Illness and injury are things that travellers hardly ever account for when planning their trip, but often run into whilst abroad. When I traipsed off to Italy for two weeks a couple of years ago that is exactly what I did, thinking that Italy is a modern European country and couldn’t be that different from Australia. I was sorely mistaken.
This is the story of my experience with injury and sickness whilst travelling, along with some tips that I think will be handy for you!
Injured in Italy
Day 1 : Pinching
It was my sixth day in Italy as part of an art history tour and we spent the afternoon at the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence appreciating the view, taking photos and sketching. Halfway through sketching my admittedly poor picture of the Duomo I can recall feeling a slight pinching sensation on my ankle, but thought nothing of it. Despite my inability to notice it at the time, that moment changed the course of my entire trip, and taught me a lot about dealing with unexpected injuries and illnesses whilst travelling.
Day 2 : Itching
The next day began as normal. As part of our tour we went to Siena, a town close to Florence, for the day. When we returned to Florence in the afternoon I went shopping with some of my friends, which is when I began to feel a strange itching sensation on the back of my ankle. I inspected it when we arrived back at the hotel, but it seemed like nothing more than a mosquito bite or a blister that had burst, so I just put a band-aid on it and continued as usual.
Day 3 : Swelling
I awoke the next morning to an ankle that was slightly more swollen than usual. I was advised to take an anti-histamine, which assisted with the swelling of my ankle for that day, but the worst was still to come. On top of this, I had been feeling slightly sick with a cold as well.
Day 4 : Cold Symptoms
It was Easter Sunday and we had a long walk to arrive at a traditional Italian Easter Sunday mass in the morning. Throughout this walk my ankle continued to swell and I continued to cough and sneeze, but being in such a culturally rich and vibrant new country was an experience that I didn’t want to take for granted, so I pushed through it. When my ankle started to go purple and it became painful to walk on it I decided that this wasn’t just a 24 hour situation, and that I should probably seek some medical help. After notifying one of our group leaders we decided to call a doctor, but I would not be able to see him until we arrived in Venice the next day.
Day 5 : Tetanus
After an uncomfortable train ride from Florence to Venice, during which I had to keep my ankle elevated the entire time, we arrived in Venice. The doctor arrived at our hotel that evening to see me, and a few other people who were having medical issues. He informed me that I was lucky to have had a tetanus injection the day before I left, and prescribed me some cream to stop the swelling of my ankle.
Day 6 : Recovery
The next day a small group of us visited the chemist to pick up our various medications before visiting the island of Burano. The swelling went down remarkably fast after applying the medication. I also ate a fruit salad for lunch, and began eating more fruit and vegetables for the remainder of the trip as I think my cold came about mostly as a result of living on a diet of pizza and pasta. Of course, being in Italy, I still consumed a healthy amount of these foods before going home!
This experience could have turned into a horror story, and completely ruined my trip. I was determined not to let the circumstances ruin my experience in Italy though, and while there are definitely things I would change about how I dealt with the situation there I’m glad I never let my swollen ankle or cold get in the way of the experience.
Here are a few tips to make sure you don’t let an injury or illness ruin your travels.
(side-note – I am not medically trained whatsoever and am only speaking from experience in these suggestions.)
- Make sure you have travel insurance – if you’re not covered by travel insurance you could find yourself spending a lot of money as a result of your injury or illness. Here is a website that offers extensive information on travel insurance in regards to health. You’re always better safe than sorry!
- Don’t wait for something to get worse – If you think there’s something a bit iffy about what you assume to be a simple mosquito bite get a professional’s advice, or at least Google it! You don’t want to be hobbling around Florence in the pouring rain on Easter Sunday like I was!
- Don’t assume it’s a mosquito bite – You’re in a foreign country meaning it could be anything, so make sure you’re a little bit smarter than I was.
- Although food is always tempting make sure you keep an eye on what you eat – Instead of living on pizza and pasta in Italy like me, add a salad or a soup into the mix!
- Don’t think about it too much – The more you think about your illness or injury the more likely you are to build it up as a huge disaster in your head. Make the adventure in whatever country you are exploring a priority, and don’t let something you can’t change ruin your trip! Although, going back to my first point, if you can change it do so immediately to avoid any discomfort!
- Enjoy the experience – Getting sick or having a ginormous ankle are all part of the experience, so remember to always look on the bright side. It will definitely make a great story when you get home. I look back on my experience hobbling around Italy and speaking mostly through gesture with a doctor who knew little English fondly now, and I know that I’ll always have an interesting story to tell about my visit to Italy.
Enjoy your travels and stay safe, but if you do find yourself sick or injured just remember the tips stated above! And remember to make the most of your adventure.