I’m one of those people who have a chronic disease but never goes to the doctor. I see my GP once a year for a physical and maybe once or twice a year when we’re changing my meds, but other than that I’m a healthy woman. I’ve never had surgery, only been in the hospital to birth two beautiful boys, and with the exception of a broken pinky and thumb (not at the same time) I’ve never broken or torn anything. That is until about 15 days ago when I went on vacation to Hawaii.

Emergency Medical Care Away from Home: Injury

On day 4 of our 6-day trip, I fell while trying to get to one of Kona’s most beautiful beaches. While I wanted to go ahead and spend the day looking out at the sea, my husband insisted on taking me directly to an Urgent Care facility. Since I couldn’t use my hands because of the fall, and he’s computer illiterate, we stopped at the local police station to ask for assistance. They pointed us to the closest Urgent Care location and within minutes we were there.

Unfortunately, the doctor had left and wasn’t expected back for several hours, so we headed to the local emergency room. It’s only the third time I’ve ever been to one. The first was in my early 20’s for a middle-of-the-night bladder infection, the second time in Anaheim when my broken finger started swelling up inside the cast, so it had to be cut open (not off, because they didn’t have anyone to reset it, so they cut away all of the parts of the cast that weren’t necessary with a VERY dull blade), and now this.

Torn AC - Kona Hawaii - Suffering an Illness or Injury While Traveling - 5 Emergency Medical Tips

After x-rays, they found I’d torn the ligament that held my shoulder to my collar bone, but everything else was superficial. As I lay there bleeding on everything, the PA gave me a sling and sent me on my way. Nothing like the ER TV shows where they bandage you up and clean out your abrasions. Nope, I did all that back at the rental house.

They gave me pain pills but the first one I took made me ill, so I flew home the next day with a hematoma the size of my head on my thigh, bruises and abrasions on my knees, elbows, shins, stomach, and feet, and so very sore that I could barely walk. But I made the 6-hour flight home and spent the next few days relaxing because I had a press trip to California coming up and I had to be ready.

Emergency Medical Care Away from Home: Illness

I flew out of Seattle to Ontario, California feeling almost normal. I ditched the sling and though still in pain, I was doing pretty great.  I went to bed that night cranky, but I put it off to flying and then driving to the Hemet, California, the city I’d be exploring the next day.

But around midnight, I started feeling ill. By one a.m., I knew that I had some kind of infection and as the hours ticked by I felt worse. I chugged two bottles of water hoping I was just dehydrated, but that didn’t help. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep. By seven a.m., I couldn’t take the pain any longer, and I snuck out so as not to wake my mother who’d come along on the trip with me, and I sat in the car searching for an Urgent Care facility. This time, I was in California, and I thought for sure they’d have 24/7 Urgent Care available, but I was wrong. I would have to suffer for a minimum of 2-1/2 hours more, and that wasn’t something I wasn’t up for, so I headed to the local Emergency Room. My second trip in less than ten days and a different state.

Tips for Emergency Care Away from home - Suffering an Illness or Injury While Traveling - 5 Emergency Medical Tips

This time, I did see a doctor. After a CT scan and several other tests, I was told the pain was from a bladder infection, kidney stone, and an ovarian cyst. No wonder I hurt so much! Two IV’s and several attempted sticks later, I was sent on my way to pick up drugs and head back to my accommodations to get some much-needed sleep.  I tried to participate in the events that took place over the next few days, but I was so miserable I missed most of them. Besides the pain, the pain pills caused a host of side effects that added to my misery.

Tips When Suffering an Illness or Injury While Traveling:

  1. Always carry your health insurance card. I’ve been lax about having it with me because I always assume I won’t need it. I did.
  2. Know what drugs you’re taking and the dosage. I knew what I was taking, but not how much, and worse,  I’d forgotten to bring one of my prescription drugs with me on the trip and on top of everything else, I was going through withdrawal in addition to feeling ill from the pain pills. A call to my doctor’s on-call physician got me a prescription to stop the horrible withdrawal symptoms and thankfully a 24-hour pharmacy was available to fill it.
  3. Ask about side effects from any prescribed drug. I was so ill I didn’t ask, and neither the pharmacy or the doctor offered the info, but I ended up with many side-effects caused by the pain pill. But I didn’t know they were side effects and thought something was wrong. It turns out that by breaking the pills in half and taking them every 3 hours instead of 6, the additional symptoms were more manageable.
  4. If you are someone who occasionally needs medical assistance, Google before you go to find out if they have facilities for you. I assumed everyone had the same health care options we have here at home. I’ve found that not to be the case. Even in large cities like Anaheim, I had to go to the hospital because of the type of break I had. Knowing that in advance would have saved me several hours at an Urgent Care facility that ultimately couldn’t help.  I also met a sweet couple at the Hemet Hospital, who’d moved to the area just months before, but they didn’t check to find out if their insurance carrier provided services in the area. It turns out they don’t, so for anything other than emergency care; they have to drive several hours.
  5. Be Sure You’re Fit to Fly. I shouldn’t have pushed myself to attend events and risked being too ill to fly home.  Airlines will bar you from flying if there’s a risk you’ll need emergency medical attention while in the air. Know before you fly and have a letter from your healthcare provider that you’re fit to fly before you show up at the airport if there’s any question (for instance if you’re being treated for cancer or look ill). Here’s a letter to customer’s traveling with medical conditions Alaska Airlines published which lays out their policy.
  6. Traveling Out of the Country? Do all of the above and BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE! Read Cruise Ship Illnesses: My Norovirus Experience and Cruise Travel Insurance: Why I Won’t Travel Without It

Ironically, one of the events I did attend while in Hemet was one for Physicians For Healthy Hospitals. It turns out that the Hemet Valley Medical Center nearly closed a few years ago during the financial downturn. Thankfully the Physicians For Healthy Hospitals stepped in and purchased the hospital which has kept it open. This coalition of local doctors kept this 327-bed hospital as well as Menifee Valley Medical Center and Hemet Valley Recovery Center and Sage Retreat open.  It was sobering to hear that I might have had to travel even further for assistance that day; I’m grateful that wasn’t necessary.

Being ill when you’re away from home is miserable. Many times over the last few days I’ve said to myself that I’m never traveling again. I’m sure I don’t mean it, and now that I’m home and making appointments to follow up with an Orthopedic for my torn shoulder and a Urologist for my kidney stone, I’ll be better soon. But until then, I’m not going anywhere. I want the comfort of my bed and the medical services I know where to find.

Here’s hoping there are no more ER visits in my future and, for now, I’m thankful they were there. Ask me again after I see the bills!

Have you had an accident or illness while on vacation?