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Post Info TOPIC: Needing Medical Treatment while Traveling


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Needing Medical Treatment while Traveling


 

 

I thought rather than attempt to resurrect a topic that is obviously doomed I would like to tell my story of suddenly needing health and medical services while travelling.


I will provide a basic insight as to what I experienced when I was suddenly struck down with bowel cancer while out on the lap.

My basics are that I began travelling when I retired in 2016.

I had a caravan and a ute and my wife and I had planned the big trip as wandering nomads adopting the lifestyle as pretty permanent.

Unfortunately my wife passed in the last year of my working career and this threw a major spanner into the workings of our plan.

After much consultation and help from family and good friends I decided to do the caravanning thing anyway to see how I would cope without my life partner.

 

The first year was extremely hard and it took a while to actually accept how my life would be.

The second year became easier and I had adjusted to something new with regard to not having a partner.

Some may wonder why I have gone into this detail but it is important later for me to indicate just how medical needs and requirements can be.

 

I was in North Queensland and enjoying both travel and meeting new folks when I became increasingly constipated.

I had never ever had any bowel problems to date and my regular poo tests had all came back OK.

I changed my diet in the hope that it might help but by the third to fourth day I decided that I should seek a medical opinion.

At that time I was in what we might class a medium sized town, it had three or four GP practices and a local basic hospital.

I went to one then two of the GP practices and at both I was told that they were not taking any new patients.

I was asked by both how long I had been in the town and why I hadnt been to them before.

I explained that I only need their services when I am sick.

I went to the third GP practice and was told the same thing and even asked how long I had been in the town as well, even suggesting that maybe my wife might have come to them.

I can not see what that had to do with it so I explained my wifes passing.

 

By this time I was visibly ill and was in some pain and at that very moment one of the GP doctors came out to the front desk to call her next patient and saw me in my condition.

There was then a quiet conversation between the GP and the reception staff and at that time the GP interrupted and asked if I was OK.

In the privacy of the entire waiting room I told her of my plight and she immediately ordered me to her consulting room.

I was considering myself so lucky that this doctor had seen me totally by accident and was prepared to attend to my condition.

She questioned me and I told her what had been happening so far and because I had used suppositories with little success she proceeded to perform a physical examination of my bowel.

Her examination was inconclusive and referred me to the hospital for further testing.

They found an obstruction through an X-ray and advised that I needed to have an urgent operation.

As I had already been vomiting my blood count was showing that my Potassium level was dangerously low with a real chance of my heart stopping as Potassium is required for heart operation.

 

OK so some may ask where this is all going.

Well remember I am by myself in a strange town amongst medical professionals who all are asking how long I have lived in this area. I can not see why this mattered but apparently it did.

 

To continue on I was then rushed by ambulance to a larger regional hospital where they proceeded to operate on my bowel.

As a result they removed the obstruction and I woke up in ICU with a colostomy appliance.

Fortunately my son flew to the town and supported me and while he was there went to where my caravan was parked and continued the fees for an extended time.

They wanted him to move the van as they had other bookings but he managed to negotiate with the owner to store my van. At the same time he recovered my vehicle from the original hospitals car park and stored it with my van.

So from there my problems didnt get much better.

I was sent home eventually with some basic training but found it difficult managing a new colostomy appliance without any help.

I had troubles with it and needed help but there was nothing in this town so I had to travel the several hundred kilometres to the regional hospital to see a Stoma Nurse.

I finally got around all that by myself and began Chemotherapy.

Any that have had this will know what it  may do to a person when they administer it as a treatment for cancer no one actually knows what side affects may result.

Well wouldnt you know, it caused severe diahorea with me which is no fun with a stoma appliance.

Try bending down in a limited area of a caravan to attempt cleaning up while trying to manage something that is glued to your stomach.

By the way while anyone is on Chemo the discharges from any part of your body including the basic like sweating is Toxic to others which then becomes yet another problem.

The use of public areas is considered a no/no as well.

 

Well the Chemo nearly killed me as I had such heavy discharge of bodily waste from the Stoma I had again lost all elements in my blood and the Potassium was dangerously low, even lower than before my operation.

A Potassium drip is no fun and can be very painful.

 

My GP suggested I go immediately back to our local hospital but to get there I had to ask a friendly neighbour to drive me. I collapsed on the walk from the carpark to the admission and the only good thing with this happening is that I was admitted immediately and didnt have to sit for hours in outpatients.

