It’s been almost a month since I returned from China and I think I’m finally ready to talk about this.
Travel Illness: “I’ve Never Been So Sick….”
When I was in China I became ill. But not a simple cold, flu, or traveler’s diarrhea….it was the most under the weather I have been, in as long as I can remember. I know I had some childhood illnesses, but I can’t remember any of those in great detail.
On the second day of sight seeing in Beijing, of my 17 day trip, there was a sick infant in the group tour. Game over. About 24 hours later, I was sick too. It started off as a common cold for the next few days. I went to the local pharmacy, but in northern China they don’t carry any “Western cold treatments” such as cough drops, cough medicine, day and night cold pills or nose spray. Normally, I would pack these items when I travel anywhere in the Caribbean or overseas, but I didn’t do enough research before I left. I was in a rush coming home from another couple business trips, and I assumed China was a modern country and they would have whatever I needed there.
After six days, we traveled from Beijing to Xi’an by plane. At this time, my cold transformed into a fever. All of the airports are super strict about illness; after cases of SARS and the Avian epidemics, you can understand why. I did my very best to pretend I wasn’t ill. As a foreigner, my presence tended to draw a lot of attention. For the next couple days, the fever and chills were followed by the flu coupled with traveler’s diarrhea. In addition, I wasn’t eating properly. When you are ill, you aren’t craving Chinese food. It was all I could do to keep my meals down. One night was particularly difficult, as a lady at our table was eating a rooster brain quite heartily. Shudder. By the time I started the last bus tour in Zhuhai, I had a nice cold again coupled with a respiratory infection.
Yes I had traveler’s insurance. Why didn’t I use it? Honestly, I should have. But I didn’t for a few reasons.
- Each night when I went to bed, I thought that I was going to be better in the morning. When I wasn’t better – there were back-to-back bus tours with early morning to late evening schedules.
- I had heard horror stories from the news (in China) and other outlets about the Chinese using antibiotics to treat illnesses – in needle form injections. No thanks. I avoided the hospitals, as I didn’t like the looks of the ones I saw, and I didn’t want to be exposed to any other illnesses while I was there. To be frank, I am very leery about any health care outside of Canada and the United States.
- I was pretty certain I wasn’t contagious (Yes, even writing that is painful, I should have found out for sure). No one else around me was sick. I didn’t feel that I was putting anyone else at risk.
- Lastly, I don’t think I was in the right frame of mine to admit myself to the hospital. I really needed my Mommy, Sister or Husband to boss me into going. My travel companion should have probably made the call, but she thought that I was an independent adult who was able to make her own decisions. She is a firm believer in Chinese traditional medicine and thought I should have drank tea and eaten raw garlic plus green vegetables to get healthy again.
I was ill for a total of 25 days. Yes, that is almost a month AND my illness followed me home. Thankfully, I was only left with the cough when I flew home. Upon my arrival, I went to the hospital Emergency Room where they put me into quarantine to make sure I hadn’t brought back anything with me. I hadn’t. What I did have was a bad respiratory infection that had to be treated with puffers to stop the awful cough and breathing difficulties I had.
Did I mention I lost weight? I was 12 lbs lighter at the end of my 2.5 week journey. I could have stood to lose a few pounds, but this wasn’t a healthy way to do so. I was lucky that I had the extra padding to sustain this illness. You can see the weight loss in my face.
If you go on vacation, pack appropriately. I know there are many travel bloggers who will tell you to pack light, to bring this and leave that in your suitcase. The bottom line is, you need to bring what you require for the destination. Pack appropriately. I won’t be leaving home again without a mini pharmacy in my suitcase, as that is what I need to stay healthy on the road. Places like northern China don’t have “Western medicine” in their pharmacies, where as places in southern China did. Also, as a word of advice, if you have had childhood asthma or respiratory problems, even if you have grown out of them, China may not be the destination for you. The heavy smog and pollution may be very hard on your body. The quote that I now live by is: “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”
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