What Happens When You Get Sick While Traveling?

Every time I come home from a trip to Vegas, I get sick for a few days.  I call it the Vegas Flu. Four days and four nights of partying, little sleep, far too much Red Bull, far too many free tequila shots from groups of handsome guys, and adding a major change in climate?  No wonder I get sick.

So I shouldn’t be surprised, in retrospect, that I developed the Vang Vieng flu.

After my second night in Hanoi, I woke up in my dorm room with my throat on fire, my nose stuffed up, a raging fever and chills so violent I couldn’t stop convulsing.

My first thought?  Even though it felt like strep, I thought —


Wouldn’t you think the same thing after a few months in rural Laos and Cambodia?

I immediately got myself to SOS International Clinic in Hanoi. (A word to the wise: the clinic has changed locations since the last Lonely Planet publication, but you can get a free cab from the old one to the new one.)

I staggered into the clinic, feeling like I was on my deathbed.  Even though it was a Sunday, a doctor was able to see me right away.  He examined me and planned to do some bloodwork.

That’s when things got interesting.

If I were at home in Boston, here’s how it would have gone down: A voluptuous, no-nonsense Caribbean woman would have taken my blood in about thirty seconds flat, fierce and swift.  I would have been shown out of the room, paid my $30 copay and waited a few business days for my results.

In Hanoi?  A nurse took my blood as I lay on a hospital bed.  I didn’t even feel it.  I was still shivering violently, so another nurse brought me a blanket and set up a screen so that I would have some privacy.

The bloodwork only took thirty minutes to process, so the doctor encouraged me to stay in bed.  “Just relax and try to get some sleep,” he told me.


The nurse brought me some Pandamol to reduce my fever, and by the time the bloodwork was processed, it had dropped 0.6 degrees already.

The doctor read me my results:

No malaria.  No dengue. A slightly elevated level of infection, but nothing else.


The bill: $373.

I nearly keeled over.

I’m hoping that my insurance will cover it.  I’ve filed my claim and am waiting to hear the results.

Well, two days later, I still felt exactly the same.  And I knew it was strep. I’ve had strep a few times before, and it felt like strep.

I could have gone back to the doctor and paid through the nose once again.  But I didn’t want to.

I went to the pharmacy, picked up some penicillin, and within two hours of taking it, my sore throat felt better.  48 hours later, it had disappeared.

A few weeks have passed since this happened.  I spent much longer than I planned in Hanoi, simply recuperating, before moving on to Halong Bay and Hue.  The throat has cleared up and although I’m still coughing a bit, I’m almost completely back to normal.

I’m incredibly lucky that this is the sickest I’ve been so far. I credit that to paying attention to my body, slowly easing into exotic food, and staying away from any food that looks a bit dodgy.  When I need sleep, I sleep (most of the time).  Also, having work to do keeps me from partying nonstop.

Let’s have a toast to being healthy.  It takes only a little bit of effort.


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