The first time we took Lion out of the country at 15 months old, he got sick within the first 24 hours. I tend to overpack, particularly when it comes to medicines and first aid supplies, and I was grateful to have all the supplies I did. Depending on the country, you might also find it very easy to find the the necessary medications, even if they’re typically not available over-the-counter in the United States. Here are some tips on what to do when you have a medical issue while traveling.
Still feeling a bit under the weather, but on the mend!
Mr. Dolphin laughed at me when I loaded up my bag with ibuprofen (adult and infant), homeopathic sea-sickness medication, infant syringes, band-aids, saline spray, a bulb syringe and who knows what else, but we ended up being really grateful to have most of it with us. The first evening in Venice, Lion kept waking up and crying. I figured it was just the different surroundings and the time difference, so I repeatedly popped a pacifier in his mouth and headed back to bed. By the third or fourth time I picked him up and was shocked to feel heat radiating from his body; he obviously had a high fever. I immediately dug through my bag and gave him some ibuprofen which helped make him more comfortable. I highly recommend putting your mini-pharmacy into your carry-on bag; our check-in luggage was lost for two days and I’m glad we didn’t have to wait until stores opened in the morning to give him ibuprofen.
I usually do bring at least a few medical supplies with us, but when we go out of the country, I like to be even more prepared because of language barriers and uncertainties on how easy it will be to find what we need. We’ll be going out of the country again in a couple of months and I plan to bring the following supplies:
- Adult ibuprofen
- Children’s ibuprofen (and the correct syringes)
- Saline spray (this really helps when the kids are congested and Lion used to almost always need saline spray before going to bed)
- Nose frida or bulb syringe
- Motion Eaze (we’ll be going on a cruise and while small children are unlikely to be hit with sea sickness, it can happen; Mr. Dolphin will also likely need some of this natural remedy)
- Band-aids (we never need them until we don’t have them!)
- Purell wipes
- Airborne (we didn’t bring it last time and regretted it)
While most of these things you can probably find while traveling, it’s helpful to have them with you so you don’t have to hunt down a pharmacy or to use if illness hits in the middle of the night.
Visit a pharmacy
I’ve had mixed results with finding what I need from pharmacies internationally. In India and Thailand, it was really easy to get whatever I needed from a pharmacist, even things that would ordinarily require a prescription in the United States. In the UK or Spain, I was given more homeopathic options and told I would need to see a doctor for other medications. Regardless, they are plentiful and usually marked with a green cross. In most countries, this would be my first stop if someone in the Dolphin household fell ill.
When we visited Italy and Lion became sick, I thought he had an ear infection. He’d had a couple in the past and was displaying what seemed to be classic signs: fever, refusal to eat and tugging at one ear. We visited one pharmacist who told us that because of Lion’s age, she wasn’t too keen on prescribing anything, but to return the following day if he still wasn’t better. Instead, we went to another pharmacist who gave us antibiotic drops to put in Lion’s ear.
Call for a doctor, if necessary
The kids have not needed to see a doctor while traveling on vacation, but years ago when I was out of the country with my mom, she suddenly was feeling so much pain that she couldn’t walk. After talking to the front desk of the hotel we were staying at, they were able to call a doctor to do a house call. The doctor gave my mother a shot which helped with the pain and let her finish our trip. Other times, while in Southeast Asia, I actually had meetings with people who worked in the medical field and they were able to write down the medications that I needed so that I could ask for them by name at the pharmacies. Hopefully, you won’t need a doctor, but if you do, you can ask at your hotel for a recommendation (or for them to make the arrangement for you) or ask a pharmacist for a name and phone number.
Overcome language barriers
I’ve been pretty lucky in being able to communicate as many people worldwide speak English. In most countries I’ve been to outside the United States, pharmacies are plentiful and easy to find so if you’re in a fairly touristy area, you can always try your luck at a different pharmacy in hopes of a lower communication barrier.
We’re also lucky to live in the digital age where it might be easy to figure things out via Google translate or an app. Pantomime works well too, or a mix of English and the language of the country you’re in (or something close). While in Italy, there were times where I used a mix of English and Spanish that seemed to help, including when I spoke to the second pharmacist.
You can often figure out what type of antibiotics or other medications you’re being given because the names are based on the same Latin roots, especially if you’re given something in Europe. When we got the antibiotic drops for Lion, I was immediately hesitant and wasn’t sure whether to use it because it listed the active ingredient as “sulfato.” I’m very allergic to sulfa based drugs and Mr. Dolphin has a mild allergy to sulfa. I wish that I had mentioned this to the pharmacist or trusted my instinct because, sure enough, within six hours of using the drops on Lion, he broke out into hives. I think the language barrier stopped me from pushing back and asking for a different medication and I regret that. We were lucky that it wasn’t anything more serious, but I immediately discontinued use of the antibiotics. We went back to the first pharmacy where the pharmacist spoke much better English and she gave Lion a homeopathic alternative, a spray with tea tree oil and other natural ingredients. This spray worked great and I wish I could find something similar in the United States! I did save the antibiotics and brought it into our pediatrician just to verify that it was indeed sulfa, so we could make sure to list it on Lion’s medical records. Basically, what I’m saying is that even with a language barrier, you can overcome it (and, I suppose, use common sense).
Like pretty much everything with children, the best piece of advice is to be flexible. Prior to having kids, Mr. Dolphin and I would try to pack in full days in whatever city we were exploring. We didn’t want to waste any time. Of course, with kids, we realized that we would have to adjust our expectations. When Lion got sick, we had to readjust our expectations even more.
We ended up baby wearing Lion much more than we expected because he was really tired and the canals in Venice did not make for the best stroller situation. We cut our days shorter or took turns going out while the other parent let Lion nap for a bit longer. Lion was a trooper, though, and recovered fairly quickly. While we didn’t do as much as we initially planned the first couple of days, I’m glad that we gave Lion the time to get well quickly so that we could enjoy the rest of the vacation.
Preventing the rest of the family from getting sick
I think Lion may have had both an ear infection and a cold, the latter which he passed to me. Three days later, I got sick with a fever and sore throat. By that time, we were in Greece and we somehow communicated to the pharmacist that we wanted an Airborne equivalent, since I hadn’t packed any. Basically, I just started listing vitamins until he finally understood and gave us the Greek equivalent, tablets that you dissolve in water that had zinc, vitamin C, echinacea and other vitamins. Mr. Dolphin took it religiously over the next couple of days and managed to avoid getting sick.
Know what your insurance covers
It’s helpful to know in advance what your insurance will cover in the event that something serious happens. You might also consider purchasing travel insurance which includes some medical component. Some credit cards might also provide some limited insurance or aid. We’ve been lucky and have never needed to use our insurance policies while abroad (the one time I did go to the hospital, I was on a visa which covered the expenses), but knowing in advance what coverage we have gives me some comfort.
Of course, I’d prefer if our kids didn’t get sick while traveling, but it’s helpful to be prepared and know what to do in the event that they do get sick.