Q15: What happens in the event of a medical emergency? How far will a doctor be? What if my appendix bursts? What are the 911/emergency systems like?
First of all, it’s always better to prepare for the worst and be pleasantly surprised when the worst doesn’t happen. Some places are easier than others to navigate in times of an emergency, but that doesn’t make it impossible to deal with. Before you leave, make sure you have updated health insurance and talked to your doctor about any concerns they may have about you traveling to your program location with any known medical conditions. Get advice from trusted websites, such as travel.state.gov, which highlights how to contact the US embassy in a country to help handle medical emergencies and get help from home should you need it. The CDC also has helpful information about bringing current prescriptions abroad with you, as well as vaccine recommendations, etc.
So, here you are in your program, loving it, when all of a sudden, bam: something happens. Something bigger than a sprain, or TD (good ol’ TD!), and what now?! First off, don’t panic. Whatever that something is, it definitely won’t be made better by an emotional breakdown or an immediate reaction like “it’s all gone to hell.” Remember that old World War II poster in Britain: “Keep Calm and Carry On:” everything will be fine, and if you can calmly address the situation, it will go much smoother. Easier said than done, I know, but asking your program contacts for resources so that you’re not alone in dealing with the problem will no doubt save you trouble at the least … perhaps more at the worst. In most countries there are direct services that can aid you, like the police, or some other authorities that can help should you have a concern. Now, these services may not be to the same standards as you’re used to, so having a good understanding about the proximity of medical services is a key factor for any program. Definitely make sure your program has that knowledge for the program site, and is able to undertake the necessary actions should you need immediate care.
When I was in Cambodia, one of our staff unfortunately caught Dengue Fever. He had luckily updated his travel insurance before arrival, and so was covered. We took him to the hospital in Siem Reap, which was luckily where we were staying at the time, where he recouped and was treated for a week. Again, getting medical care in less developed countries can be a disaster if you aren’t fully aware of the systems there, so make sure your supervisor has an understanding of the area and is aware of the medical facilities should there be an emergency.
In this kind of situation, we were able to quickly take him where he needed to go because we were in a city. We knew where the hospital was (because a few of us had given blood there the day before), and we were prepared to get him the care he needed. One thing to keep in mind is rural areas. If you are going to be serving far from a bigger city, what kind of emergency transportation is available, and be sure you will have access to it at all times should you need a quick ride somewhere. In my experience, this has always been possible, and for peace of mind is best if covered pre-departure.
Blog contributed by Jenny Clark, International Partnership for Service Learning Masters Candidate.