Probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to me while travelling was when my mom became ill in France. The condensed version of the story is that she was in-between chemo treatments for Stage IV cancer. En route to Paris, we had a 14-hour delay in an unheated train station. By the time we eventually arrived, it was clear she wasn’t well. Mom didn’t get better, and we were oblivious to the risks of the situation. From that harrowing experience, I’ve learned a lot about what to do in a medical emergency. This is what I think everyone should know.
How to navigate a travel emergency
The thing about emergency situations is that they crop up on you with little warning. Emergencies are harder to deal with when you travel because nothing is familiar. Does 911 even work in France? The #1 thing you can do in a travel emergency is be prepared in advance. When you know what to expect or what actions to take when the event occurs, you’re better off.
What else can you do to ensure the best possible outcome?
- Keep emergency contacts on hand. Have them written down in case your phone loses power. Also write down the phone numbers for your credit card, travel insurance, the Canadian consulate or embassy in the country you’re visiting and directions to the nearest hospital.
- Have spare batteries.
- Carry snacks and water.
- The Government of Canada recommends purchasing travel insurance. There’s a broad range of coverages available to suit your needs. Just make sure you read your policy and are familiar with all the coverages, benefits, exclusions and limitations.
The 2nd thing you want to do in any travel emergency is to act smart and calculating. When you’re in a sudden or unforeseen medical travel emergency, the key thing to remember is that leaders don’t wait. They’re assertive and act fast.
What to do when you’re in an emergency
When my mom, sister and I were stuck at that train station en route to Paris, there was a lot of confusion. Nobody knew what was going on. Staff herded everyone (crowds reached 6,000 people!) outside into the drizzling rain. It appeared everyone complied. We did too for a time. Who really knows what to do when you’re in an emergency until you’re actually in one?
Quickly though, we realized how ridiculous the situation was. Our mom had a compromised immune system. We needed to take matters into our own hands. And so, we snuck back into the station, talked to the right person (never accept a ‘no’ from someone who isn’t authorized to give you a ‘yes’ in the first place) and got on a priority list. It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, people!
Even though we were out of the rain, it was still freezing inside that unheated train station. We were all so very cold and tired by the time we eventually arrived in Paris. How did we react when mom woke up ill? We kept her in bed and plied her with (delicious) ham sandwiches. It embarrasses me to no end to admit this.
What to do in a travel medical emergency
What should we have done? Oh, I don’t know, how about call or email her doctor? How about call her travel insurance hotline and speak to their nursing team? Actually, I’m pretty sure my mom didn’t purchase travel insurance, which is such an irresponsible fail of ours. Companies like Allianz Global Assistance offer 24/7 phone assistance, can direct you to an accredited health care facility in their network, liaise with your doctor or family members back home and oversee your care if you’re hospitalized.
Even though my mom’s condition didn’t develop into a full blown medical emergency, it was still scary. It would’ve been so reassuring to get advice and options (like medical transport back home if need be).
Once we arrived back in England (where I was then living), we took mom to a medi-clinic. She was able to get a refill of the pain medication she’d exhausted in Paris. We had to pay a pretty penny for that appointment and the meds, which of course, may have been eligible for coverage if she had travel insurance.
As much as I beat myself up about this experience, I have to remember: A stumble may prevent a fall. I know better now. Well, I like to think I do. Have you ever been in any sort of travel emergency? How did you react to the situation? I’d love to hear any and all tips.
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Disclaimer: I’m a brand ambassador for Allianz Global Assistance (Canada) and receive financial compensation for these blog posts. As always, my opinions are my own.