When the travel bug really bites

2016-12-06 16:30 - Anje Rautenbach
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When I was 5-years-old I went to the doctor with sore and swollen tonsils. I hated going to the doctor, and not just our house doctor - bless his soul - but any doctor for that matter.

Not even the lollipop after the visit could do anything for my toddler-brain; I threw tantrum upon tantrum, my parents had to be firm with me, told me the way the cookie crumbles and then later, as their last resort, they would bribe me with Smarties because in my mind Smarties possessed some magical powers.

With my achy-breaky-tonsils I entered the doctor’s room and with my hands on my hips I recited a little Afrikaans poem to the doctor:

“Dokter Marais het ‘n eier gelê,

"10 jaar terug onder ‘n brug

"met sy stink tone in die lug!”

Which, in a nutshell, translates to:

“Doctor Marais has laid an egg

"10 years ago under a bridge

"with his stink toes in the air!”

My poor mother turned red and the doctor went quiet for a while before he said that he’ll have a poem for me when I visited him again.

Folk remedies and smoke blowing

About a year later I visited him again and asked, hands on hips, where is my poem? He forgot and my mother, who turned red yet again, had to remind this man, word-for-word, what I said.

Other than my aversion to doctors, I was really a lovely kid, I promise.

I respect doctors and their clever brains, but to this day I would rather try folk remedies or absurd home treatments before seeing the doctor.

With a nasty ear infection a few years ago, I’d been advised that blowing smoke into the ear will help to alleviate the pain. Of course, I couldn’t bend my ear to my mouth so I called up a friend to help.  It didn’t alleviate anything. I went to the doctor the next day, got my antibiotics and got rightfully blamed for leading my friend astray because of the smoking.

'First-aid-shebang; anti-poo pills and useless painkillers'

My first aid kit when travelling usually consists of painkillers which have passed away about a decade ago according to their best-before-date and there is always a pack of Lomotils or Immodiums just case I get a hint of food poisoning.

And that’s my whole first-aid-shebang; anti-poo pills and useless painkillers.

In Indonesia, the travel bug once bit me to pieces with fevers and one uncontrollable cough; one local told me I should drink the water of a young coconut while another said ginger tea and honey. I tried both.

In Taiwan, I had throbbing headaches and a sore throat, and Chinese-twigs-and-leaves-medicine landed in my lap. In Nepal I got sick and, adamant not to cancel my trek, I took over-the-local-convenience-store-counter pills and someone’s word because I could not find a single English word on the package.

'Seven stiches are my medical claim to fame'

I’m generally a healthy and accident-free person with all my bones still in place, my insides intact, wisdom teeth and tonsils still doing their thing and I’ve never spent a night in a hospital since my birth.  Seven stitches on my finger because a glass broke while I did the dishes is my medical claim to fame.

I wait for things to go away or to get better before I would even consider going to the doctor but sometimes, like with sore and swollen tonsils, there is no avoiding a visit the doctor and some good drugs are in order.

Going to a doctor in a foreign country where English is not widely spoken can be an exhausting, daunting task, definitely not something you’re up for when you’re sick.

'Googling basically told me I was going to die'

After too much Googling (which basically told me I’m going to die) I opted for a University hospital in South Korea instead of going to a smaller place, to get my tonsils sorted.

The biggest problem of going to the doctor in Korea is not your illness, but rather the illness the Korean doctors think you have because the perceived illness stems from their tendency to stereotype Westerners’ germs and they easily throw words around like AIDS or syphilis.

Upon arrival the nurse took my temperature and there, on her desk I saw a laminated pamphlet with a series of pictures – Korean writing on the one side and the English translation on the other side.

She looked at the pamphlet and asked, “Do you have a fever?”

I pointed to the thing she just put in my ear.

With a giggle she moved on to the next question.

'Do we speak charades'

The doctor, an ENT specialist, opened his door and asked, “French?”.

The sliver of hope I had disappeared as I shook my head profusely when I said “no, English”.

I thought: I don’t speak French, he doesn’t speak English, do we speak charades?

The charades started; he looked at my throat, threw the ice cream stick in the bin and went back to his desk.

That’s it then? So I guess the stethoscope is not applicable?

“Common cold”, he said and wrote out a prescription.

I’m not a doctor, but I know it was not a cold and I know there was nothing common about it.

I tried to charade my symptoms again and pointed to my throat, my pounding heart and my head, but alas, he handed me the prescription and got up to open the door; what a gentleman, what a good ENT specialist.

I got my pills, got in a taxi and went home.

And as the razor blades continued to massacre my throat, all I wished for was the biggest box of Smarties to magically appear somewhere – anywhere - in South Korea. 

Anje Rautenbach is the writer behind the blog Going Somewhere Slowly, find her Facebook,Twitter  or on Instagram

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