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Health on the Road

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Most of us are fit and healthy when we set out on our travels, what happens when we become ill or need medical attention? What tales have we to tell of our experiences?
5 years ago, May 4th 2014 No: 1 Msg: #181197  
I would consider myself to be fairly healthy (except for the current sniveling cold that the Mammoth has given me!) but I am severely allergic to all coconut products. Luckily I haven't had problems while actually travelling but the waft of malibu sunscream sees me running for cover.
What allergies/medical problems do we travel with and what has happened when you have become ill on the road? Reply to this

5 years ago, May 10th 2014 No: 2 Msg: #181369  
B Posts: 1,464
This is a really interesting subject that could go in so many directions -- pre-existing allergies & medical conditions, different illnesses in different countries that vaccines/drugs may or may not prevent, even dangerous animals that one could come across, special diets that people must or want to follow, etc.

Considering what you've recently experienced, I think this is a very brave and important forum topic, so thanks for posting this Jo & Woolly.

I'll try to answer honestly on my few experiences:

(1) Needing health advice in countries where English is not spoken has been unsettling. In one instance, I had an upset stomach and was given a large bag of mysterious pills, which I decided not to take. In another instance, I was directed to a hospital that looked like an abandoned building -- with a leaking roof, no sign of anybody upon entering -- this story could have ended quite differently, but after (bravely or idiotically) exploring the building a little further a very nice nurse popped her head out and we communicated through basic sign language and she redirected me to the local convenience store.

(2) Catching dengue was probably the hardest experience. There was no cure or medicine and, every day, it just kept looking worse. All I wanted to do was call my mom and dad. In the end, I didn't call my parents to keep them from worrying and my boyfriend (at-the-time) and our really good friend took turns visiting me, talking with me, sometimes at me when I was really tired, sometimes just being present while I dozed -- it meant so much and helped me stay stronger than I could have been on my own.

(3) Allergies: None myself, but I have travelled with two separate individuals with allergies to antibiotics, one to penicillin/amoxicillin and the other to doxycyline -- useful to know! Reply to this

5 years ago, May 11th 2014 No: 3 Msg: #181483  
B Posts: 25
I was very grateful for the Australian Embassy in Vientiane, Laos when I got an infected foot. It was this little pocket of normality and familiarity that solved the problem! It also taught me how valuable my travel insurance was.
Thankfully I have never had any real disasters health wise. I have been rather unlucky with stomach bugs...whilst traveling from Asia to Europe sans airplanes, I began to list the countries I had not had some form of food poisoning rather than those in which I had not!

Here's to a healthy bunch of travelers amongst us! Reply to this

5 years ago, May 17th 2014 No: 4 Msg: #181692  
In response to: Msg #181369 Your experiences do highlight the differences from country to country in health care and as I was reading them I was thinking that at least I haven't had to face anything like that..... then I remembered the Turkish hospital with Ian and them wanting to operate on his heart! and our adventures in Italy with daughter Zoe where they wanted to take out her perfectly good appendix!

Having spent the last week on my stomach with sciatica I decided to leave the Turkish health service alone and took advice from the internet - just in case they wanted to chop my arm off! Reply to this

5 years ago, May 17th 2014 No: 5 Msg: #181693  
In response to: Msg #181483 The embassies can be brilliant. One thing I do have is an iron stomach but you have my sympathy on that as a problem. We always carried a fairly comprehensive medical box with us and used the net for the minor ailments. Reply to this

5 years ago, May 17th 2014 No: 6 Msg: #181698  
B Posts: 1,464
JHG -- I've concluded that the mysterious stomach bug is the inevitable and best-traveled companion we will run into when traveling -- especially for foodies. 😉

Jo -- Umm, yeah, not a fan of getting major parts or appendages taken on the off chance that they may resolve a symptom -- I guess it would lead to a guaranteed distraction from the original symptoms? 😉 Reply to this

5 years ago, May 18th 2014 No: 7 Msg: #181714  
B Posts: 25
Yes - Now when we travel we are lucky to have the internet to help (if not terrifying at times with drastic self diagnosis!)

Auspicious - that bug certainly is a travel companion, but one I can cope with for the love of travel surpasses any episode of V&D!
Traveltalesofawoolymammoth - I need to get myself one of those Iron stomachs!

