Thursday, March 17, 2016

On Being Sick While Travelling

We've been lucky. We've hardly been sick, and I'm glad for that because I've learned it's far more stressful being sick while travelling than being sick at home.

Eamon has had some tummy troubles. In Vietnam something didn't agree with him and he was down and out for a day, and then bounced back. A few weeks later in Osaka, he started to complain about a sore tummy and the complaining persisted.

After a few days, we did find a doctor (thanks to our Airbnb host). And then we found a second doctor when the pain didn't get better, and Eamon said it was worse. Both doctors said basically the same thing, though one did give us antibiotics (the older one). The young hip one said to stop taking the antibiotics, and he would be better in another week or two because it was very likely a stomach flu that was going around because his bowels were moving fast. Given that this second doctor actually laid Eamon down, felt his tummy, listened to his tummy, and is a pediatrician, I took his advice.

Combined with the pain is the fact that Eamon is an 8-year-old boy. He has a wild and awesome imagination. Talk to him about stranger danger, and he's not worried because he's going to deal with the bad guy with a set up not dissimilar to one Fred might set up on Scooby Doo, but that will likely include some ninja moves as well. He talks in terms of things that happened 7 or 8 years ago that he "remembers". He is prone to exaggeration.

Eamon has had no other symptoms other than his self-reported pain. At times, I could tell he was in pain. Other times, I couldn't. He has no fever. His energy level is good. He's sleeping well. He's fairly regular in the bathroom department. But then he'll announce that his tummy has been hurting nonstop for days, he just didn't want to bother anyone. ARGH! Who even knows what to believe, but I'm guessing his energy level is a pretty good predictor of how "sick" he still is.

But here's why being sick when travelling is more stressful: If I were at home, we'd go to our doctor, who we trust. If we need to return in a week or two, we can easily and she has the history. If we need tests, we just go for them. If I'm worried in the middle of the night, I have people and resources I can contact. I can take someone to the ER easily if I need to, because I know where it is, how to get there, and I speak the language.

More important than all that though, I have friends and the larger community of people I see around the neighbourhood. It's so easy to tell another parent at the playground about symptoms and get someone else's opinion. While not every opinion is worth listening to, many are. Plus many are reassuring and helpful.

Travelling, you need to first determine whether someone is really sick, or are they just dealing with some unfamiliar food, or just the unfamiliar in general. At various points, and depending on what I eat, I could easily convince myself I'm quite ill with a stomach bug. I'm not, but I admit, it's a bit hard eating a lot of unfamiliar food.

Then, once you think someone is sick enough to need a doctor, you need to contact the insurance company to get permission. Then you need to find a doctor that speaks English who can see you soon. You hope that everything resolves itself lickety-split because you're leaving that city soon. You hope you don't need any tests because you may not be around for the results. You hope the problem doesn't continue because you feel back to square one trying to find a new doctor in a new city, but this time, you need to explain the last visit and what was done. 

Of course, you add on top of all that, my own rather impressive (if I may say so myself) imagination. Give me a symptom and I can imagine an outcome of death - virtually without fail. Dr. Google suddenly becomes your best frenemy because it help you think of another dozen ways the symptom will kill you.

Then there's the whole issue of comfort food. We all have our favourites when we're sick. Kerry and Meaghan prefer Campbell Soup's Scotch Broth. Do you think I can find that in Japan? Nope. Meaghan is battling her cold without her favourite comfort food. She's not complaining, but I'm pretty sure she'd feel a whole lot better if we found a can of it. Eamon and I are more the Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup kind. Miso soup base just doesn't do it for us. We tried, but it's not the same. You find comfort in what you know.

So being sick isn't pleasant. No matter how comfortable our place, it's not home. No matter how great the groceries, it's not home. No matter what, it's not home.

But next winter when the first one of us goes down with a cold or some other kind of bug, it's going to feel awesome being at home.

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