Number two – Getting sick on the road

Shit happens. We all know that. Shit can happen on your commute to work, or while you are cooking dinner or even while you sleep.  However, while shit happens to all of us, our ways of trying to cope with the uncertainties of life vary enormously.

Some people spend their lives worrying and trying to stop shit happening at all costs. These are the people who put those little plastic covers on their plug sockets, and who can always see their kids in soft play.  Others just go balls-out at life, seemingly unaffected by fear. These are the people who are base-jumping off Everest and travelling the length of the Congo River on a homemade raft.

Most of us are somewhere in the middle. Congratulating ourselves on trying new things, while quietly weighing up the chances of trip to A&E. If you are like us, you will be trying to work out to bring up adventurous and curious kids in a world where the acceptable level of risk for parents has pretty much become no risk at all.

The media subjects us to new sources of fear every day. Collapsing dams, deadly shop fittings, Donald Trump; and that is just today’s BBC front page.  When there are so many things to be afraid of right outside your door, why the hell would you take your kids to some crazy country on the other side of the world and put them at even more risk? And to top it all, you might take them to a place with poor healthcare. Then when the shit does happen, there will be no-one to help you.

I understand this fear, and it is definitely the most commonly voiced concerns I hear from friends and family.  I remember telling my health visitor in London that I was taking my six-month-old to Thailand. She looked horrified and blurted out, ‘you just shouldn’t go!’.

Kids do get sick. They can go down quickly and unexpectedly and they can scare the life out of you. If you are travelling long-term it is inevitable that they will get sick on the road as well. The difference is that an internal voice will tell you that those runs will become dysentery, and that temperature might just be the onset of malaria.   It probably won’t be, but it’s natural to worry more if you are somewhere strange.

To combat these concerns it helps to try and put things in perspective. Although it is never fun getting sick or injured where ever you are, the chances are that it won’t be serious and there will be people to help you.

We have had two notable health incidences while on the road. On the first occasion we injured my son’s foot horribly in a  bicycle accident in Thailand. For the second, both my children contracted Giardiasis in India, and required treatment in Nepal.  The standard of medical care we got both times was excellent. We also had to pay so little that we didn’t even bother to claim on our insurance. Both instances felt pretty serious at the time, but everything turned out just fine.

Another thing to consider is that the level of medical care available in many countries is much better than we sometimes might believe.  Have a look at this list showing the WHO’s ranking of health systems in 2000. Did you expect Morocco to be higher than the US, or Chile to rank above New Zealand? Probably not. For some reason many people assume that medical care outside of the western world is basic and poor, when it’s simply not the case.  In most places it is relatively easy to see a doctor. They might not always have the expertise or facilities for open-heart surgery, but they are likely to be very familiar with the minor infections and illnesses that are most common on the road.

I will admit though, that, no matter how much perspective I apply, there is one thing that hovers spectre-like in the corner of my mind.  I try not to think about it, but it nonetheless rears its head every time I climb into a tuk-tuk, or try to sleep on a night bus.  The threat of the serious RTA.

I have taken my kids to places, where, if we were involved in a serious accident, we would have been a long way from any kind of medical facility that could put us back together.  Is this a risk? Yes.  Is this a big enough risk to stop me from travelling? No, but it is enough risk for me to think carefully about the transport we take.  I don’t put my kids on mopeds and I avoid minivans because they are generally high-speed death-traps.  We travel on trains if we can, and the biggest bus we can find if we can’t.  Other than that, we buy five-star travel insurance and take our chances like everyone else.

Do you have any thoughts about the realities of getting sick on the road?  Has the lack of healthcare ever put you off travelling to a particular country?  If so, we would love to hear from you in the comments below.

If you haven’t already – check out the first post in this series – Part One – My kids don’t know where they are from.







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