I love getting to know people from various world cultures. When my husband and I got married in 1998, we dreamed of travel to far-away countries. For the first nine years of marriage I was doing home dialysis (peritoneal, then nocturnal hemodialysis). We did some travel in the United States, my husband dutifully hauling my peritoneal dialysis machine and supplies in and out of our car and into various hotels. Later, on hemodialysis, I sampled a variety of hemodialysis clinics across the country.
Finally in 2006, I received a transplant. Now we could fulfill our dream!
Our first trip was to Nepal and India, just 6 months after the transplant. We stayed for a month and loved it. This was a big test to see how well I would manage with so many threats to my health, magnified by my suppressed immune system. I didn’t have any problems at all except an ordinary cold which confined me to our hotel room for a few days.
“After the first successful trip I was hooked.”
My success fed our wanderlust. Since then my husband and I have traveled all over south and southeast Asia, with longer stays in India. I’ve found that it’s not difficult to remain healthy as long as I keep a few important things in mind. The following are common tips for every traveler and are even more important for someone with a suppressed immune system.
In developing countries, I watch what I eat. I never eat raw vegetables or fruit unless I first wash them with soap and let them dry completely. If I’m out I don’t eat sandwiches or salads. Water-borne illness is one of the most common maladies, which is why I check that all serving dishes, cups, and utensils are dry before I use them. Hot food is usually safe unless the server touches it with their bare, sometimes unwashed, hands.
Bottled water or water from a reverse osmosis machine is the only water I drink, though I cook with tap water.
I always carry hand sanitizer with me when I go out and use it generously if there is nowhere to wash my hands with soap. Carrying a small tube of antibacterial cream is also a good idea in case I get a cut, though I’ve had to use hand sanitizer on occasion.
It’s important to just use common sense and be wise. I try to connect with a hospital or nephrologist if I’m going to be in one place for a few weeks. Even developing countries usually have one or two high quality hospitals or labs for foreigners. You can check with the US Embassy or other foreigners who live in the area to get recommendations in case of an emergency. Learn the local emergency numbers. I carry a list of all my medications and allergies with me as well.
I organize my medications so I have them ready to take wherever I am. For many years, I’ve created small pill packets using 1”x2” zipper bags. I make 24 of these and store them in larger bags marked “Morning” and “Night.” I take my morning pills around noon with food. If I know I’ll be out of the house, I bring a juice box and put one of the pill packets in my purse. At night I take my pills before bed, so it’s not usually a problem remembering. Once in a while, when I know I’ll be busy and might forget to take my pills, I’ll set my phone alarm or ask a friend to remind me to take them. I’ve rarely forgotten them.
When I got my transplant and asked my doctor if I could travel, he said emphatically, “Of course! Do it! You got a kidney so you could live. Take precautions, but don’t be afraid.” Those words encouraged me to put aside any fear and try. After the first successful trip I was hooked. Since then, I’ve rarely gotten an infection or an illness beyond a normal cold.
Plan ahead to stay safe. Bon voyage!
Shari Gilford teaches English to refugee families in the USA and to disadvantaged children during her travels overseas. Her first transplant was in 1977 and she received her third transplant in March 2006. In between transplants she was on dialysis for over 10 years.
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