Happy Travels! Reply to this

5 years ago, May 20th 2014 No: 8 Msg: #181810  
B Posts: 281
I have a terrible habit of visiting hospitals while abroad! Not particularly accident prone nor unhealthy, travel seems to make me miss that last staircase step, zag instead of zig on cobblestones, find the only sea urchin on the reef with my toes, go to 49% oxygen saturation (aka near death) at 5100m, and drink an offered fermented yak milk when I know I'm lactose intolerant. Hey! That's what travel is all about! Reply to this

5 years ago, May 20th 2014 No: 9 Msg: #181812  
B Posts: 25
I like you're attitude cabochick! It is indeed what travel is all about! It's often those kind of tales that make for interesting blogs and travel stories! Reply to this

5 years ago, May 20th 2014 No: 10 Msg: #181815  
B Posts: 1,464
In response to: Msg #181810
I agree with JHG -- I think the "fermented yak milk when I know I'm lactose intolerant" needs a blog link to go with it because that sounds like a good story. 😉 Reply to this

5 years ago, May 20th 2014 No: 11 Msg: #181816  
B Posts: 281
Ok then! . Attached to my blog called Brrr in a Ger Reply to this

5 years ago, May 20th 2014 No: 12 Msg: #181819  

5 years ago, May 21st 2014 No: 13 Msg: #181841  
B Posts: 25
In response to: Msg #181819
Thanks! Enjoyed reading that. I did a similar trip in 2009 on the trans-siberian (Thailand to London with no planes!)
Mongolia was actually one of my memorable food poisoning episodes if there are such things! We had been on the road in Mongolia with nothing but mutton for days on end. Our last night, and we went to the Irish pub (!) in Ulan Bator - I decided to attempt to stay cultural on our last night and chose from the "Mongolian Specialties" - I was so ill. My two companions who had burgers and fries were absolutely fine! All in the name of travel!!! Reply to this

5 years ago, May 22nd 2014 No: 14 Msg: #181898  
Great question--

Even being an experienced traveler and a nurse when we are planning our next trip or adventure we always visualize ourself as a picture of health. We hate it when the reality does not mesh with what we visualized.

Over the years I've learned it is important to know your limitations and make wise choices.

MJ here. For whatever reason I have a very strong stomach in that I can eat anything hot and spicy but if a food is even thinking about going bad I will get food poisoning. I've had it multiple times in the U.S, and sadly experienced it is Chiang Mai, Thailand and Kathmandu, Nepal. Dave had food poisoning in Yangon, Burma.
In all cases it could have and should have been prevented. We know better. We are knowledgeable travelers and Each time we made a stupid decision that we paid dearly for. In Chiang Mai we'd been on the road for awhile and we ate in a Mediterranean restaurant. It was fantastic. We enjoyed it and went back the next night. On the third night I got stupid and ordered tabouli. Evidentially they washed the parsley in the local water and I was deathly ill for 4 days and not healthy for nearly 10 days. In Kathmandu, we had dinner with a friend from the states who has lived in Nepal for the most part of the past 30 years. He took us to a restaurant run by one of his Swiss friends and assured us the guy had the food flown in from Europe and the meats were wonderful...and safe. He and I shared a steak that was not cooked well done and I was sick as a dog for several days. If the food poisoning wasn't bad enough I was so sick I that I passed out in the bathroom and my head bounced off the cement floor. I had a knot on my head for days along with numerous scratches, bangs and bruises. I was completely out. Dave had trouble reviving me. If you've been to Kathmandu you know they have rolling black outs so I was laying sick in bed with no air or ventilation. It seemed like an incredibly long and unhappy few days.
Our last night in Yangon we were with friends having dinner and we ordered well done hamburgers that were served with tossed salad. The friend we were with wanted my salad and I happily gave it to him and Dave gave his away also. They served the burger with lettuce on it. I took mine off but Dave did not. One lonely little piece of lettuce and Dave was sick for a few days. Sadly our friend who ate his salad and both of our salads was very, very, very sick.

Best never to eat salad in most foreign countries.

While in the mountains of Nepal Dave slipped on some wet steps and had a very hard fall on cement and metal. He broke several ribs and was miserable for 10 days and sore for 6 weeks. Fortunately being nurses we had pain medication with us. I had surgery the year before and had some left over oxycontin and it wasn't holding his pain. He was miserable. I was frightened. He was in bad shape. I still think about how serious this was and how thankful I am that it was not worse.


On a boat trip in New Zealand the boat pulled under a waterfall and I slipped in an effort to get out of the way. I fell on my knee. A year later I had surgery for a torn meniscus. Fortunately the tear didn't prevent me from enjoying the rest of the trip.

We travel with all kinds of drugs.