Just to elaborate I was suffering up to eleven large discharges a day from my now redirected bowel into my colostomy bag so sitting and waiting was not the option anyone would be happy with.

So on the third day in hospital my diahorea had subsided to about half what I was initially suffering.

This might be good you say but no, the circumstances surrounding the blood test results to indicate the level of Potassium and other elements in my blood was arriving 24 hours after the sample was taken.

Why is this you may ask, well it is because there is no pathology testing in this town including the hospital and the sample has to go to yet another large regional hospital for analysis. It is after that travel and testing that the results are then relayed by internet to the hospital where I was.

Well on the third day my blood count had not improved and my levels were still at a life threatening level so in the wisdom of the local hospital I had to be transferred to the regional where I had, had my bowel operation.

This decision was at 10 .00am to move me by ambulance to the other hospital.

Simple. 

No, not so simple. There were no ambulances available until approx 6.30 pm that night and they suggested I might get my wife to drive me.

Such a simple solution to them and such a huge problem to me.

By this time I had made friends with a couple who were glad to offer their services and the use of their vehicle and drive me to the large regional hospital.

At least now my bloods which were being taken twice a day were providing a result in one hour instead of 24 hours which was the best that could be done in the smaller hospital.

This regular update means that the needed elements and in particular the Potassium could be administered regularly so as to balance my whole system.

For the first time in over four days my Potassium level came up enough to now not be life threatening.

I remained in hospital for a bit over two more weeks which saw me improve to a much better existence.

I need to add that during that time it was extremely difficult to have anyone want to attend the maintenance of my colostomy bag which was generally not a big problem except that for the majority of my stay I was confined to bed although in the latter parts I was able to get up and go to the toilet.

Now do we remember the part about the Chemotherapy treatment being toxic, well you may want to know that I was in a separate and isolated room with no visitors. 

Medical staff were required to suit up with PPE to come and go. 

I thought at that time I may actually have had leprosy.

Oh I was allowed a carer who may help me with my personal duties but she had passed away a few years before.

I was so pleased when I was finally able to go home.

How did you get here to hospital was one question and another was can your wife pick you up.

Such compassion.

My lovely friend and his wife gladly drove the 400 k round trip to have me settle back in my van.

My Chemo treatment was changed and apart from one more stint of 4 days in the big regional hospital I completed the Chemo course without too much trouble apart from the travel.

During the same time I had received consultation with the surgeon and his staff and was so pleased when I was advised that my stoma operation would be reversed.

This involved many PET scans and a colonoscopy which is no fun with a bag, believe me.

With every scan interview and test I had to travel to the regional hospital which is some 400 klms round trip but as I settled into my treatment I could drive myself to and from the hospital. Nothing was available locally as the local hospital neither had the staff or the facilities to cope with my conditions.

I should also add that while all this was happening we were enduring a Covid epidemic that placed even more stringent restrictions on all medical staff from the GP to the big hospital.

It also placed an extra strain on all patients and their helpers and carers.

 

I feel I need to add that medical treatments are severely limited in all but large regional hospitals and even then a lot of the testing is not done in house but in private practices.

I have since sold my caravan and am renting a house and assessing my ability after operations and other procedures to see if I may return to the caravanning lifestyle.

 

If any good might come from my experience it is that I have met such good friends in Rick and Julie who have gone out of their way with moving me about when ambulances were not available and for help with selling my van and with actually putting me up until we found a little unit for me to live in.

I will forever be in their debt and they are truly beautiful people whose thoughtfulness and compassion is so lacking in,any people today.

So the reason for my other post in another topic was an attempt to offer some advice be it in abbreviated form that when struck with an illness while travelling there  may then exist a series of other problems which may or may not cause difficulty.

I will say that had I have had the company and presence of my beautiful wife I would have found it a lot easier.

If struck down it may be simple or it may be difficult. 

No one knows until it happens to them and every case is individual.

 

This personal experience was the reason for my post in the Health and Well-being topic.

So to keep it simple, just because a town boasts a hospital or a medical service these facilities may not be able to treat many adverse medical conditions we may become prone to as we all age. 

I hope you all have happy and healthy travels.



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Guru

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Thank you for sharing that Ivan - a salutary, concerning and informative post.

I think had I been in your situation I would have chosen to end my life.

Go well, stay strong and keep posting :)



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it is when the going gets tough that we find out how tuff we can be !

