I settled into a cushy leather chair with background mandolin music playing at a relaxing, yet non-romantic volume. The room was equipped with dim mood lighting, painted in warm brown tones, and had gleaming hardwood floors. The only thing that betrayed the fact that I was sitting in a doctor’s office was the anatomically correct poster of an intestine pinned to the wall, with big bold letters that read “DISORDERS OF THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM” along with a few scattered medical pamphlets on the mahogany table beside me.
After a brief, but pleasant wait leafing through a well illustrated brochure on HPV vaccinations, there was a light knock on the door. I half expected a maitre d’ to peek his head in and take my beverage order. Instead the nurse, a young, twenty-something woman in a crisp white coat, and trendy canvas flats, came in and sat down. After a few casual questions about where we were travelling to, and what kind of activities we would be doing, the pleasant young twenty-something nurse, peering over her oh-so-hip horn-rimmed specs, began a jolting soliloquy on the hazards of the dark and dangerous lands we were about to explore.
A brief summary of her rant (ahem, advice):
“Thailand monkeys are dirty. Avoid them…”
“They carry a type of herpes that can kill you.”
“Also rabies. Monkeys transmit rabies…”
“Make sure when you get back to get tested for tuberculosis – it’s the highest risk, especially if you’re travelling for longer than a few weeks in the area. And if anything with your digestion seems strange it could be parasites.”
“You will be in Chiang Mai? Wear bug spray. With deet. But even then, I’d consider getting vaccinations for Dengue fever, which comes from daytime mosquitos, and possibly even Chikungunya fever, which comes from mosquitos present mostly at night.”
“Do you have drug coverage? I would recommend the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine too. You’d need three shots which are around $300 each. Here’s the pamphlet. I’d consider it if I were you… if you contract this, you need to be within a day of a hospital, and even then, because it causes your brain to swell, it can result permanent brain damage, and eventual death…”
“I’ll prescribe you with general antibiotics to take with you in case of any general ailment….do you live near here? This particular pill shouldn’t be out of the fridge for more than an hour…”
….and here was my chance to demonstrate to this nurse how responsible I was, how much research I had done on the subject. I came out with a pathetic:
“What about anti-malarial pills?”
“Well, it’s not a vaccination, but I’ll get there in a few minutes. Now, If you plan on going river rafting or being in the jungle, Leishmaniasis is a concern, which comes from sand flies. This can also kill you. So now, let’s talk about traveller’s diarrhea…”
…and on it went…
$220 later (opting for the it’s-not-in-the-budget array of reactive and preventative measures), I walked out of the doctor’s office, nearly immune from tetanus and Hepatitis B – both arms feeling like my grandma’s well-loved pincushions. You know the saying “beauty is pain”? I’m beginning to feel the same way about travel…