Yes, working in the medical industry does tend to make you super-aware (read: paranoid) of potential health hazards in any exotic locale. And the more exotic, the more medical supplies required. The amount of medical supplies carried is limited only by the baggage allowance – and the need to also carry a clothing and toiletries. As they say, 40lbs of medical supplies and a change of underpants…..(well, people I know say that, anyway).
1. Top level health insurance is obviously required for all overseas travel – particularly if you are used to socialised medicine as we are in Australia. While I have never had to use my travel-medical insurance, my stepfather got his money’s worth. Holidaying in Bali, he came down with what they thought was a severe bout of gastro. Luckily they medi-vacced him to Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, because it turned out to be a bowel obstruction which burst on the operating table. He spent months in hospital with tubes sticking out of him, had a bout of MRSA (multi-resistant staph aureus, aka super-bug) which complicated his recovery considerably and an enormous amount of very expensive medication to try to clean up the resulting infections. My mother was flown over and put up in a hotel and when they eventually returned home he was accompanied on the plane by a doctor.
Kaching kaching! (the sound of cash registers ringing) This would have cost an enormous amount (Mount Elizabeth Hospital is reportedly a favourite of very wealthy Arab sheiks for their surgical and medical needs) but luckily was covered by the health insurance.
2. Immunisations are also important. When we travelled to Kenya and Zimbabwe, I spent six months with large inflamed patches on both arms from the series of immunisations – Yellow Fever, Hep B, typhoid, tetanus – I can’t even remember what they all were but i reacted to each and every one with a swollen and red upper arm. Yellow fever was particularly important because, as we were told, if you have been in a Yellow Fever area and are not immunised, you will not be allowed back into Australia. Hmmmm…that’s worth knowing in advance.
3. There are some medications you can travel with and some you can’t. It is really worth knowing what they are to avoid unfortunate experiences at customs. In the 1990s there was a woman flying into Greece with a packet of over-the-counter purchased pseudoephedrine (used for sinus congestion). She was arrested at the airport and I believe detained until her GP in Australia could provide her with a prescription. So the moral of the story is any medications you need to take with you, make sure you have a prescription and do a little research to see if there is likely to be a problem. Many over-the counter drugs such as paracetamol are available in pharmacies in many if not most countries, and the name of the drug is pretty similar, so you may not need to carry those with you. Anti-gastro tablets are a good one to carry though – a good bout of gastro does not enable you to wander the streets looking for a pharmacy that will stock your requirements. Likewise travel sickness tablets.
4. Pressure bandages. Maybe its just me, but pressure bandages for ankles are great for on the plane.
Now I have heard some stories of medicos travelling and working in remote areas of Africa who have done their own surgery (or done surgery on each other) when emergencies have arisen, but this is not recommended except in extreme circumstances…however it does explain some of the excess baggage that they were carrying with them.