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Call the medic

February 2020 (this article was written pre-coronavirus pandemic)

Travelling with children can have unexpected consequences, discovers our struggling mum.

I have spent the entire Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year festive break hobbling around southern England and Thailand with a torn hip flexor.

And then the Blonde Child broke her leg.

Killing time in A&E, memories of holidays past and other illnesses sprang to mind. Why is it every single time I spend horrifically large amounts of money on a holiday or long-haul flight (or indeed both), there is some kind of medical mishap hours before we’re due to get on the plane?

A few years ago, I was invited to attend a talk about adventurous family travel with a panel of ‘experts’. One lady in the audience asked a rather sensible question about curtailing adventure travel with a baby in tow due to the unavailability of comprehensive medical care in off-the-beaten track destinations. “Surely a resort-type holiday would be more sensible when children are tiny?” she asked.

“Oh no,” answered the (childless) expert. “As long as you’ve got some Nurofen and Band Aids, you should definitely carry on with your adventurous plans!”

I nearly snorted out my lukewarm savvy b. From bitter experience I know that even a day trip down the road can end in disaster when there are small children involved.

By the end of our ten-year residency in Sydney in the early 2000s, we had frequented almost every major hospital on the NSW coast.

Nowra? Oh yes, that was the day we’d been invited to join friends on the south coast for a picnic. All was going swimmingly until the Sporty Child tumbled off a zipline and had to have the back of her head glued together.

Gosford? Ah, yes. That was again a day we’d been invited to join friends for a picnic, this time on a Central Coast beach. Again, all was going marvellously, until the Teen Child swam into a smack of blue bottle jellyfish and ended up in an ambulance.

“When we got the call, we thought it must be a shark!” laughed the amenable paramedic. Oh my god, I thought, don’t even go there.

Funnily enough, by the time we left Australia in 2010, the invites had dried up somewhat.

And the overseas trips haven’t fared much better. Singapore? Chicken Pox. Italy? Infected mosquito bite requiring surgical removal. You get the picture.

Which I guess is a long-winded way of saying - buy the damn travel insurance.

A couple of years ago we decided to go a little bit off-grid with our holiday destination (step AWAY from the Shangri-La) and booked ten days with friends on a remote island in Indonesia. Obviously they were friends with no knowledge of our track record of recreationally-based medical emergencies and the whole holiday was trucking along quite nicely. Until one afternoon when I was settling down for a massage on the verandah of our little island hut.

As the soporific ministrations of my masseuse began to send me into a light doze, I could suddenly hear a small voice piercing the tranquility. “Hello?” the voice called.

Mothering instinct hauled me out of my somnolent state with a start. Kicking off my sarong I heaved myself up and turned towards the child calling over to me, who was by now becoming quite shrill. “Sorry!” he continued. “It was an accident!”

Charging after the child, I arrived at the bar to find the Boy Child seated on a stall with a blood-soaked bandage hastily wrapped around his head. It turned out he and a few of his friends had been playing cricket on the beach with a piece of driftwood. Unfortunately the Boy Child had run behind the batsman just as the bat was being heaved back for a hefty thwack of the tennis ball and had made crunching contact with my little boy’s head.

Absolutely nobody’s fault and the poor little cricketers were utterly distraught. It was just another one of ‘those’ childhood incidents.

Fortunately, the island resort sprang into action and offered us the speedboat to whizz the Boy Child to the nearest hospital. The second option was to call out an emergency medical helicopter from Singapore.

I think my husband physically winced at that suggestion. “What’s the nearest hospital like?” I tentatively asked.

“Well, it’s better than it was,” came the unconvincing reply.

In the end, as the Boy Child seemed to be rallying and hadn’t actually lost consciousness, we decided to give the local hospital a go and three hours later his head was fully chicken-wired up.

“They’re quite old-fashioned stitches,” remarked our GP back in Hong Kong. “But they’ve done the job.” The following summer we were back at a Shangri-La.

So I guess the moral of the tale is, be careful out there.

And don’t forget the Band Aids.

Expat Travelling Mum lives in Asia with four travel-loving children and a weary husband. In the interests of health family relations, she prefers to remain anonymous.


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