Getting Sick Abroad

Getting sick sucks, especially if you are away from home, homeland.  There is nothing worse than having a medical emergency while traveling abroad.  But don’t let that scare you off the plane.  Take a few travel tips from a seasoned traveler…aka your fav ex-patriot.

My parents have made dozens of cross Atlantic trips to visit our Norwegian relatives and me without a hitch.  After a recovering from 4 different surgeries, my 79-year-old dad attained his goal to fly to Switzerland and almost didn’t make it back when he became gravely ill. Fortunately our daughter, a pediatrician, insisted we call an emergency doctor who demanded we take him to the hospital immediately where they put him on intravenous antibiotics and saved his life.  A simple urinary tract infection had developed into a life threatening sepsis. Luckily, we had a Frenchman aboard, who spoke both English and French and could interpret in the ER.  But in the course of ensuing chaos, it made me realize how frightening illness can be for someone traveling abroad especially if you don’t speak the local language.  When packing your bags be sure to include these items.

  • Medication for the duration of your stay in your carry on bag
  • Carry insurance and medical cards and a photocopy of prescriptions
  • Type up a short resume of your recent medical history
  • List emergency numbers of contacts in your homeland
  • If possible, obtain the number of a friend living in the area you are visiting (this is especially reassuring to parents when their sons/daughters go abroad)
  • In the event of serious illness call SOS Médecins
  • When in doubt, go directly to the emergency room

In Switzerland and France, public hospitals will admit you, but you may have to pay a fee, like the $500 up front that my dad paid at the Hospitale de Nyon before services could be rendered.

Jim & Lenore McKinzie in Switzerland

Jim & Lenore McKinzie in Switzerland

The medical system varies in each European country. In some places, doctors still make house calls.  Many medical people have independent practices in apartment buildings or a room of their homes.  Unlike our clinics or convenient urgent care centers in the states, often times in Europe you will have to go to separate laboratories to have blood drawn and/or X rays taken. Pharmacies display the universal sign, a green cross. In Europe pharmacists will answer simple medical questions and can advise you on minor problems. Major hotels have a doctor on staff or will call a local doctor for you.

Accept that medical practices in other countries, though different from those at home, are not necessarily bad.  For example in France and Switzerland, prescriptions are not counted out by the dose, but boxed in plastic in 7 day to one month doses.

During my overseas stint, I have been hospitalized after accidents and illnesses, for surgery and childbirth.  I‘ve seen my fair share of doctors, but I can assure you that like people, there are good and bad ones everywhere regardless of nationality.

Alors santé! (Here’s to your health) Bon voyage!

Sisterhood, motherhood and marathons

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Hannah & Karen

Hannah & Karen

When my professional basketball career ended, my goal was to start running marathons.  Accidents and illness thwarted that dream; I never ran again, so my little sister is competing in a sprint triathlon for me.

Karen was always a good athlete with a body built for competition. She had perfect teeth and toes, providing a good bite and great balance.

During thousands of dollars of treatment for a misaligned dental occlusion, my dentist explained, “The massetter is the strongest muscle in the body. You ever notice all the best athletes have beautiful teeth?”

Ditto for the toes. Whereas my sister polishes her beautiful toes, my crooked ones remain hidden in clunky orthopedic shoes. My podiatrist has told me I should retire from teaching because my feet are so bad. My ankles are pronated, my arches too high, my big toe too short, so my balance is bad. My second toe is too long and the other three are curled like claws to grip the ground to keep me upright. Leg aches plagued me since childhood, but never slowed me down.

So while Karen and her friends train for the Chaska River City Days Sprint Triathlon – a third-mile swim, 16-mile bike and 5K run, I cheer them on. After raising children and caretaking in helping professions, they decided to do something just for themselves and began training together for the event.

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Jean Pupkes, Ann Jackson, & Karen Carlson at the finish line

Ever the competitor, I secretly train for my own triathlon – a walk, bike, swimathlon. Everyday I bike around the neighboring lake, walk to town, and swim to the island, each day pushing to go a little farther and a bit faster. It takes some ingenuity because I have to avoid the sunlight.

While my baby sister paints her nails and runs in preparation for the big event, I don full scuba gear, like the Loch Ness monster, to swim in a cold, purple lake.

When Karen finished the triathlon reaching her personal goal wearing the number 60, her birth year, she called me first.

“After the swim – my best event – I felt great,” Karen said, “But after the 16 mile bike, my legs turned to Jello on the run, then a guy ran by and offered me good advice – just put one foot in front of the other.”

My sister admires me for never giving up in spite of all my physical limitations, but she remains my hero, a younger, more refined, fitter version of myself.

Our competitive spirit spurs us on. If my baby sister, can finish her first sprint triathlon at the age of 51, I can darn well make it around the block again on my own two faulty feet.

Guest Post: Staying in the Race

 

 

Kathy Pooler

Kathy Pooler

 

I am honored to feature fellow writer and Dan Blank’s Build Your Author Platform course classmate, Kathleen Pooler as a guest blogger this week. She writes about how faith and hope,  family and friends helped her stay on the course in her battle against cancer.  She is inspirational.

