November 2016: Mexico
I smiled down at the half-naked Belgian woman lying under me and wondered if I still remembered how to do this. Six months felt like a long time. Was it like riding a bicycle?
She tried to remove my underwear with her feet. She poked and prodded with her toes but the waistband was hooked on my you-know-what.
I stood on top of the mattress to pull my underwear off, almost forgetting the ceiling fan whirling above my head…
It was like deja vu. I had done this before. I remembered Sri Lanka and my ex-girlfriend. I had tried to pull off my underwear in the exact same way and the ceiling fan hit me in the head and knocked me to the ground.
No way was that going to happen this time! I ducked just in time to avoid the fan blades and the Belgian woman gasped at my near miss.
Unfortunately, my quick reaction to avoid the fan made my legs lose their balance on the soft mattress. I started to wobble and the five mojitos flowing through my body weren’t helping. With nothing to grab onto I fell backwards off the back of the bed and slammed onto the tiled floor.
The sound of my naked body hitting the ground was like a fat man doing a belly flop into a pool.
“Oh my god! Are you alright?” the Belgian asked as she scrambled to the edge of the bed. “You fell really hard!”
I stared up at the ceiling with my underwear wrapped around my ankles. My right elbow was throbbing.
“Oh shit!” she said. “You’re bleeding!”
I looked at my elbow.
Fuck. Blood was dripping from my arm.
I pulled on my underwear and went to the bathroom to clean myself up.
The Belgian put her clothes back on and went outside for a cigarette.
February 2017: Cuba
Annie and I turned down a gravel street in Vinales. We asked an old man selling fruit from a rickety cart for directions. He waved us towards him, left his cart unmanned, and walked us to the front door of the hospital a block away.
My elbow was the size of a mandarin orange. Why did it take three months to swell up? Is this from my falling off the bed incident with the Belgian? Or is it something else? If I need surgery, will it screw up my tattoos?! What are the conditions inside a Cuban hospital?
Anytime I need to use the health care system in a foreign country, fear and apprehension creep into my thoughts. But I wasn’t too worried. It wasn’t like I had flesh-eating disease, right?
A short nurse with a white hat and white uniform greeted us. “What is the problem?” she asked.
Relief. She speaks English.
I showed her my elbow. She looked at it and made no reaction unlike other people who usually twisted their faces in disgust.
“Follow me,” the nurse instructed.
The hospital felt deserted even though it was 4pm on a Tuesday. The medical equipment was circa 1955 and paint was peeling from the walls. Didn’t I see a horror movie based in this hospital before?
I filled out a form. A doctor with a brown moustache and glasses came to see me and the nurse translated between us. I got x-rays of my elbow and I was happy when the technician placed a lead cover over my lap. I walked back to the doctor’s office and the x-ray results met us there. The doctor assessed that I had a bone spur on my elbow. The bursa was inflamed. He told me to take ibuprofen, ice it, and to go see a specialist when I get back to Canada.
All in all I was in the clinic for 20 minutes and it cost me $50.
In Canada, that would have been an all day affair.
But I’m not writing to knock the Canadian Health Care system.
I’m writing this post to hopefully quell people’s fears of receiving medical care in foreign countries.
My uncle recently told me one of his biggest fears of traveling is health care. “Things get more complicated health-wise as you get older,” he told me.
And I get it. You have your family doctor back home who knows your history. In another country, you might not be able to communicate with the doctors and nurses. You wonder, “What are their standards like? Are hospitals clean or are they swarming with cockroaches and asbestos?”
I can’t speak for hospitals and medical clinics in every country around the world. I’ve visited health care facilities in Cuba, Thailand, and Australia. I’ve also spoken with many travelers who have had different degrees of medical emergencies and received health care in foreign countries.
And the general consensus:
Foreign hospitals and clinics are safe, clean, efficient, and relatively cheap.
Does that mean that there are no horror stories? No, of course not. But horror stories happen in so-called “developed” countries, too.
The point is that you shouldn’t let the fear of getting sick or injured stop you from traveling.
Make sure you have travel insurance before you go.
That’s it. Also, it doesn’t hurt to visit a travel clinic and make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date.
There are good doctors, nurses, and medical professionals in most corners of the world. Don’t let your fears of health care standards abroad prevent you from having new, amazing experiences.
And most importantly, don’t ever stand on top of a bed to take your underwear off.