Travel Bug is a monthly blog series centered around sharing real-life stories on finding and receiving care abroad.
Traveling abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most individuals, let alone having the chance to stay in a country outside your own for longer than just a vacation. Now, imagine having that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ripped out from under you before you could even make such a life-altering experience your own.
This was the unfortunate reality for Shaelagh Shields, a telehealth and Epic consultant who struggled with the decision to cut short her three-month stay in Kodaikanal, India, after feeling unwavering gastrointestinal issues just two weeks in.
At the onset of her pain, Shields contacted one of the physicians she was working for to try and get treated. This shortcut in the journey to receiving healthcare abroad is one that most travelers can’t access unless they happen to have doctor connections or someone they know in the country they’re visiting. Without it, finding any sort of help can often be the first and toughest battle one faces.
While doctors, unfortunately, couldn’t file her appointments as an emergency, they did offer her some medical guidance through informal conversations and recommendations. The most pressing issue for Shields was the fact that her stomach issues didn’t qualify her to use her travel medical insurance abroad, as they weren’t considered emergencies by either the physicians or the insurance company, taking away her ability to receive any treatment using government-regulated drugs. In addition to this, there was no location for Shields to even use this insurance, she couldn’t understand the proposed remedies being offered by providers, and she wasn’t able to acquire medication that she could understand and feel comfortable using.
Thus, even with the information from her contacts, she was on her own when it came to sourcing the reliable medications she needed to treat her illness. Since the government hospitals couldn’t offer much help, she decided to try her hand at the clinic where she was also working. However, once again, the best physicians could do was monitor her weight, as the medications she needed were something she couldn’t just buy over the counter.
Out of desperation for any answers, she contacted her mother back in the States, who got in touch with their primary care physician. Through a chain of conversations, Shields learned that her doctor could send her medication, but it would take quite a while to get there, meaning they would be of no help to her condition, which was not improving. Moreover, without an in-office visit, there was also a chance for misdiagnosis by her doctor.
Without a car and with every plan seeming to fail, Shields walked 45 minutes to the nearest city with her stomach in searing pain. Here, she purchased generic medications that were capable of tackling some of the symptoms, but were unable to resolve her situation by any means. While these types of medications may be something most people pack on all their trips, regardless of the destination, there are always situations where what you’ve packed doesn’t suit your needs, and you have to check what’s around you for an alternative.
It’s important to mention that alongside the pain she felt from her stomach issues, Shield’s face broke out in large rashes in response to the spices found in the food she ate, something she didn’t become aware of until she connected with someone about it later on. By sheer luck, Shields ran into a nurse who could provide her with a free topical cream sample to help her skin acclimate to the new environment. Nevertheless, such luck didn’t persist for the rest of her troubles.
After regrouping with her support system and not being able to receive the care she needed in Kodaikanal, Shields returned home, feeling frustrated and disappointed that her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity had been tarnished by a condition she felt confident could have been resolved if she had the resources. She made it clear that if she had a way to figure out equivalent medications and treatments between these two healthcare systems, she would’ve been better equipped to tackle the health problems she faced.
“If I had known that I had in my back pocket something I could use as a resource in case I did get sick or in case something did happen, I think I would have felt a lot more comfortable,” Shields said. “Even if you’re in a country you’re familiar with, or that has a lot of the luxuries from where you’re coming from, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to understand what’s available to you when you get there.”
In seeing how little her insurance could do for her abroad, Shields wants everyone to understand that most travel medical insurance is not enough. You need something for that urgent care – when you’re not in a dire state, but still need treatment. That “something” is Wander Health.