Note: This post has photos and details about medical ailments due to travel. If you are queasy or easily grossed out, perhaps it’s best to skip this one and check back in later!
February 2011. Friends were coming to stay at our house for the weekend. Two days before they were to arrive, my sister decided we had to tell them. I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but then again, when you’ve had the same recurring (highly contagious) infection for, oh about 8 months, it probably shouldn’t be taken lightly. I had a severe staph infection. And by severe, I mean I was scrambling to get my health insurance in order, after hearing about someone my brother-in-law knew that died because it got into his bloodstream. Severe in that in a matter of two days the redness had spread from the spots under my arm to about six inches down my arm. Severe in that in just three days from noticing it, I was unable to easily lift my arm. I was in excruciating pain. I couldn’t sleep. I was taking one of the strongest antibiotics on the market and with no signs of improvement, my doctor doubled the dosage, and I had to also put antibiotic cream up my nose. I even tried tumeric as an alternative therapy. I don’t think I had ever been so worried about my health.
So how did I get to that point?
Rewind. August 2010. I arrived in Cape Town at 2am and crashed at my ride’s apartment. I woke up the next morning and my lip was sticking off my face. I felt like a duck. I looked so funny that to walk around Cape Town I held my upper lip in by biting it with my lower teeth. It was most likely where the staph infection originated, since your face is a common place to get it. This was probably staph incident number one on my rtw trip. My mom works for a doctor so to the left is the photo I sent her of me trying to smile.
Then in October 2010, I got an infection in my leg while in Malaysia. It looked like a bug bite. Then, it started to get bigger. I put some neosporin on it. It continued to get larger. It started to hurt to walk, and when I sat down, you could visibly see a lump on my leg through my pants. I went through three different types of antibiotic creams. I was in denial, hoping that it would drain on its own, but at the insistence of my friend, I realized I needed to visit the doctor. It wasn’t like your typical doctor’s office with a nurse and a receptionist; it was a one man show. We discussed Kentucky Fried Chicken longer than we discussed my ailment. He decided I had been “stung”. Seeing as how the spot was on my upper leg (it would have been covered with clothing at all times), I didn’t believe him. But I had just returned from Bali where I had been in a swimsuit, so maybe he was right. I left with some penicillin, and the following evening the pressure finally became too great, and it drained about halfway. It took the spot about six weeks to get back to being flush with my skin. But, I thought that was the end of it.
Until February 2011. A spot appeared under my arm. I ignored it. I went for a 10 mile run and returned with two spots under my arm (clearly, sweat and rubbing against my own skin did not help). I stupidly ignored them and shaved (note: razors spread staph). They grew rapidly and burned. I had put ‘Get health insurance’ on my to do list but hadn’t gotten around to it. I got on the phone asap. By this point, it dawned on me (and everyone else) that this was most likely a staph infection.
I was using warm compresses and antibiotic creams. I sought help, as stated in the start of the post, but in just a few days I was not able to lift my arm- well, it scared me. Luckily, the swelling started to go down, and it didn’t have to be drained. I have scarring from it, but I’ll take that any day over the alternatives.
The staph infection was probably one of the worst incidences from my trip. However, it wasn’t the only one. Here are some other medical issues I came across:
April 2010: Food poisoning in Jordan. When it wouldn’t go away on its own, I had to start using the prescription meds that I had brought on my trip.
June 2010: Hit by a motorbike in Malawi. Bruised or cracked a few ribs. If you can, steer clear of getting hit by any motorized vehicle. This one took me two solid months to recover. Aside from the obvious pain, and the fact that I wasn’t able to sit up on my own for two months (I had to roll over on my side and push myself up to get out of bed), my body physically couldn’t sneeze during that time. I had moments of hopelessness when I was itching to run and wondering how long it would take to heal.
October 2010: The week before my staph infection in Malaysia, I caught a virus that left me throwing up in Bali. It was draining and I had to hole up in the hotel room for a day and a half.
I think that about covers the major medical incidents. I got a couple of colds along the way and I also stopped taking malaria meds due to side effects, but that’s about it. My friend that I traveled with in southeast Asia battled eye infections. Which, funnily enough, when we traveled together a couple of years ago in Africa, she also had eye issues and I also got skin infections (but that time in my foot). We follow a pattern. We both had worldwide travel insurance, and during our first trip to Africa it more than paid for itself between our medical bills. Let’s hope, though, that we’ve put an end to the pattern!
I’m keeping my fingers crossed because I have a clean bill of health and hope it will continue to be that way for many months (okay, I leave for South Africa in six weeks… Africa isn’t always kind to me in the health department).
What have been your worst ailments on the road?