Unfortunately, this week the cold I’ve been fighting finally took me down. Within a few days, I was stuffy and miserable.
I have a pretty weak immune system that is easily taken down by stress (three weeks living in hostels and getting on a bus every morning are definitely stressful).
So, I’m sick in a foreign country.
Like I said, that’s not a surprise for me. Except that my weak immune system has let what should be a small cold morph into a sinus headache and swollen tonsils.
Whenever I get sick, I always act like it’s the first time it’s ever happened to me. I text my mom and dad complaining about the pain and begging for solutions. But they’re half a world away. They can’t make me chicken soup or feel if I have a temperature.
But they can tell me to go to a doctor when none of my medicine is working.
Which brings me to this post.
Due to my knack for getting sick, I’ve become well acquainted with doctors around the globe. From Italy to Turkey to Portugal, I’ve found doctors.
I didn’t realize this was a particularly good skill to have. I mean, the fact that I’ve needed to learn it is because I’m constantly ill and it’s hard to see that as a good thing.
But, when a friend in Queenstown asked me how I found a doctor, I realized that my ability to always find a doctor is a pretty unique and useful skill to have.
So, I figured I’d share my tips for finding medical help wherever you go.
Finding a Doctor Through Your Travel Insurance
Your travel insurance provider can be a great resource for finding a doctor when you’re travelling. Since they have to cover the cost, they typically have a range of doctors or a list of hospitals in the area (and they tend to know the doctors that speak English, too).
When I got sick in Portugal, World Nomads (the company I’ve used for the last four years) helped me find an English-speaking doctor who could come to my hotel since I was too sick to leave it. They booked the appointment and the next day I met the doctor. World Nomads was even able to tell me the cost of the visit ahead of time so I could make sure I had enough cash to pay the doctor (the full cost was later refunded when I submitted my claim).
Finding a Doctor Through Your Accommodation
Hotels always know the nearest doctors or hospital. Even hostels can usually point you in the right direction. Sometimes your Airbnb hosts can also give some advice on where to go, as they know what’s in their neighbourhood.
Going to the front desk or owner of wherever you’re staying, and asking for help is one of the easiest ways to find a doctor. They have a local phone as well, so they can even call and make you an appointment or book you a cab. People that work with travellers also know the hospitals or doctors that have English-speaking staff.
Some areas I’ve stayed in have been quite remote and finding a doctor can be difficult without knowing who the doctor is. When I worked in Benissiva, a small mountain village in Spain, the doctor didn’t have any signage or advertising. You had to know he was the doctor to be able to find him. Luckily, the owner of the yoga retreat knew him and was able to book appointments for ill guests.
Finding a Doctor Through an Information Centre
Traveller information centers have an insane amount of knowledge. I’ve yet to ask a question at an information centre and not receive a helpful answer. This extends to getting health care.
Information centres know the major hospitals and how to get there. They usually have internet and a phone connection, so they can even call you a cab or show you on a map. Like a hotel or a hostel, they work with travellers and know the places that have English-speaking staff.
They can also be a huge help in finding pharmacies to fill prescriptions if you’re away from your hostel and a bit lost. The information centre in Queenstown helped me find a cheap pharmacy when I somehow managed to get lost looking for the one my doctor suggested.
Finding a Doctor Through Google
When all else fails, Google it! Isn’t that the millennial motto? Well, it’s true for finding a doctor as well.
Usually, I Google search for a doctor or hospital before going to anyone else for help. This can work well in an English-speaking country, but elsewhere it can cause problems.
Many hospitals translate their pages into English, even if they don’t have English-speaking staff. When I was in Croatia, the hospital in Zagreb had signs in English, but none of the staff could speak it fluently.
I was in a similar situation in Atri, when I was rushed to a doctor who needed to Google translate the names of organs.
It’s funny until you’re ill and actually need help.
Many websites aren’t updated regularly and only have domestic phone numbers. I’ve emailed doctors before and never heard back, which inevitably leads me to asking the front desk for help.
In Queenstown, I did find two medical centres through Google. I searched for medical centres, not hospitals, as I wasn’t ill enough to consider going to an emergency room.
Usually, I just search “nearest hospital” when I travel. Any other terms, like “doctor” or “medical centre,” can be too confusing in foreign countries. “Hospital” is a great, universal term for “please help me, I’m ill.”
In this case, there were two medical centres. One was closer to my hostel, so I headed there the next morning to beg for an appointment. They had a phone number, but my voice was basically gone at that point and my awkward rasping probably wasn’t going to make it an efficient phone call.
The woman behind the front desk was extremely helpful and clearly pitied my croaking. She found me an appointment that afternoon with the only doctor they had in for the day.
When I returned, the doctor was running late. But within forty minutes, I had a diagnosis of a pre-sinus infection, and prescriptions for antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication.
It’s been about five days since I saw the doctor in Queenstown. I’m not feeling 100% yet, but I’m only coughing every other minute now, which is great progress considering where I started. The anti-inflammatory medication has cleared the blinding pain and allows my decongestants to work so I can get some sleep.
I’m glad I went to the doctor, although I felt a bit silly having only been showing extreme symptoms for two days. But my cold had been raging internally for over a week at that point, and Tylenol Cold was clearly not strong enough for that battle.
If I didn’t have travel insurance, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the doctor. The $120 price tag would have made me balk and turn away. Knowing that my travel insurance would cover the fee (and the $30 of prescriptions) allowed me to go into the appointment without worrying about the cost.
Without visiting the doctor, I wouldn’t have the medication I needed to get better. If I hadn’t, my trip would have been ruined. Seriously, a day of that sinus pain and I was ready skip my working holiday entirely to fly home so my mom could give me a hug.
That’s why it’s important to know how to find a doctor when you’re sick: so your trip isn’t ruined.
There’s nothing worse than being sick on holiday (except maybe being sick in a hostel on holiday). Do everything you can to get better as soon as possible, including seeing a doctor when your symptoms are getting worse or not responding to medication. It’s better to go in when it’s nothing, than to lose more days of your holiday to something treatable.
I hope you stay healthy on your holidays and don’t need these tips at all! But if you do, now you have the knowledge to find a doctor, so you can get back to enjoying your vacation.
Since I didn’t manage to see much of Queenstown, here are 101 Things To Do in Queenstown by Destinationless Travel. This is a great read to plan your Queenstown trip!