Getting sick is the worst, but what’s even worse than that is getting sick while you’re supposed to be having to time of your life and that’s pretty much what happened to me during my second week abroad. I was very tempted to focus on all the great things happening here in Shanghai for my blog post and believe me I will, but doing so would actually be minimizing my experiences and create an inaccurate portrayal of what life has been like over the past week. Besides, getting sick while abroad is actually quite common. Almost everyone in my program had gotten sick from something within the first few weeks of them being here. So I figured, hey, maybe some of what I have to say about my experience might come in handy for someone else.
So, first, how did I get sick? It started with a kick in my stomach a few hours after a meal I’d had earlier in the day. Before I knew it I was in lockdown mode in my restroom, hoping the pepto bismol would kick in soon. After my stomach settled in I drank some hot tea and crackers. I was too afraid of anything upsetting my stomach again and went on a internet search binge. Here are some of the things to be ready in case you get sick on an international trip:
1. Bring your own meds. It is always easier to be prepared and bring medication that you are already familiar with. The added challenge of trying to navigate a language barrier about an important health issue adds unnecessary stress. In addition, many countries do not carry the same types of medicines that you may be familiar with back at home adding another layer of possible frustration.
2. Stay away from raw fruits or veggies whose skin you cannot peel. When you travel you may be vigilant about only drinking bottled water, but parasites and other intestinal infections can be passed on through food washed in unsafe drinking water. When eating out it may be impossible to determine whether a restaurant has used clean water to wash their raw fruits and vegetables, so if at all possible try to stick to hot foods.
3. If food sickness lasts more than 48 hours you should see a doctor if not sooner. It is always best to err on the side of caution if you get sick in a foreign country. Many doctors in developing countries are very familiar with intestinal issues. In fact, here in Shanghai, China there is a hospital completely dedicated to parasitic infections. That’s right, not a single specialist, not a clinic, an entire hospital. So don’t be afraid to seek help when you need it.
4. Make sure you have health insurance coverage while abroad. Many colleges require you to get health coverage while you are abroad. Most of them will reimburse you after you have received health services in another country so keep those receipts and keep a copy of your insurance card on you at all times.
I hope that these tips will help you should you have get sick while travelling abroad. My intern supervisor gave me a few days off to recuperate and I am happy to say that I am feeling much better! My greatest takeaway is to be prepared. This simple lesson can be applied in so many ways to my time spent here in China and life in general, not just on a physical level, but emotionally and mentally. Before embarking on a journey it’s always good to do your due diligence, research as much as you can, and if possible establish contact with people who have been to the place you are planning to go. Of course, some things may still catch you off guard, but preparation minimizes that.