Reply to this

5 years ago, June 26th 2014 No: 15 Msg: #182923  
I’ve been extremely fortunate throughout my life. I was born with a strong, healthy body and strong constitution and I’m the guy who “never gets sick”.
I will admit that I rarely experiment with strange dishes when I travel which I know limits my experience.
However I had been feeling constipated quite a bit last year and about last June while I was visiting in Colorado and exploring all over the state I started having what felt like constipation cramps most of the time and felt very low energy and most of the time I just wanted to sleep.
Still I spent the summer exploring Colorado again, boondocking and camping free in National Forest mostly. I felt very short of breath but rationalized that that was because of the altitude and when hiking I was just getting older.
In any case I toughed it out and when I got back to Texas I just spent most of my time on my computer or just relaxing since I’ve already seen everything here in Texas I wanted to see.
Once again all I wanted to do was I wanted to sleep most of the time and was short of breath. Once again I rationalized it as just getting older.
I invested a lot of time on homework on the Yucatan and Playa del Carmen in Mexico and in March I took off on a trip there even though by then my shortness of breath meant in the airports I had to try and stay to the extreme right when walking to let people by and stop from time to time to get my breath back. I knew something was wrong but didn’t want to deal with it.
I could be wrong but my observations of other people going to the doctor is that they just gave them prescriptions for drugs. They took drugs for this which messed up that which meant they were taking more drugs for what was messed up by the other. I didn’t want to be put on some kind of drug which once started I would be locked in to having to take all the rest of my life. I have never taken drugs, neither legal nor illegal.
But I knew this time was different and that I would have to deal with it after my Playa trip.
So I tuffed it out on my Playa trip 100 to 150 feet at a time stopping to sit down or lean against something until I got my breath back.
In any cast it was a month after I got back from Playa when I just walked from my RV to my truck outside and had to stand holding the side of my truck a bit till I got my breath back before I could go back in, that I finally decided I would just have to go to the doctor and find out what the problem was.
I won’t go into the details here as my last 3 blogs cover the details but when I went to the clinic in Bryan to get checked out they found I was severely anemic with a hemoglobin level of 6 when it should be 14 – 18. This was causing my shortness of breath.
After getting a colonoscopy, I found out my low hemoglobin level was caused by a colon cancer the size of a hardball which was causing bleeding and so my body could not replace the oxygen carrying blood cells quick enough.
So they took me into surgery and took out my ascending colon and sewed my small intestine to the transverse colon. This took out the cancer and I was very fortunate as it was encapsulated and had not spread to my liver or lymph nodes.
My recovery was good and after getting out and taking Feosol iron tablets twice a day my hemoglobin level is back where it should be.
I feel GREAT and full of energy! I feel like I am 50 again! Once I get the financial cost bubble from the hospital bill dealt with I will probably head out up the Rockies for the summer. It’s too hot in Texas to do anything in summer.
The last time I saw my surgeon I thanked him for literally saving my life. : )
Reply to this

5 years ago, June 26th 2014 No: 16 Msg: #182927  
In response to: Msg #181810 Yes.... I read with interest your experience in a Russian hospital and the "Vodka cure" that was prescribed and actually worked! Reply to this

5 years ago, July 26th 2014 No: 17 Msg: #183731  
B Posts: 1,464
In response to: Msg #182923
Well, it's certainly not an easy experience. I'm glad to hear you've recovered and are so optimistic and energetic post-op! 😊 Reply to this

5 years ago, July 26th 2014 No: 18 Msg: #183733  
Wow some brilliant tales, we could do our own medical pitfalls (!) Book, hours of entertainment with usual info to put people off travelling for life 😊 Reply to this

5 years ago, August 11th 2014 No: 19 Msg: #184133  
I think these situations are very normal for the people who traveling a lot.Even i had gone some of these situations many times. Reply to this

5 years ago, August 12th 2014 No: 20 Msg: #184204  
B Posts: 222
Wow, pretty intense stories! I must say when I read of Ian's so wrong diagnosis in Turkey, I was afraid. Fortunately, I've never had health insurance, so I've always been an internet fan. I didn't visit hospitals back home in the US or now abroad. I didn't get immunizations before coming to South America because they were too expensive. However, health care is free in Argentina, so I waited for tiny towns and went to their clinics.

I do have little bones that I've broken that I didn't get set and cause pain when walking after an hour or so. I just notice the pain and carry on. However, I've recently been gulping ibuprofen as several old joint injuries have come back to haunt me--being old isn't so easy when you like to hike and explore.

With asthma and weak lungs, I always get bronchitis once or twice a year after colds (I'm just getting over a month of hacking). Once in Guatemala, a hostel friend bought penicillin and a syringe at the pharmacy, and never having given an injection before, just started shooting me up. Not so wise, I now know, but it worked, and the infection left.

Stomach problems I figure are just a regular part of travel. I'm a salad-eating, self-caterer who washes my veggies in the South American tap water. I also eat street food and only get sick every few months. I'm pretty much a vegetarian, which I think helps a lot. When ill, once I can keep liquids down, I drink camomile tea with ginger, garlic and cayenne to try to kill anything living in my gut. So far, so good. I think I'm lucky.

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