Being Sick While You’re Abroad…

Even if you don’t have 4 auto-immune diseases like me, being ill while you’re away is certainly something to be concerned about.  After all, Giardia has been known to knock even the healthiest person flat on their back for weeks.  And food poisoning, like I had in Aruba, can really do a number on you.  Just take a look at me.  Isn’t is nice to have a travel companion who documents everything?

When traveling to a foreign country, it’s important to know what you’re getting into…before you leave.  Do some research while you’re planning your trip.  Is it safe to drink the water?  And don’t forget, if it isn’t, then it isn’t safe to do things like brush your teeth with it, or eat items like salads & raw fruits & vegetables that may have been washed in it.  Also, do you need any special vaccines or medical treatments before you go for thing such as Malaria or Hepatitis?  Have they had a recent outbreak of the Measles or Chicken Pox or something for which you’ve not been or can’t be vaccinated?  Are there poisonous plants, spiders, snakes, etc., that you’ll need to watch out for while on your trip, and if so, how readily available is treatment for encounters with these dangers?  Do you need to bring treatment with you?

Bring with you the basics – you may not be able to find them at your destination.  I always pack Immodium & something to get you going, Sudafed or some kind of nasal decongestant, Airborne & Vitamin C lozenges, & if you’re prone to stomach issues like me, some Gas-X & Tums are never a bad idea.  This assortment usually gets us through whatever minor health maladies try to to strike us down while we’re away, but you’ll want to create your own travel medicine chest based on your own needs.  Keep in mind that it might be  a good idea to bring along a surgical type mask for the flight if you’re on an immuno-suppressant like me, or just likely to pick up any cold virus within  a 20 block radius, like my husband – especially if your flight will be a particularly long one.  In Japan, people who are sick wear masks so as not to infect others.  Unfortunately, the rest of the world is not quite so considerate, and you might wind up like us, getting stuck on a 13 hour flight in front of two people who sneeze and cough the whole way without even covering their mouths!  You’ll want to be prepared – trust me!

Most destinations will be safe and have few health concerns to worry about. However, it is a good idea to do a little research before you go about the medical/hospital systems at your destination as well. You never know when the unforeseen will happen, leaving you in need of medical care.  And if you’re in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language and know nothing of the local health system, this can be quite stressful, which is the last thing you need at a time of crisis. Find out which hospitals have English-speaking (or any language you can get along in) staff.  It’s also good to know how their insurance system works and if yours would be accepted.  You can check with your credit card company too.  Some offer emergency medical coverage while traveling, while others offer travel medical insurance you can purchase, often at reasonable prices.  We use our American Express Card whenever possible, and although they currently do not offer travel insurance, they do offer a 24 hour Global Assist Hotline that will refer and coordinate medical care, offer translation services, etc.  Any third party care is at your own expense, but at least they can help you know where to go and help communicate what care you need.  With their Platinum Card, they also offer emergency medical transport, which depending on the situation, could be a life saver.  In addition to medical support, their Global Assist Hotline can help with things like Passport Replacement, Lost Luggage, etc. – all those things that can make life miserable when you’re in a foreign country.  (https://www.americanexpress.com/us/content/card-benefits/global-assist-hotline.html?vgnextchannel=3c830da9846dd010VgnVCM10000084bhttps://www.americanexpress.com/us/content/card-benefits/global-assist-hotline.html?vgnextchannel=3c830da9846dd010VgnVCM10000084b3ad94RCRD&name=globalassist_allccsg_shareddetails&type=intBenefitDetail&inav=menu_travel_globalassist=globalassist_allccsg_shareddetails&type=intBenefitDetail&inav=menu_travel_globalassist)

So say you don’t plan for the worst, and like me on our recent trip to Japan, fall ill and find yourself in need of medical attention? What then?  First and foremost, don’t panic.  Unless you find yourself lying next to an open fire with natives chanting and dancing all around you and a doctor of the witchy sort leaning over you with a mask on (& not the surgical type) and a large knife aimed at one of your body parts, chances are, you’ll be able to get the help you need and everything will be okay.  If you have American Express, call the Global Assist line and let them coordinate everything for you.  If you don’t, use the resources you do have.  Contact the front desk of the hotel or place where you’re staying. Hopefully they have someone who speaks enough English to understand what you need.  Two of the hotels we stayed at in Japan actually had doctors on call that would come to the room if I needed.  This may be the case where you’re staying, although be sure to find out the cost of such a service prior to agreeing to it.  It may actually be more cost effective to find a local clinic or hospital.  Of course, it would all depend on your needs.  At the third hotel we stayed at, they didn’t have a doctor on staff, but the front desk handled everything.

This was at The Gate Hotel Asakusa Kaminarimon in Tokyo (http://www.gate-hotel.jp/english/).  Not only was it a fabulous hotel in a perfect location for site-seeing, but the courteous staff handled my mini medical crisis with concern, speed and professionalism.  In Japan, when going to the Emergency Room at the hospital, you are supposed to call in first and make an appointment.  You basically call and let them know you’re coming as sort of a pre-registration.  The hotel staff came to my room and called the hospital from there to register me at the International Hospital, St. Luke’s (http://hospital.luke.ac.jp/eng/), so they would be sure to speak English. Then he called us a cab, came back to the room to get us when it arrived, saw me into the cab & told the driver exactly where to take me.  When I returned they asked how I was doing, and even called our room the next day to make sure I was feeling ok.  It was really extraordinary service that went above and beyond any normal expectation of reasonable service. I was very grateful we had chosen to stay at The Gate Hotel.

We had a similar experience at the hospital.  I finished my registration when I got to the hospital, waited about 10 minutes, and was seen by a waiting physician.  Since she had done her final year of training at GeorgeWashington University in the U.S., her English was excellent.  She listened to what I had to say, asked some relevant questions, and began treating me within a few minutes.  The nurses were competent and kind, and by the time I left, just a couple of hours later, I was feeling so much better.  I had medicine I was able to get right there at the hospital pharmacy, and everything included only cost me about $500.  This might seem like a lot, but after spending 5 hours in our local ER a few years ago & walking out disgusted without ever seeing a doctor, only to get a bill for $1482 (after my insurance paid their part – the cost of just walking through the door they said), I’d say it was a steal.  Japan has national health insurance, so they don’t accept private insurances like United or Blue Cross, etc. If this does happen to you, it is a good idea to check with your insurance company when you get home.  If you have out of network coverage, some or all of the expense may be reimbursable, even though the care took place abroad.  It all depends on your policy.

All in all, my experience being sick abroad was not too horrendous, and certainly could have been a lot worse. Using the resources you have available to you, planning ahead, and knowing the dangers and layout of the healthcare land, can all go a long way towards turning your sad & sickly trip into one that’s healthy and enjoyable.

 

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