We’ve Got a Traveler Down…

Those of you who know me know that when I get sick, I tend to do it in a big way. I mean I really go all out and find some horribly nasty thing to annihilate my body with. The last time I was sick – one year and four months ago – I had to get an IV. Just this Friday, I got two.

I spent the last week with a massive headache, neck pain, fever, chills, aches, and swollen joints, and something on my leg that looked like an infected bug-bite. This miasma of symptoms caused the doctor at the urgent-care clinic to think it was either meningitis or Lyme’s disease.

Sick Traveler

Looking fly ;)


Neither of these diagnoses being something to screw around with, they took blood and sent me home with no real direction of what to do next. Don’t get me wrong – I was still standing and the symptoms started 36hrs before seeing that doc, so it obviously wasn’t bacterial (read: the really bad type of) meningitis, but still surprising that they didn’t do more.

After calling the clinic multiple times on multiple days to see if results were in, on Friday I broke it down to the nurse on the phone that the doc told me I might have meningitis or Lyme’s, told me to go to the ER if it got worse, but didn’t tell me what to do if it never got better (which it hadn’t).

In a moment of startling honesty, the nurse paused and said, “Well if a doctor thinks you might have either of those, I’d say don’t take your chances, just go to the ER and have them sort it out.” Becki and I were out the door in under ten minutes.

The Suckiness Was Cranked to 11

To make a long story short, the bloodwork for Lyme’s tested negative while we were in the ER, so now it was either the ‘gitis or some other type of infection. We were there for six hours or so, went through two IVs, got a CT of my brain, and had a spinal tap.

I laid flat on my back for over two and a half hours (thank goodness for Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, Matt Groening and Seth MacFarlane) while the puncture healed. My eyes burned from staring at the harsh exam lights, I could no longer stand the smell of my own humid breath inside my particulate mask, and we both longed for some non-recycled air. Finally the results were back – I was meningitis free, the way to be.

Safe at Home, But What if….

So now I’m loaded up with antibiotics to treat MRSA and any other infection it could possibly be (we don’t actually know what it is, but the ER doc figured the MRSA-level antibiotics will take care of it). After Becki caring for me for over a full week, we’re hoping that I’m on the road to recovery, but one big question keeps popping into my head:

“What if I was on the road?” Luckily I’ve never gotten sick while traveling, but I can’t help wonder what it’s like. How do you take care of it? The IV from over a year ago was due to a bad case of the Aztec Two-Step after my trip to Mexico, but I was home before any ill-effects took place.

I’ve had a low-level injury before; I was body-surfing in Trinidad when a big wave flipped me and I went through the rinse cycle. I hit the back of my neck hard while under the water, and then the wave spit me out toward the beach, skinning my forehead on the rough, gravely sand the whole way.

It’s scary seeing the medical facilities of a small fishing-village in a 2nd-world country. Everything would be perfectly cast on the set of a psychological thriller set in the 19th century. That said, they got the sand out of my scrapped-up forehead and checked my neck the best they could. I happily paid about $10 for the medicine and work, and while the equipment was rudimentary, I felt that the people working would do whatever they could to help.

So here’s where I’m hoping you’ll chime in with the comments. Have you ever gotten really sick while away from home? What happened, and how did you take care of it. Share your story for all to see, cause I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to know.


  1. Andy … in the last month, I’ve been in West Africa for 16 days, a week back in the US, then to Spain where I am now (Barcelona.) I had a low-grade tooth infection (abscess) while in Lagos, Nigeria, they dosed me with Rambo antibiotics to get me back to the States, then had the rogue tooth pulled here.

    But the next day, my temp shot up to about 103 for about two days. My internist in the States did a bunch of blood and stool tests, gave me some Lomotil (generic,) and sent me off to my long-planned trip to Spain. But while here, I’ve been battling chronic diarrhea, and no script or over-the-counter drug has helped.

    I haven’t let it get me down though, believe it or not. I’ve done some advance checking of bathrooms everytime we go out. I work hard on staying hydrated. And two weeks after the disrrhea started, it’s still going. I was negative on all tests, including malaria btw. So they’ll test me for a bunch more when I get back.

