoid nutcase and the first man in Vietnam had just died of the illness. This led to me getting booted from the centre I was working at and being cooped up in my room for a week. I was terrified of seeing a doctor, thinking they would lock me up in quarantine. I managed to find a chemist I could mime my illness to and procured some extremely sugary pills which fixed me up. All in all, an interesting experience.

    • scronk April 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

      I can’t even imagine how frustrating and scary that would have been for you. I think I was lucky with my two flus since I’d just received the swine flu vaccination before leaving for the Philippines so everyone knew that I wasn’t sick with that.

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