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Hi Ivan , after reading your post i can only offer you my best wishes and pray that you get over this .

Consider yourself very blessed that you have had two beautiful people who were compassionate and caring and kind enough ,

that they did what they did for you .Hope you're on the mend .

Cheers .

The Blues man.



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Blues man.



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Thank you for your story. 

 

There are two kinds of people in the world, those with health issues, and those who are not there yet.

 

We have now well & truely joined them. Other half has always had low blood pressure. Years ago blood pressure increased, which in turn has destroyed her kidneys. Too old to get a transplant, so now it is dialysis. It has been a very steep learning curve for both of us.

 

We are so grateful the we have done a lot of long distance traveling around Australia and internationally & are grateful for the memories.

 

Now it is regular short distance traveling to & from dialysis. Leave home at 2,00pm & get back at 9,00pm. At the moment twice a week but it will be 3 times a week, due to the volume of fluid reduction & associated extreme headaches & other associated issues.

 

A lovely team of nurses, & other patients which at times we can chat with, especially one gentleman who has had a leg removed & is trying to get back out onto his yacht who has done many Sydney to Hobart yacht races, including 1998 where many people died. My cousin was in that race with his own yacht & thankfully survived.

 

Please everyone get on top of blood pressure before it's too late. Kidney issues only show up when it is too late.

 

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Good morning Ivan,

It is Angela Driver here,

First of all I want to sincerely thank you for your support and advice you have given to both Rob and myself since Rob has been struck down with this horrible cancer.

We, similar to you, were not expecting this cancer and the diagnosis came as a shock to say the least.

Your positive attitude within yourself and your efforts to keep Rob positive has gone a long way to making our lives just that little bit easier as we progress through this minefield of medications, doctors visits and us just gazing into the unknown.
I can not begin to thank you for your phone calls and for the support you have given to me as well.

Your advice is sound and every person who is electing to travel needs and should have a contingency plan should they fall victim to a serious illness.

Our situation is different to yours in as much as that I am there to help Rob and I can drive and tow a van quite competently. Moving ours was not a problem.

Once Rob was admitted to the large regional hospital and had undergone the operation, I connected the van after packing it up and secured a site in a tourist park in the centre not that far from the hospital where he was.
In fact we will probably remain here while he is undergoing treatment.

I have to totally agree with all that you have tried to point out to others that the medical system in country and some regional areas is nothing like anyone may expect if coming from a city and surrounding suburbs.

We were so lucky having a friend who lived permanently in the town that we were in when Rob became sick and that friend provided assistance for us to get to see his own GP.
We were being told a similar story whereby the doctors would see the regulars first.
So to anyone considering an extended stay in a country town go to the GP and make yourself known, it may just save you some anxiety should something unforseen happen.
Yes, the ambulance services are stretched to the limit and I have driven Rob to all of his medical visits except of course when he was admitted for his operation.

Local chemists can be a worry as well.
Rob needed special wound dressings for ongoing treatment of the area where his bag was fitted and the local chemist was not prepared to stock this item.
I asked him would he get it in and he did but, and what a but, it was 5 times the price of the chemist in the large regional area.
We are talking a wound dressing not a bulky item that would attract a freight surcharge.
I have found the local chemist to be less than helpful with other specialist items as well. One being the preparation spray that is required every time the bag is hanged.

As you have learnt Ivan we certainly soon realised that hospital and medical services in country areas are not what anyone might expect when coming from the suburbs of a big city.

From what I have learned, neither assume or expect nothing if travelling away from home for extended times. I have found the specialists, the doctors and the nurses and oncology have been excellent. It is the initial stages of the GP and referral that is weighed down by the shear number of those needing help.
This situation worsens when these towns are flooded with people that require medical treatment.

My thoughts are that if you know you have an existing medical problem then stay at home where you are receiving the required treatment rather than head off into the sunset and just expect that all the medical professionals will be there for you in a country town.

Ivan it is disappointing that you have had to reveal your recent medical history and the problems you have had just to point out to some that medical services may not be what anyone expects, particularly in an emergency.

Of course the decision to travel is purely personal as each person should know his and or her capabilities, wants and needs.

Consider all situations like the other half towing the van and being capable to pack it up and set it up should the need arise. The health of both you and your partner may be good but no one knows the future and the need for the other half to be capable.

Are you needing medications that may not be immediately available in a given town.

Can an extension of your current problem become life threatening.

Is there extra support available should you need it.