Staying in the Race

“THE ONLY WAY OF DISCOVERING THE LIMITS OF THE POSSIBLE IS TO VENTURE A LITTLE WAY PAST THEM INTO THE IMPOSSIBLE.” Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future.

On a picture-perfect sunny, blazing October morning in Eastern New York State, along the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, I had the thrill of following my daughter, Leigh Ann, as she ran her first marathon. Grandsons, Jacob,5 and Ethan,4, played a key role in this effort as they held up their homemade “Go Mommy Go and “You Can Do It” posters. When she reached the finish line four hours and nineteen minutes later, Jacob and Ethan joined her in crossing over. Her message on Facebook was “a great support system can get one through what once seemed impossible.”

My marathon was a diagnosis of Stage Four Non Hodgkin Lymphoma on Christmas Eve, 1996. After dealing with the shock of the diagnosis, I had to learn how to be a patient, handing in my stethoscope for a hospital gown and two years of intense chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant. I was in training for the battle of my life and for my life. I cried, I prayed, I let my family and friends rub my feet and make me meals, I raged until one day, I just yelled at God,

“You are the great Miracle-maker so make me a miracle. Heal me so I can dance at my daughter’s wedding and hug my grand-kids. Let me see my son find his way. Give me hope for better days.”

Then before my stem cell transplant, I sat down to write a list of positive visualizations~ attending  my friend’s wedding, traveling to Missouri and Wisconsin to visit friends, dancing at my niece’s wedding with hair and going back to work as a nurse practitioner.

And every single wish came true.

Dealing with illness is every bit like a marathon. In the midst of a diagnosis, whether it be an acute condition like cancer or a chronic condition like an autoimmune disorder, health seems like an impossible dream, an amazing feat.

Illness requires the ongoing support of medical professionals, family and friends. One has to learn how to be a patient, to listen to the medical experts while still maintaining a semblance of independence and normalcy. There are many hurdles and setbacks along the way. When a runner “hits a wall”, she is told to keep working past it much like a person with a diagnosis needs to keep working past the hurdles and setbacks of medication side effects or disease exacerbation’s. In a marathon, each participant competes against herself, striving for her own personal best. A person with a diagnosis needs to dig deeply within herself to find her own inner strength to fight the battle. Both runners and people with illnesses have to pace themselves so they can last in the long haul.

I have been in remission since 1998.

For me, the power of hope through my faith in God helped me to stay in the race and cross the finish line.

How do you stay in the race?

 

Kathleen Pooler is a Family Nurse Practitioner and writer from eastern New York State, at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. She lives on a 135-acre farm where her husband, Wayne, grows organic vegetables and sells them at local farmer’s markets. She is a very grateful cancer survivor who is writing a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God helped her to climb out of the abyss of her life’s challenges~ divorce, single parenting, alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure~ to find a life of peace and joy. She believes that hope matters and that we are all enriched when we share our stories of hope.

You may visit Kathy at her blog: Write On~Random Thoughts About Writing and Life from a Memoir Writer http://krpooler.com

Twitter: @kathypooler

Facebook: Kathleen Pooler

LinkedIn: Kathleen Pooler

Email: kpooler63@gmail.com

 

Living in Darkness Without Losing Hope

On, December 21st, the earth tilts farthest from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere. Ah, the gloomy gray Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. No one knows as much about enduring dark days as my Norwegian relatives living on fjords by Narvik, near the North Pole. I, too, have learned how to live with limited light. For the past three years I have lived in darkness as I endure a medical treatment for a multi system, auto immune, inflammatory disease in which my body produces too much Vitamin D. I live in a house with lights off, my skin covered head to toe and hide behind thick black glasses. I lurk in the shadows, coming out at night like Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird.

In one of my greatest moments of despair, I came to terms with the idea that we are all dying. Get over it, girl. As soon as we are born, our cells begin to decay. When I lament that I cannot ski the Alps, run marathons, travel the world as I so hoped after I “retired” from basketball, I focus on what I can do. I can write letters, give pep talks, edit English papers, encourage students, and offer support to family, friends and newcomers to Switzerland.

Right now as I write this, I am flat on my back, listening to my iPod, and typing on a laptop while resting the spine. This is not the life I envisioned. Oh no, I was going to conquer the world straight up. Even though I am often limited to my four dark walls, in a house shuttered closed like Fort Knox, I am amazed at how far the mind can wander. I can brush up on my German or French, strum my guitar, watch Macbeth, (ugh) take an on-line course, and write a blog.

Like a rapper without the bling, I walk to school in my hoody, shades and tennis shoes. Sometimes I lose my footing. But if Stevie Wonder could compose, “ You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and insisted “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing,” in total darkness, I can make it through another day teaching with the lights turned low.

Everyday I gaze at the painting my dad made me of a lighthouse signaling safety from the stormy black sea. I focus on the pale reflection and pray for those struggling in the darkness; for my colleague suffering from depression, for my dad regaining use of his leg, for my buddy recovering from foot surgery, for a friend battling cancer, for all those people who are facing the loss of a limb, a life dream, a loved one, in moments of doubt and darkness.

Even though the blackness of longest night of the year seems interminable, I still have sunshine in my soul. And miraculously, the more I spread my light to others, the greater the hope, glows within me.