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How to Get Medical Care When Traveling

SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- My wife, Chaya, has a cankerous round growth coming out of her right eyelid. It is the size of a pea. It has been living there for the better part of six months. At each suggestion that she should go to the doctor to get it looked at, she would just squirm [...]

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SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- My wife, Chaya, has a cankerous round growth coming out of her right eyelid. It is the size of a pea. It has been living there for the better part of six months. At each suggestion that she should go to the doctor to get it looked at, she would just squirm and say no way — Chaya don’t go to no doctor.

The pea was a benign, if not to say friendly, sort of traveling companion for its first five months of moving around the world on Chaya’s eyelid. It was not too noticeable, just a little strange. We tried to find solutions as to what it could be — “Maybe a sty!” “Maybe something weird from your contact lenses?” — and hoped that it would just go away on its own. But the pea bump would not jump off the bus, it had clearly made a motion for permanent residence.

A couple days ago, the pea exploded. It got really large, red, and people in the streets began noticing. “What is that on your eye?” they would ask poor Chaya.

We had no friggin’ idea.

It is easy in travel to let bodily issues that require medical attention to dwell on indefinitely. It is far easier to walk around for six months with a cankerous pea on your eyelid than it is to find the initiative of going in to a strange doctor in a strange town under circumstances that you are unfamiliar with. It is a heady chore to go to the doctor when traveling, it is much easier to just not look into the mirror.

But sometimes, that which is ignored rises to bite you — Chaya’s eyelid pea usurped its boundaries and demanded medical attention. We had just gone to the hospital with Petra two days ago, we are all warmed up for another round.

By all accounts, my traveling family was getting a little beat up.

There is a medical clinic in Suchitoto that is regarded as the best around. It is called the Malta Clinic. “There is usually a long there because everyone knows that it is the best, you should go early to get in line,” we were told. This is where we would have brought Petra for her fever if she did not conveniently become ill on a Sunday.

Chaya left the apartment for the clinic early in the morning — I stayed with Petra. She came back a couple of hours later with hands full of medication.

“What is wrong with you?”

“It is an infection.”

“How much did it cost?”

“You are not going to be happy, I can’t tell you.”

“How much did it costs?” I asked with a new level of anxiousness.

“Three dollars for the visit and two for the medicine.”


When we first left the USA for our first run at international travel with a baby, our families and friends tried to urge us to go to a “clean” country. “Why don’t you go to Japan?” “How about Australia?” “Why don’t you guys just go back to Europe?”

But Chaya and I knew better. The stress involved with trying to travel in a country that is beyond your economic means is vastly more than taking precautions in a cheaper country whose culture is not ingrained with a rigid dichotomy between “clean” and “dirty.”

“The problem with my people,” the doctor at the hospital in Suchitoto began in tentative English, “is that they don’t wash their hands. They touch food and their hands are dirty.”

My family went to the doctor here in El Salvador, and we could afford it with little effort. If the same thing had happened in Japan — it very well could have — we would be set back a lot of money. If this had happened in the USA, we may have delayed going to the doctor. But we were in El Salvador, a place where economic restrictions do not come into play for us when seeking medical attention: we can go and see a doctor when we need one.

It is amazing to me that this is a novel statement.

There is a twist of logic in this matter: traveling in a “clean” country MAY mean that you get sick less often, but if you do you will face invariably face a large doctor bill, while traveling in a cheaper country whose food handling practices may be a little dirtier means that you MAY get sick more often, but you can afford to get better.

Babies put everything into their mouths, they can get sick anywhere, Chaya’s eyelid bump first appeared in the Southwest of the USA. I believe strongly that staying in places that we can easily afford medical care may be our best strategy. Though increased measures of prevention may be needed.

Staying healthy when traveling is an exercise in irony: you can only learn how to stay healthy when traveling by getting sick. For my first six years of international travel I did not really know how to stay healthy. I had never gotten seriously ill before. Then I embarked upon a full stomach assault in the south of India — I ate anything and everything without regard for the fact that it could make me sick. It did. I became genuinely ill, and I was so for five months.

But I now know how to stay healthy.

Petra’s collection of amoebas was a good lesson for Chaya and I. Thank you, Petra, we appreciate it — it is only a pity that you were stabbed to death by a wall eyed nurse armed with a intravenous needle. Chaya and I are new parents, this is the first time we have traveled with a baby, this was the first time that our baby became ill. We did not fully know how to keep her healthy, but we learned — we learned through her becoming sick. Now we know.

El Salvador Travel Guide | El Salvador Photos


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Filed under: Central America, Culture and Society, El Salvador, Health

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

4 comments… add one

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  • sunil April 21, 2010, 7:18 am

    what you had in south india – which state

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 21, 2010, 9:36 am

      I had parasites and just about everything else. In the South of India I mostly stayed in Karnataka, but I could have picked up the parasites in Rajasthan or Delhi.

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  • david April 22, 2010, 4:21 am

    Just remember Wade – babies (and us) get sick. It is natural. Yes – you can prevent the obvious, but our immune systems also flourish if challenged. Petra will one day probably be VERY robust, due to exposure. In the meantime, don’t worry that you somehow failed when having to beat out an uncontrolled fire. It’s part of the process.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 22, 2010, 7:33 am

      Thanks David,

      We know that you are correct, it is just a little difficult — especially for Chaya — to look at our little baby having a hard time when there may be another option. But you are right, there is no other option — getting sick is a part of life, it is what keeps us strong — babies need to be exposed. And they demand exposure, they almost seem programmed to take their surroundings internally — they try to eat everything. This could have happened just about anywhere.

      I suppose it is the job of the baby and little kid to get strong enough for adulthood. I suppose they do this through exposure.

      Thanks for the support,


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