This trip is turning out to be a bit different from prior trips in many ways. Every time I travel my eyes are opened to more and more about the world we take for granted. I was reminded of this after a visit with my physician.
As I sat there across from him, in his stuffy little office listening to him rattle of the barrage of vaccines and antibiotics I need for this journey; I learn I have either been foolish or incredibly blessed to have ventured off this many times without having been properly vaccinated.
The doctors says he will be injecting me today with the Hepatitis A vaccine, however, we both feel I have already been exposed to it and developed an immunity. It is merely a precautionary step. He explains it is a two step process similar to Hepatitis B (one injection now and another later) this will ‘protect’ me for several years.
He goes on to prescribe a vaccine for Typhoid Fever which is a live vaccine taken in pill form over a period of several days. If it is not taken properly or stored properly it is ineffective. A treatment, I am halfway through and have begun to experience mild side effects (exhaustion and flu like symptoms), a minor thing to remain in good health while working abroad.
I learn from my doctor something very unique about him today. He is a bit of a world traveler, providing health services to those in need abroad, one of his discoveries was there is a huge need for good hearted generous Americans to be properly educated and treated medically before they step outside our comfy insulated homeland into the great beyond…there are two important factors to take into consideration when working abroad; one you might contract a nasty little illness or two you the healthy one from the free world maybe carrying something nasty and make the individuals you’ve come so far to work with very sick. I cannot emphasize enough the message from my doctor, if you are going abroad you need to make an appointment with your doctor…My physician found his calling in helping Mainers prepare their bodies for healthy traveling abroad, and I, along with my foreign friends are that much healthier because of it.
He provides me a prescription for Malaria, a course of treatment set to begin a few weeks prior to departure that will continue while I am away and commence a few weeks after my return. This is in pill form and taken weekly for eight weeks.
Then he prescribes antibiotics more as a ‘just in case’ and one drug to help with elevation sickness as the volcano I intend to hike this time is high enough to pose a very real threat.
As I sat there with my doctor, a young hip guy, fluent in Spanish (he really put me through my paces by only conversing with me in Spanish too) we discuss our individual travels and reflect on our firsthand experiences the desperate need to get medicines and medical professionals to the rural areas outside the USA that simply do not have any form of healthcare.
It is almost a guilty feeling that grows in the pit of my belly as the needle pierces my skin and the icy burn of the liquid penetrates my vein. I wish that everyone was this fortunate. Vaccines save lives, think how many...I am increasingly more aware of how blessed, we, here, in the USA are to have access to proper medical care, clean water, sewerage, and education all which promote healthy living. All too often, water cannot be consumed in Central America because it is not purified, yes, it runs through a pipe in the home but it cannot be used for human consumption, raw sewerage runs through the streets and people urinate and defecate outside (right on the streets sometimes).
I recall an area I have been where the locals live in extreme poverty near a lake. The lake is magnificent everyone who visits the country always visits this region. It is known for its buena vista (beautiful views). The lake is an essential part of life for the locals; tourism, boating, fishing. The tourist love the lake for the mysteriousness of its mass, swimming, kayaking and the locals love sharing it with us. Locals fish the lake and use boats to transport themselves back and forth much like Mainers on the islands. They sell their daily catches in the local markets everyone raves about the great fish…However, if you look closer you will find families bathing in the lake and mothers washing laundry by hand while their children are splashing around. Peer over the edge of your boat and you can see old sunken boats, cars, refrigerators, bicycles and much more that has been cast aside. What is astonishing is watching young woman with huge pots walk down to the lake, fill them with water, rest it atop their head and walk the full bucket back to their homes. This water is then used in the home…
It is in this sight, this imagine, I portray to you one thinks how very broken down humane living is. Where is the proper health care, sanitation, and education? If you heart strings are not tugged just a little you must just not have one in your chest and I tend to doubt that…
As the nurse withdraws the needle and places a tasmanian devil band aid on my arm she says, ‘now that was easy wasn’t it’ and I think to myself shouldn’t it be that way for everyone?