Traveling around the world inevitably means coming down with some form of illness or another. Whether it’s a simple cold picked up from fellow fliers, or the more uncomfortable experience of the local variation of Montezuma’s curse, having a well-supplied med kit is a must for all foreign adventurers.
My own experiences getting sick in distant lands somehow end up being more dramatic than most people’s, with the result that almost everyone I know thinks I am a walking cesspool. I swear I don’t actually get sick that often! Not with the common cold, anyway. When I get sick, I get sick in style, and require more medical attention than just a visit to the closest pharmacy. I could lament my bad luck, but instead, I try to look at the sicknesses as a chance to assess the health care system in each of the countries. As of now, my list consists of three countries: France, Morocco, and China. Travelers heading to these locales – read on and educate yourself. You never know when you might come down with a bad case of dengue fever (no, I have not had dengue fever – yet).
I spent eleven months in France when I was in high school, aged 16-17. This is an awfully long time to rack up numerous illnesses, but my immune system wasn’t about to let down its guard on this first long expedition in a foreign country. I caught colds once or twice, but nothing too serious. No, the problem that necessitated a visit to the doctor was something more insidious. Common to women but completely unknown to me before coming to France, I acquired a yeast infection.
Yes, those happen down there. And when it happened to me, I had no idea what was going on. I just knew that it itched like crazy and something was definitely wrong.
After being reassured that I had not in fact caught an STD from a toilet seat, I proceeded to explain the situation to my host mom. At this point I’d been in the family for two months and my French was still only so-so. Also, I never felt entirely comfortable with my host mom (and eventually changed families – long story for another time), so this situation was imaginably uncomfortable. Scratch that. It was horrifying.
In the end, the doctor I visited was a very nice woman who ran an office out of her home, which we visited in the evening. Very different from anything I’d experienced in the US, and she was efficient and sympathetic to the fact that I was a foreign teenager having a very unpleasant experience with her lady parts. She gave me some medicine and I was better in a day.
French Medical System: 9/10
Oh, Morocco. I graced your fair shores for only four months, yet came down with numerous stomach-related illnesses. From simple traveler’s bugs to parasites, you taught me to appreciate the importance of a well-functioning digestive system.
While I could write about numerous incidents for Morocco, there is only one that really required medical attention. And, of course, it occurred during the week I stayed in a small village 40-minutes away from anything you could call civilization.
Our instructors warned us that we could get sick if we weren’t careful, because the water the villagers drank and cleaned with all came out of dirty wells with green fuzz growing on top of them.
Somehow I wound up with what the doctor called ‘a bad case of food poisoning.’ All I know is that I suddenly had the chills, the urge to vomit, and the need for a bathroom all at once. None of this is very pleasant when there are no toilets. Or outhouses. Just the great outdoors.
At least we had toilet paper. Most people in the village just used rocks.
I’m not sure what was stranger about this experience, riding to the hospital at midnight in a van while being told very bad jokes by Nawal, the coordinator for our group, or the fact that the hospital was empty when we arrived. Fortunately there was a doctor, and, having learned French while in France, I was able to explain my symptoms to her and she gave me some medicine and a quick shot in the butt. It took a couple days to feel completely better, but on the whole, the Moroccan hospital wasn’t so bad. Eerie? Yes, you’d expect to find zombies in there. Dirty? Yes, I did not touch anything. Effective? Yes.
Moroccan Medical System: 6/10
Extreme air pollution, lack of sleep, and hours spent walking around. Not much better combination than that to induce some sort of illness. And in China, the illness hit almost everyone at some point. Except I just happened to get strep throat and go to the hospital for medicine because they don’t just have little clinics like we do. Did I mention I got strep throat twice? And visited the hospital three times? Yeah. Put a definite kink in my practicing-speaking- Chinese.
Let’s see how succinctly I can summarize whole experience.
First Visit to Hospital
Second Visit to Hospital
Third Visit to Hospital
That’s right. I’m allergic to drugs in the sulfa family, and they gave me something that people with this allergy are commonly allergic to. So though my sore throat went away, my face and body swelled up as if I were a balloon animal. And when I went back to ask to finish the prescription, they said I shouldn’t bother because my sore throat was gone. And then it came back. Of course.
I should also mention that at one point the doctor sanitized the throat mirror with an open flame. Yup.
Chinese Medical System: 3/10