[two pro travel journalists turn amateur bloggers]
Of all the memories I’ve gathered in this life, collapsing into the arms of a French doctor somewhere in Moscow is the one I’d choose not to relive. But it is, however, the one episode that taught me three very valuable life lessons: that you should always listen to your body, that you should never be too stubborn to ask for help, and that travel insurance is an absolute necessity. It’s also the one memory that I conjure when times get tough, and remind myself this: I can do anything.
It was the second leg of a five-week train journey from St Petersburg through Siberia, Mongolia and China, and I was travelling alone. Back in St Petersburg, I’d foolishly assumed that within a day or two my body would beat out whatever bug had come along for the ride. My philosophy: admit you’re ill and you will be. So ignore it. Keep calm and travel on.
But after a crippling day and a second tortured night plagued by intense pain, rabid fever and hallucinations, I figured I should give in and see a doctor. I didn’t ask the hotel staff for help; I didn’t know how to explain what was wrong with me. Instead, stripped of the comfort that comes with being able to communicate through language, I switched into survival mode. I found a map with an “international hospital” marked on it in the hotel lobby. In my delirious state, I couldn’t be trusted to negotiate Moscow’s confusing metro, and taking a taxi didn’t cross my clouded mind. So, grateful for being born with a good sense of direction, I shuffled my aching body along the city’s streets, stopping frequently to rest on benches until, almost two hours later, I collapsed into the arms of a doctor. What followed was a series of scans and drips, hospital beds and injections – and a very stern scolding from the doc. A severe kidney infection is not something to be ignored, he lectured.
That was 10 years ago, in the days when guide books were made from paper and before phones doubled up cameras, or contained a world of knowledge. If I’d had my beloved iPhone back then, and had some of the apps below, my memories of Moscow would almost certainly be ones cultivated by an adventurous spirit, and memories I’m sure I’d want to relive in a heartbeat.
While no app should ever replace your doctor, iTriage (free) will help you to make sense of your ailment. On the illustration, tap the part of the body that’s worrying you, and you’ll be presented with a list of possible symptoms. From there, you’ll need to work your way through the causes. Each cause has a description, symptoms, tests, treatment (including OTC and prescription medicine) and links to images and videos. The app will also list the hospitals close to you. Other features include detailed descriptions of procedures, medicines and diseases. There is a place to record all your health info, and a listing of nearby medical practitioners, hospitals and emergency rooms (note: I’m using this app in South Africa, and only local hospitals are shown on this app).
Pocket First Aid & CPR ($1.99) is very well set up and easy to use. It gives instructions on how to giveCPR to an adult, child or infant and lists, in point form and longer articles, what to do in medical, injury and environmental emergency situations. The app also covers first aid basics, like what to have in your medical kit and how to call for help.
If you’re in a country where you can’t speak the local language, Icoon ($0.99) is a handy, simple app to have around. It’s divided into 12 categories, from health and hygiene to accommodation and clothing, and within each category there are various illustrations that you can show someone when you’re trying to communicate. For example, some of the illustrations in the health section include a hospital, a finger that’s been chopped off, somebody giving CPR and a broken bone.
It’s always good to know well in advance what vaccinations you need to have before you travel. With Healix Travel Vaccinations (free) you type in the name of the country you’ll be visiting, then answer a few questions, such as what areas you’ll be travelling to and how long you’ll be there. The app then shows you what the health risks are, and suggests what vaccinations are relevant or mandatory.
If you’re travelling to new places, chances are you won’t be too familiar with the area’s snakes, insects, animals and spiders. Bites! ($9.99) will help you to identify them, and teach you techniques for treatment should you get bitten. The sections are set up by classification, diagnosis and treatment, and there is a section that focuses on the most common poisonous snakes and lizards in the world. Please note: I’ve not downloaded Bites! and so can’t comment on its usability.