You’re in an out-of-the-way corner of Japan, enjoying a mid-morning ride on a cheaply purchased mountain bike, viewing a landscape that only so many places can offer.
A smoking volcano to the left, and a revolving sushi restaurant on the right, not yet open for the lunch crowd.
Suddenly, the front wheel of the bike jams.
Unprepared for such massive deceleration, your body flys over the handlebars, all four limbs flailing in an attempt to adjust to this new gravity-free world.
Not quickly enough, you realize, as your right hand sickeningly crunches into the ground.
Your eyes open slowly. Still sprawled on the asphalt, you’re more than confident you can simply stand up, gather your thoughts, and laugh this off as simply another close call.
That is, however, until your right hand refuses to obey any commands, and you instinctively look at the shattered remains of a limb that was once so reliable, so whole.
For every high-risk, adrenaline-seeking lifestyle, there are ten thousand high-risk injuries that might happen.
The human body is fragile. I repeat: the human body is fragile; it can be broken, bruised, cut, burned, twisted, maimed, strained, overworked, and sickened.
With risk comes adventure, and all adventures that we have on the road, whether they include ascending a vertical ice wall on Everest, or simply lugging groceries back to your beach hut in Thailand, carry the possibility of medical disaster.
If you’re hurt enough to require medical attention in a foreign country, here are 3 points to keep in mind:
1. Learn The Word For Hospital
Hopefully you’ve studied and memorized the necessary words in the native language for ‘hospital,’ ‘help’, and ‘pain’.
What most people don’t do, however, is pick up the skills to describe the kind of pain you’re feeling (dull, sharp, continuous, off-and-on) and from where (head, toe, heart, 3 cm under the left thigh).
Perhaps unearthing a medical dictionary in your country of travel isn’t high on the list of priority items (it’s easier to just play it safe); but you’ll thank yourself if an emergency arises.
2. Can You Pay The Bill?
Consider your financial situation and surroundings before deciding on treatment.
Are you in the middle of the Burmese jungle and will you have to travel for an extended period to reach the nearest hospital? Do you have traveler’s insurance? Maybe you should fly home for treatment, unless it’s life threatening.
Do you trust doctors who won’t necessarily be able to understand your wishes, or you them? It’s all about weighing the risk factors and thinking about the resources available to you.
Work through the pain (yes, even searing pain) and try to keep a clear head.
3. Be Patient
Think about extending your stay. If you’ve got an injury that requires regular visits to the doctor and/or physical therapy, and you’re already a resident expat, you might want to put down roots for the time being.
Beware: it will be tempting to shirk your recovery and hit the road if the pain is bearable. The promise of waking up who-knows-where tomorrow is tempting, but the fact remains you require rest, time for recovery, and follow-up medical care.
Aggravating an injury by quickly returning to an active travel lifestyle will only make things worse.
There will come a time when you will return to the road; keep that running through your head every step of the way, and remember that getting injured and treated in a foreign environment is an adventure in itself.
Talk to the nurses about the kinds of patients they see; make small talk with your physical therapist while he’s torturing your joints. But, never allow yourself to become too complacent.
The wanderlust fire is still burning, just dimmed for the moment.
Have you been seriously injured on the road? How did you deal with it?