Getting sick while you’re traveling is more than just an inconvenience — it can mean the difference between getting to have a once in a lifetime experience and, well, not getting to have a once in a lifetime experience.
Which is why when I woke up on Saturday morning with a sharp pain in my stomach, I literally booted and rallied, popped a pill that said “TAKE FOR TRAVELERS DIARRHEA” in Sharpi eon the bottle, and boarded the bus for Portillo Inca Lagoon.
I spent the day in agony, fake wine-tasting (every time I ate or drank anything, the pain got worse) and posing for pictures with the fakest smile I could possibly manage. When I got on the bus for the 2.5 hour ride home, I thought I was going to die.
Assuming it was just a bad bout of food poisoning, I went straight to bed when I got home and set an 8am alarm to get up and get ready to go on a 3-day beach vacation with my friends. When I got up to pack, I collapsed — I was in so much pain I could hardly stand up.
“I’ll just go and then sleep it off at the AirBnB,” I told my friends, who were understandably concerned when I told them I was “running late due to the fact that it felt like I was being stabbed every time I moved.”
…. They told me to get my ass to the hospital, stat.
What ensued was 10+ hours (and $2,000+) worth of extensive testing, all of which I spent thinking my appendix was about to burst. The language barrier made it *horribly* difficult to understand what was going on, and I spent most of the day feeling really scared and really, really confused. They kept telling me they “couldn’t see my appendix” and had me go through two sets of CT scans, which had me convinced that my mom had my appendix taken out when I was a baby and forgot to tell me. Then, after they’d conclusively ruled out appendicitis, they told me “something had burst in my ovaries,” which made me think I was suffering from an ectopic pregnancy (it didn’t matter to me that that would be physically impossible at the moment, because I am very, very single) and was going to either die or never be able to have kids.
At the end of the day — and after a particularly horrible and painful ultrasound tour of my reproductive system, care of a doctor who spoke little English — I was diagnosed with a ruptured ovarian cyst. It was painful, and scary, but not that big of a deal… It will heal itself in a week with the help of some medicine, and as far as I know at this point won’t have any major implications in the future.
Even though the experience actually could be considered a “best case scenario” (after all, and most importantly, I’m OK) it was still really, really scary. Here, everything I learned from spending a full day in a Chilean hospital. And yes — I’m still in a FUCK ton of pain, but at least it’s an excuse to eat cereal for every meal and skip workouts for the next 6 days.
International SOS Is An Actual Godsend
I cannot stress how important this service is for travelers. I’ve had to use it twice this year (the first was when I had a bad bout of bronchitis in Malaysia), and it’s made both hospital experiences a lot less scary. When I decided that I needed to see a doctor, I called the 24-hour hotline and spoke to a medical consultant. After listing off all of my symptoms, she recommended that I calmly get to an ER as soon as possible. She gave me a location of a trusted clinic where I’d be able to communicate with people in English, and her team called ahead to let them know I was coming.
If You Can, Try To Have Someone Go With You
I’m #blessed to have a community of people around me with Remote Year, and am endlessly grateful that my friend Lizzie skipped her beach vacation to come with me to the hospital. Not only did it make it a lot less terrifying to have someone sitting there with me, but she was also in the right headspace to ask all of the questions that were going straight over my fogged-up, sick head. She repeatedly demanded that the doctors clarified when things didn’t make sense, and insisted that they Google translate the things we couldn’t understand.
Double Check Everything
The scariest moment for me was when the nurse started injecting drugs into my IV and I had no idea what they were for — for all I knew she could have been prepping me for cannibalism. My friend had the foresight to take pictures of the labels and google them so that we could use the information for reference later on (as it turns out, they were just painkillers and anti-nausea drugs). By keeping track of what was going on, though, it made it easier for us to understand what was happening when the language barrier got in the way.
Get A Second Opinion
After I was given my diagnosis, I did what every millennial does and started obsessively Googling what was wrong with me. After I had convinced myself that I really wasn’t fine and that what I had was definitely going to kill me. Then, I did what every millennial’s parent tells their kid to do: I called my actual doctor. Due to the language barrier, I didn’t 100% understand my diagnosis, so it helped to have my gynecologist lay it out for me clearly.
When In Doubt, Go To The Hospital
I know, I know — In case it wasn’t clear from the above, I hate going to hospitals, too. But here’s the thing: Even though my appendix wound up being fine, I had every symptom of appendicitis. If I had continued to ignore what was going on for the sake of my beach vacation and it did turn out to be something life-threatening, I would have wound up in a very painful surgery or much, much worse (aka dead). Yes, going to the hospital ruined my Sunday and wiped me clean of any money I had left over for side trips this month, but ultimately it helped keep me safe.
… But Also Pray You Don’t Get Sick On A Sunday
Fun fact: Chilean ER services cost double on Sundays than they do on any other day, a fact they failed to share until after I’d undergone 283974127 expensive, but “necessary” tests. If you’re going to get sick (or jump off a cliff or anything else that could land you in the hospital) do it during the week.
Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash