Being Sick Abroad: My Story and Tips
Two weeks ago, I took a visit to a place I have never been before. Nope, it was not the 5-star hotel in Las Vegas or downtown Manhattan. For the first time in my life, I had to stay at the hospital for my illness. Of course it had to happen when I was 10,000 miles away from home and right after my spring break ended.
It was all started with a good story, actually. I go to one of those awesome schools that give two week-long spring break, so I always had time to travel during the break. This year, I went home to Jakarta to attend my brother’s wedding. Obviously, it was really great to be there for this important family event, as well as having to see my friends and other family members at home.
I was not sick or having any symptoms before I get on the plane to go back to the US, but three days after I was back in Ohio, I started having fever and massive headaches. The doctor at my school’s clinic, after looking at my symptoms, concluded that it definitely was not the flu virus that was going around. Rather, it was quite possible dengue fever from mosquitoes that bit me while I was at home.
So, the doctor “admitted” me to the clinic. My school clinic has rooms for in-patient. Basically it looks just like a hospital care room, but it is located on campus. It also has nurses that are there 24/7. Most staff members at the clinic had never treated a dengue patient before, because obviously, unlike in Indonesia, dengue fever is not common at all here in in Ohio, where mosquitoes are alive only in the summer time. However, they were still very knowledgeable about my treatment. They made sure that I had enough fluids at all times and that I was well-rested.
After 5 days at the clinic, I showed more symptoms that were worrying them, so they sent me for more advanced care at the hospital. So, that was my first ever hospital visit. I was on IV the entire time. They put fluid and other medicines there to reduce my symptoms. I felt so much better during my stay at the hospital. The doctor thought so too. So they let me go the next day with the condition that I continue to stay at the school’s clinic to be monitored. So, I did. I generally felt much better this time. My fever and headache became less often. I could actually attend some classes and did some homework. They took my temperature and blood pressure every couple of hours. They also get my blood every couple of days. They finally let me go after 5 more days spent at the clinic.
Being sick while studying abroad away from family is never fun. But, here are some tips from me to make it through your illness:
- Ask for help
You are never alone. Never hesitate to ask for help from friends or roommates to get you medicines or take you to health care facilities, or to just simply be there for you when you are sick. Throughout this whole process, my host mother and a close friend of mine were there the whole time with me, which was very nice.
Additionally, look for your school’s resources about health care before you ever need it. They might have a health care service that you never have any idea about. For example, I never knew that the clinic had in-patient facilities. Or that security officers can pick me up and drop me off at the clinic if I feel too unwell to walk over from my dormitory building.
- Communicate in Advance
Your professors will definitely understand if you have to miss a class because you are sick. The key is to communicate it with them before the class happened. Even a simple email will do. If you are really really sick and absolutely unable to do so, ask a friend or even the nurse at the clinic to inform your professors. This is especially essential when you have to miss an exam, turning in an assignment, or multiple classes instead of only one. Also make sure that you inform your professors that they can feel free to check with the health care facility that you were on about your condition, so that they know that you are not just pretending to be sick.I had to miss two exams and a couple of homework assignments during the time that I was sick. But I emailed my professors ahead of time, so they were okay with it. One of my professors even visited me at the hospital, and another actually called to the clinic to check on me. I tried to do my homework while at the college’s clinic and asked a friend pick it up so he can turn it in.
Other than professors, don’t forget to inform other people in your extracurricular activities. They care about you and want to know about your condition. I had to miss countless of meetings for a number of student groups that I am involved in. Even after I was discharged from the hospital, I chose to miss some of these meetings because I wanted to focus on catching up with classes at least for a few days. They obviously will understand because your health and academics should be your priority. Again, as long as you communicate your situation with them so that they don’t think you are just gone missing.
- Keep your Family in the loop
Yes, you don’t need to let your family know every single time you feel unwell. But when it gets serious, let them know. Again, they care about you and want to help in any way they can from afar. Plus, the positive vibes from your family might make you recover faster.I was hesitant to call my family at first because I do not want them to worry too much. But after staying at the school’s clinic for a couple of days, I realize that this might actually be serious. I let my sister know about my condition and I called them at least once a day to update them. My host mother was also in contact with my sister so that she can update my family with my condition.
- Purchase Health Insurance
Whether you are required to or not, my suggestion to other students would be to purchase health insurance while you are studying abroad. I spend a fortune every year because U.S. Federal law requires international students to maintain adequate health insurance. I always thought it was a waste of money because I have “perfect” immune system. I was almost never sick growing up (note that this was my first ever hospital visit EVER!) and very rarely missed school because of sickness, so I thought I didn’t really need health insurance……. Until this past week.Additionally, health care in foreign countries can get very pricey, especially after converted to Indonesian Rupiah. Thus, if you ever had to be hospitalized without health insurance, you might get hit pretty hard financially.
You never want to get sick, but it is always a good idea to be prepared for it, especially when you are studying abroad. Fortunately, I have fully recovered now and am back in classes and all of my extracurricular activities. I hope my story and tips help!
Khairunnisa (Nisa) Usman is an Economics and Mathematics student at The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, USA. She is a former benchwarmer of the college's women's basketball team and the ultimate frisbee team. Before her senior year of high school, she took a gap year to live in Arlington, VA as an AFS Foreign Exchange student. Her free time consists of many "The Office" episodes as well as Manchester United games.
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