In the Suitcase: What to do if you get hurt or sick while traveling

The worst case scenario in any travel adventure is that people can get hurt! Tourists wander around in a bubble, observing their new surroundings like visitors at an uncaged zoo, avoiding the water and washing their hands with alcohol wipes but never expecting that they can be just as vulnerable to accidents and injuries. And why should you?  Unfortunately, tourists get hurt all the time, whether from lax regulations overseas, reckless activity, bad earthquakes, new bacteria, or just from being human.

My friend Janice (who this picture is not of), who has one of the most serious cases of wanderlust right now, abandoned Corporate America for South America and now southeast Asia. Unfortunately, halfway through her wanderings in the Phillipines, she was in “a motor accident” (unsure if that means motorcycle, moped, motor scooter, tuk-tuk or automobile – she has not clarified) which broke her shoulder (clavicle) and re-directed her to rest up in Bali for a month with her arm in a sling. When she reached Bangkok and went to see a doctor for a check-up on her shoulder, he examined her and said due to complications, she would need surgery.

Jon, of course, was mortified: surgery in Bangkok?? I reminded him that Bangkok, which we had visited, was very modern and had real hospitals with electricity and clean water and maybe even a color photocopier. I could see him picturing Janice laid up in the back of some apothecary hut with a witch doctor hovering over her, chanting. She went through the surgery, and recuperated in the hospital, but has to cut her trip short and return to the U.S.

Here are some tips for handling emergency care while traveling overseas.

1. Prevention. Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date and that you have received any required ones for the areas you are going to.

2. Pack a first-aid kit. I always carry one of these. It should include Tylenol (or equivalent), band-aids, neosporin or bacitracin, alcohol prep wipes, Pepto-bismol, laxatives, antacids, an Ace bandage, powdered Gatorade (it comes in little individual tubes and essential if you’re dehydrated and need electrolytes) and spare tissues. Ask your doctor about receiving Cipro for emergency purposes.

3.  Check your health insurance coverage. You should make sure you are covered internationally and for medical evacuation; if not, purchase additional insurance. Make sure the insurance covers different items as necessary: for example, if you’re skiing, you’ll want search-and-mountain rescue, ambulance and air costs. This would be in addition to your regular traveler’s insurance.

4. If you are injured, seek medical attention as you would in the United States. Go to the nearest hospital or clinic. Even if you’re in a remote part of the world, there are trained doctors who can help you better than you can help yourself (unless you’re a doctor). If you require hospitalization, call your country embassy for help too.

5. After treatment you can decide whether to stay on or go home. It may be best to go home, so you can received further care from your own doctor and rest up in your own bed.


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