Nobody really likes getting sick. You lose your physical energy, your motivation to do anything, and it’s just downright uncomfortable.
But what’s even worse is when you get sick while you’re away from your home country.
There’s a saying that goes, “You don’t really learn to appreciate something until it’s gone.” This is especially true of our health! But it can also be said of the peace of mind that comes with our access to Western medical care.
When we’re in our home countries, we have a plethora of options available to us whenever we get sick. We can go to a pharmacy/drugstore, visit a medical clinic, or (in the most extreme cases) we can go to a hospital.
But when you’re living in a foreign country, especially one with a vastly different healthcare system, you quickly realize that many of the options that would be readily accessible in your home country are no longer available! You can’t simply drive over to the nearest pharmacy or local clinic.
There was one time in China when I wasn’t feeling well and a Chinese friend went to a local medicine shop and purchased some drugs for me. Each daily dosage was individually wrapped in thick paper, but there was no labeling anywhere. It was just the pills, so I had no idea what drugs I was taking!
Foreigners also have the added obstacle of communication. Unless you’ve managed to learn the necessary medical lingo, you’re going to have to get very creative when it comes to describing your condition.
Last fall, I had the unfortunate experience of contracting a gastrointestinal infection while in China. It was basically a bacteria infection that made my stomach hurt like crazy. I’ll spare you the details of my symptoms, but let’s just say that our bathroom received extra visits that week.
When my health didn’t improve after two consecutive days of bed rest, I decided to visit one of the local hospitals in order to get examined. Thankfully, I had the help of two friends who could speak Chinese. Without them there was no way that I would have been able receive the appropriate care and understand the eventual diagnosis.
Another health-related issue that we foreigners may have to get accustomed to is the overall cleanliness of the country, particularly when it comes to poorer nations. Standards of cleanliness in China, for instance, are significantly lower than they are in the West. Floors are in general quite dirty, and tap water isn’t safe to drink unless boiled first.
Whenever I or someone I know has gotten sick in China, I’ve usually blamed it on the country. I often think it must be because it’s so dirty here, or because the air pollution is so bad. And to some extent that’s probably true.
But I think a more accurate reality is that it simply takes our bodies time to acclimatize to our new environment. For some, our bodies adapt quickly. For others, it takes a lot longer. When I spent two months in China last year, I was sick half the time. But since moving to China four months ago, I’ve stayed healthy the entire time.
Of course, while your body is adjusting, there’s no need to cross your fingers and hope you don’t get sick. There are lots of easy things we can do to maintain our health.
For example, my wife and I like to cook at home as often as possible. I live in a country where it’s very cheap and convenient to eat out. And while we absolutely love Chinese food, we also know that we can cook much healthier food at home.
Another thing we do is exercise regularly, usually 2-3 times per week. Whether it’s doing push-ups and sit-ups at home or going for a run along the river, we find that staying physically active helps improve our sleep as well as maintain overall health.
Will I ever get sick again? Probably. But at least I know that I’m doing the best I can do avoid another visit to the hospital!
Have you ever gotten sick outside your home country? What did you do to get better? What changes have you made to your lifestyle in order to stay healthy?