    My lessons on the deal:

    1) Almost everywhere has some good docs if you check references and look for them. Hotel staff can be extremely helpful.

    2) Insist on the tests like malaria that it’s hard to get US docs to check for. I’ve had them poo-poo me more than once, but if I came up positive, they’d sure have egg on their face. One in every 64 mosquitoes in West Africa tests positive for carrying malaria.

    3) Stay hydrated. This apparently is a big offense by frequent travelers.

    4) Don’t be afraid to get on a plane home if you need to. You are a valuable, finite, irreplaceable being.

    Stay well!!!


    • Wow, thanks for the amazing response and all the great advice Carol!

      Sorry to hear about your illness, especially while in some place as beautiful as Barcelona. I’ve never been there, but hopefully one day soon Becki and I will get there :)

      I hope you get better soon, and stay upbeat. Enjoy your trip and thanks again for the great comment!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I didn’t have too many troubles in France while I lived there. But I did have to go to the doctor once and the staff was extremely helpful! In fact, i didn’t pay a dime for my care. Now, I was working in France and was thus covered under their national health insurance. But I got the impression that care would not have cost me much if I did have to pay for it.

    As for facilities, I think that’s what you pay for really. The place in France was not like any hospital or medical facility here. It was old, the computers looked old, the tables looked old, it looked from the outside like a broken down factory. But the doctor was good and gave me the script I needed. Here is the US, even with insurance, I would have had at least a $30 copay…. which I’m sure contributes to state-of-the-art facilities. Like Carol said, I think you can find good doctors anywhere, just don’t be scared away by the difference in facility.

    Safe travels everyone!

  3. Sounds like it did work out pretty well for you in France, which I think is important to realize, because in the end it worked out fine for me in Trinidad, and for Carol too.

    And that’s perfect for the overall theme of what I’m trying to convey with the blog – that the world is not as scary as people think. Most of the time, no matter what happens, you’ll end up being okay. Like you said Elizabeth, don’t be scared away just because it looks different than what you’re used to – and that can be applied to many areas of independent travel.

    Thanks for the great comment!

  4. I agree with the comments above. As Andy knows I have only been ‘out’ of the country once and that was to Puerto Rico. I did end up getting stung by a jellyfish there but no need to be rushed to a clinic or hospital. Thank goodness! But I feel that travelers who do come down with an illness should not shy away from hospitals in other countries. I truly believe that healthcare is the same, if not, better than the United States.

    One example I can think of is my cousin Robin is a frequent traveler to Costa Rica. And a month or so before heading back down there, her mouth started to hurt. She went to the dentist here in Wisconsin and it turned out that she needed a root canal! She ended up enduring the pain for a month because she insisted on having the root canal done in Costa Rica opposed to here because, one, it is cheaper, and two she received better care. And from her pictures, her trip was great, root canal and all!

    I also love Carol’s comment about not being afraid to fly back home because you are irreplaceable! Do what you need to do to be healthy again. And Carol, hope you get better soon!

  5. Monica Kremer says:

    Heyy!! :)

    You should include your safe recovery from ticks! ;)
    I luckily did not experience any health-related problems when I traveled to Ecuador- I only wanted to stay for longer!
    I love this post btw. And I am really glad you’re okay. I know I live an hour-and-a-half away but life sweeps us in a stream wherein time passes and keeping up gets hard…

    xoxo Monica.

  6. When I was in Honduras, I got some kind of infection from drinking water off a mountain side, diving in the river rapids, from street food, or the dozens of bug bites I had. Symptoms included: fever, nausea, near blackout enducing headaches, diarrhea, fatigue, and some congestion. You don’t need to worry about prescriptions there, so I went into the pharmacy at a bus station, self-medicated, and when I got home a week later got some antibiotics.

    It’s never comforting when your new guide/friend tells you to come stay in his village and then once you get there he tells you that a few friends of his just got malaria. :)

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