As I have personally witnessed while in the GPs waiting room please dont stand there screaming abuse at the receptionist because you have travelled thousands of kilometres from a regular medical provider and now expect them to push everyone aside in an already overloaded system to attend to your needs.

Take care Ivan and once again both Rob and I thank you for your positive words and support.

Love

Angie and Rob Driver





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Rob

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Hi Ivan, you and I have had our differences which count for nought in the light of your post. You have been through a horrible nightmare and I congratulate you on coming out the other side with guts and determination. To you and Rob Driver I sincerely hope that you get well both of you. Rob is very lucky that he has such a capable wife.

Put in your situation, I have strong doubts on whether I would cope.

Best of luck to you both in the future.

Regards,

Phil



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To those fighting an illness my thoughts are with you, I hope your battles are successful.

For grey nomads away from your normal medical providers, this can present many challenges when serious medical problems arise.

My partner developed a medical condition that is a very rare form of pulmonary hypertension about 1 in a million have this condition. 

Not to dwell to heavily on my partners condition, because she is under the care of the best people in Australia.

Because we are full time travellers, we both have GP's in South Australia, Victoria, NSW and Qld, where the problem lies is the dfficulty of GP's accessing interstate medical records. When the previous government announced My Health Record, for us the wandering nomads this was a fantastic idea having all our medical records availability to which ever GP we were attending. Alas MHR was whiteanted by the anti everything brigade, sure there are some medical providers that upload the data to MHR but far too many don't.

Unlike what occured to those that had dificulty in getting to see a GP, we had a different result, we both had a GP in Mackay, who bulk billed all of a sudden the clinic removed bulk billing, with the current fuel costs doing a round trip to Mackay from the Whitsunday plus the paying to visit the  doctor, just became to expensive for a couple on pensions. We approached  a clinic in the Whitsundays, no issues we both became patients of Dr Micheal, who took a great deal of interest in Cheryles condition.

Cheryle's Specialist in Brisbane is forwarding medical information to our Dr Micheal.

 



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Thank you for the comments and compassion shown to me and to others who have had and do have medical emergencies and conditions which need attention while travelling.

I know I considered myself to be fairly fit for my age having worked all my life in an active and sometime strenuous trade with very little problems over the years.

The thought of cancer did not cross my mind when I became constipated in the light of all my tests had shown nothing.

Obviously others have conditions which either are pre existing or have had the big surprise as well.

From my experience the receiving of such bad news with your health is devastating and it does mean a complete change to plans for anyones future.
It does mean that you will stop travelling.
Some can go home others dont have that opportunity, particularly if it has been a decision to spend extended time travelling in retirement.

I wasnt aware that a plan would have been beneficial so before setting off my advice is to do some research of areas that you will be travelling through. This can be done while on the road but my thoughts are that you need to know what services are and arent available on the way.
If house or property sitting do the research, ask the owners, dont assume a given hospital can do what you might have come to expect in larger cities.
Most often they cant and generally travel is required to attend other centres and even private facilities may be needed.
Specialist scans and Radiology are just two that come to mind.
Gain friendships with locals as many of them will know the capabilities and downfalls of medical services in their district.

Dont be put off travelling if you feel you are healthy, just do a little research.
If you have existing conditions then medical advice should be sought and advice adhered to.
As someone said dont rely on the transfer of medical records. Many doctors dont subscribe.
I was lucky that my GP provided by email before I left on my trip, a complete link to my medical records.
It was a matter of clicking the link and printing the pages. I had 9 pages. I have spoken to others who have had over 30 pages.
I keep my printout handy and apart from my emergency I take those documents to every appointment.
If you are alone in your travels you need to be vigilant with all records including current medications. You will be asked for info that you will not have considered necessary to have on you. I know if my wife was with me she would have all that in order.
Remember that the doctor you see while travelling may be just a travelling locum and wether the doctor is local or not he doesnt know you from a bar of soap.

As Angie pointed out, it is a further advantage if when travelling with your partner, both of you can pack, unpack, hook up and drive your van etc safely and confidently.

The more serious the condition the less chance will be of completing your travelling to the original plan.
This was said above,

There are two kinds of people in the world, those with health issues, and those who are not there yet.

So true.

Lastly, to Rob and Angie

It has been my pleasure to help you even if only over the phone.
Maintain that positive attitude. Positive thoughts do help with your well being and recovery. Stay strong.

Stay strong, stay safe and take care of each other.

Cheers

Ivan





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