Sick in Sri Lanka: Yet Another Time I Almost Died

Sick in Sri Lanka: Yet Another Time I Almost Died

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Know what’s better than being sick and alone in a third world country, ten thousand miles from everyone know you know? Basically anything.

I had big adventuring plans for today, but here I am, still in bed late in the afternoon because I woke up feverish and feeling like I had a ball of razor wire stuck in my throat. No doubt the culprit is all the toxic smoke I inhaled yesterday while taking photos in a gorgeous old cemetery. What kind of moron wanders around a cemetery while they’re burning huge piles of poisonous trash? In my defense, a thunderstorm was rolling in and the sky was ridiculously atmospheric. Well, I never claimed to be smart. But look at these gorgeous photos:

Sick in Sri Lanka

Sick in Sri Lanka

Sick in Sri Lanka

But back to my current predicament.

Did I mention the power has gone out so I’m lying here in the 90 degree heat without so much as a fan? I wonder how long it generally takes a human being to sweat to death. If I’m still alive when the power comes back on, I’ll Google it. 

I muster up the energy to check my trusty Lonely Planet for the location of the nearest reputable medical facility. It appears to be about a 45 minute tuktuk ride away. Through madhouse Colombo traffic in the sweltering heat. That sounds even less appealing than death, so I don’t bother to get up.

Learn From My Mistakes

Here’s how you can be a little smarter on your travels than I generally am:

  • If you’re traveling to a place with a known air quality problem, bring a scarf or bandanna to cover your mouth and nose when necessary. Even if, for some reason, you don’t like poking around old cemeteries.
  • Have a well-stocked first aid kit, especially if you’re traveling alone and you don’t have anyone to go and fetch you supplies. I’d kill for a few throat lozenges right now. From now on I’m just going to assume I’ll be getting the plague at every destination and pack accordingly.
  • Yes, that lovely Airbnb apartment in a leafy suburb looks very appealing, but how far will you be from the nearest medical services in a worst case scenario? This may not be a huge concern in the developed world, but if you’re traveling off the beaten path, you could find yourself a long way from adequate medical facilities.
  • Keep some flexibility in your schedule in case illness does strike and cause you to have to rearrange some plans. Out of 8 days in Colombo, I have two that I purposely left wide open. This would have been more than sufficient if I had only been sick for two days. As it turns out, I’m sick for the rest of my time in Colombo and I end up missing nearly everything on my list. Including the once-a-year Vesak Poya celebrations. I’m still a little bitter about that, to be honest. 
  • Know the generic names for any kinds of prescription medicine you think you might need on the road, but keep in mind that you might not be able to get what you’re used to at home. I desperately want some NyQuil to knock myself out and stop my persistent cough, but discover it was outlawed in Sri Lanka several years ago. I end up dragging myself to a pharmacy and explaining my miserable condition to the pharmacist, who gives me a packet of pills wrapped in white notebook paper with a few handwritten words of instruction. I don’t realize until later that it’s nothing but generic Claritin. Pharmacies are plentiful and very inexpensive here, but you need to know what you’re looking for.
  • Last, and most importantly: don’t be as stubborn as I am. Seek real medical treatment when you need it. Preferably before you find yourself coughing up blood in an Airbnb and deciding you should just pack up your belongings to make it easier for the homeowner when you die. (Spoiler alert: I survived, barely. But I was sick for nearly two weeks and it really put a damper on the first part of my trip. Don’t let that happen to you!)



8 thoughts on “Sick in Sri Lanka: Yet Another Time I Almost Died”

  1. Sorry to hear you’re sick. There’s nothing worse than being ill during a trip. I got some horrific mosquito bites when I was in Sri Lanka that got infected. I very nearly thought I was going to have to seek out a medical centre but I ending up waiting until I was back in the UK.

    1. It seems like everyone has a terrible story of getting sick overseas. It has happened to me so many times maybe I should write a separate post about that…

  2. Your post resonated a lot with me because I fell super sick in Istanbul (caught a stomach bug) and had a terrible experience (I think I should write a blog post about that). Very well written post and so very required for travelers (specially women) traveling alone to remote countries. One of the best blog post Saturday’s for me:-)

    1. Thank you so much, Paroma! I’m sorry to hear you were able to relate to it so easily, though. Being sick far away from home is just the worst.

  3. Hey we know you’re in Sri Lanka now and enjoy it to the best! Sucks the medical facility was so far… can’t believe you were sick for 2 weeks. Was going to tell you next time just get a decent hotel to snuggle properly and heal properly, but 2 weeks of hotel would have not been sexy on the bill!!

    1. No kidding! But I did actually end up going from Colombo to a very swanky resort in Ambalangoda and I can’t tell you how much that helped to speed up my recovery!

  4. Oh wow, getting sick while traveling is the absolute worst, especially if you don’t have much time for your trip. The air quality in Beijing is pretty bad so I brought a bunch of trusty 3M masks with me and bought an air purifier. It’s saved me for the last 2 years!

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