Medical emergencies can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time, even on your gap year and it is essential you are prepared. Would you know how to deal with an emergency abroad?
When you are planning your gap year or backpacking trip and are filled with the excitement of setting off on your very own round the world adventure the last thing you will want to think about is preparing themselves for emergencies. But the fact is medical emergencies can happen anytime and can take a wide variety of forms, from falling seriously ill or having complications from an existing condition to genuine accidents that leave you with a serious injury. The list is pretty much endless and can scare the holy hell out of even the most battle hardened world traveller if they look at it for too long.
The big secret is that whilst no one can prepare for every eventuality, a few basic precautions can really make the difference. It doesn’t take much time or effort to prepare yourself properly and the right precautions seriously minimise the damage done or even save your proverbial from the fire if they are thought through and put in place beforehand.
Get travel insurance.
This really should go without saying at this point. I know that it is a pain, and no one likes paying out for it when that hard earned money can go toward an extra week or two in a beach hut or a fantastic once in a lifetime experience, but suck it up. Travel insurance is essential.
If something does go wrong, the cost of treatment abroad can be crippling, travellers have had families remortgage houses to pay for medical treatment or repatriation before now. If something does go wrong you need to know that your insurance will cover the cost of any treatment or emergency services such as being airlifted somewhere. Take just a little time before you leave to ensure that your policy will cover you for anything that you need, will pay upfront for any treatment if your host country demands it, and has any extra benefits such as covering you for private care, translators or any number of other benefits.
Get a decent first aid kit.
First aid kits aren’t lifesavers in and of themselves, they are only as good as the training of whoever is carrying them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important though. There really isn’t any need to carry an entire paramedic first responder bag with you unless you have been fully trained to use each and every piece of kit in there, so you can get that image of slow motion running across a hostel room with a cape on if your dorm mate stubs her toe out of your mind right now, but what first aid kits are really perfect for is stopping a small situation getting much worse. A well stocked, basic first aid kit can really help you out with minor medical problems and can be a real life saver.
Get as much protection as you can before you go.
Make an appointment to see a medical professional at a Travel Clinic as soon as possible before you travel to get all the professional travel health tips and advice you will need. After that you will need to make separate appointments for any vaccinations and budget for any antimalarials you will need. Leaving a good 2 months minimum is ideal as some vaccinations will take more than one dose and may have to be spaced apart, and you should preferably have a tester dose of antimalarials too, dependent of course on your own needs. The more prepared you are and the more protected you are, the less risk you will face. Prevention really is part of the cure here.
Know the local situation.
Doing some research before you leave and having an understanding of what the local health care situation is really can save your life when the proverbial hits. Not every country’s emergency number is 999 or even 911 or 000 for you Americans and Australians out there. Not every area will have medical facilities that will be suitable for you if you have pre existing conditions. Not everywhere will have quick and easy access to medical facilities at all. The point is, you need to know beforehand.
Have everything ready.
It is best to have the basic information you need written down and easily accessible in case of an emergency. You need to know:
- International contact numbers for your insurance provider and their assistance company.
- Insurance policy details including policy numbers.
- Contact numbers for local medical or emergency assistance.
- Contact number for your local consul or embassy who can give you contact details for local medical services.
These can be prepared before you leave, but it is just as important that you do a little research on the road too, especially if you are passing through a number of different countries. It is always important to know where and what type of facilities are available, especially if the nearest medical facility is in the next village, town or even city. Get in the habit when you arrive in a new country or city of just taking a few minutes to research where medical facilities, clinics or pharmacies are, just look online or in a guide book, or even ask at your accommodation’s reception.
If you have basic facilities relatively close to you with hospitals or more advanced facilities relatively close, then that is great and it is important to have that information in the back of your mind just in case. If however medical care is a little further away, it is important to have in mind a rough plan of what to do and how to get there just in case.
Contact your insurance provider.
If anything does happen to you abroad that goes beyond basic first aid or local advice, then your first step should always be to call your insurance provider’s assistance provider. They can be really helpful in giving you advice, and can arrange for treatment. They can even arrange for you to get the right treatment at the nearest right facility if you have a pre existing condition.
Keep records of any treatments.
If the worst does happen and you end up being hospitalised or needing treatment for any reason, then it is always a good idea to keep a little diary with a note of everything that is said, given to you and done to you. This will obviously help you with any later claim with your insurance company, but is also helpful if you need to contact the insurance company’s assistance provider for help with any questions about your treatment or if you think you need to be moved to another facility.
Finally, don’t panic. This isn’t really a tip and I know this is easier said than done, but I wanted to leave you with just a little bit of reassurance too.
Keeping a calm head and dealing with problems logically and systematically is the key to handling any emergency situation. I have seen panic make situations go from bad to worse very quickly many times on the road, and it really isn’t needed. As I’m sure you can tell from this article a lot of the important steps to dealing with any medical emergency lies in preparation, so if you have done all of the above and prepared as much as you can, then just keep a clear head, contact local help as quickly as possible, contact your insurance provider, and everything will be okay.
So get some professional advice, make your preparations, and get out there and enjoy the trip of your lifetime!
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