Being a digital nomad is awesome most of the time. You get to see the world, work from different places, and meet a lot of new people. It’s fun, it’s challenging and it is a trend on the rise.
I like graphs, and in this post I’d like to introduce a graph which shows the way I see human emotion. It’s based on a simple fact: Sometimes we, as human beings, are happy and satisfied. Sometimes we’re sad and dissatisfied.
If we draw this graph for normal human beings, it should look something like a sine wave, going from “good to bad to good to bad to good”. Hopefully having more good than bad:
Now, some people make some life decisions, where the “ups” are higher than the normal “ups”. For instance, I believe an entrepreneur will feel higher “ups” than most of the population. However, with higher “ups”, deeper “downs” come as well.
Regarding this matter, I’d say being a digital nomad has some of the same characteristics. Their ups and downs don’t go from “good to bad”, but from “fucking awesome!!!” to “how the fuck am I going to beat this shit?”.
And that leads me to the headline of the post: being sick as a digital nomad is a deep fucking big “down” compared to when you are home with family and friends.
My story of being sick as a digital nomad
This time I was in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The Philippines is a great country and I love it in many ways, but it’s not a country I trust in any way when it comes to wellness and health. The average life span is quite low, and the default response to any (minor) pain experienced by people is: TAKE YOUR MEDICINE! I come from a Danish culture where we take as little medicine as possible, and only use it when it’s serious.
Anyway. There are many different degrees of being sick. And I started with the most innocent one: the common cold. One Monday morning I had the usual symptoms of the common cold: your nose starts to run, it hurts and your sleep is pretty bad.
But it’s okay. I know the common cold. It doesn’t scare me. No worries. This lasted until Friday, when it started to go away. That was great, as I had a lot of arrangements for the weekend, and having a cold would be… slightly annoying.
After lunch on Friday, something weird happened though. My tummy started to hurt. A lot. Turns out it was pretty bad diarrhea. Again, nothing to worry about, I know diarrhea and it’s something you can expect when you live abroad.
Saturday evening the diarrhea stopped (luckily), but was replaced by a very painful stomachache. I had no idea what to do with myself. It just hurt. I couldn’t sleep. I was getting a bit nervous, as diarrhea normally doesn’t cause me a lot of pain.
At 2am I decided to call my insurance, as it felt really, really bad.
I talked to a very fine lady, who listened to my symptoms and gave me the following answer: “Go to the local hospital, and call us if you get admitted. Do not wait till the morning.”
A local hospital. In the Philippines. And she thinks I might be admitted. Fuck. That scared me a bit. Being alone on the opposite side of the world, maybe being admitted to the hospital in a system I don’t understand.
I decided to go to bed again. I mean, it was just some tummy pain. Couldn’t be that bad.
The pain continued. Hour by hour. I tried to go to the toilet, but it didn’t lessen the pain.
At around 10am I had had enough. I packed my bag, prepared for admission at the hospital and took an Uber there. When you feel sick like this you go to the emergency department, sign some papers and you get directed to a bed.
Anyway. Long story short. A lot of tests were done (stool, urine, blood and even x-ray), and they decided to admit me. At this time my pain was extreme, and I couldn’t really handle it. But they kept coming and asking for random signatures (I had to sign at least 25+ fields for the admission), which was barely possible with my pain at that time. At this time I felt alone and scared.
They decided to insert a drip (SHIT THAT HURT), and give me constant hydration. Great. I was stuck to a fucking hydration stand with 3 slow wheels.
When you get admitted in the Philippines, you get a nice menu cart. “Please select the room you want to be admitted to”, with different prices. Extremely weird for someone from Denmark, where the hospital is free and they just do stuff.
I picked the cheapest single room and was admitted there. Even though the insurance would pay, no need to act like a rich-kid.
Now. This was actually OK. The nurses were great, they gave me some pain relief medication in my drip, and I got to walk around with that fucking hydration stand when I had to take a piss.
But at night, I still had the thoughts. It was, indeed, quite scary being alone on the other side of the planet, being treated for an illness that hurts like hell, without really knowing what is wrong.
Luckily the night improved a lot, and the morning ultrasound showed no problem (fasting for eight hours was annoying though). Hence, I was discharged the next morning.
Now, the next 6 days were interesting. Some hours I felt great. Some hours I had the most severe pain. Some nights I couldn’t sleep. I talked to Danish doctors through the insurance, and they all told me it was OK and the pain was expected after having such a virus.
But trust me. When you, 6 days after having overcome diarrhea, are lying in bed, not being able to sleep because of extreme pain, and nothing you do helps: it’s kind of scary being so far away from home, all alone.
I am writing this on the 7th day after admission. This is the day on which I have been able to control the pain, and have a 90% pain-free day. It has been amazing, and I hope this trend continues. But I am still nervous. I don’t understand the pain. It might come back. It might not.
That’s the point: being sick when you’re alone on the other side of the world, is scary. And you just have to accept that.
Important takeaways from being sick as a digital nomad
First the obvious takeaway: have travel insurance. Not only do they pay the actual bills, but they also give you the option of having a local-to-you doctor you can talk to. To me, that was a huge comfort, as I was sure I was going to pass away multiple times during the night (exaggerated, but you get the point)!
The second takeaway: it gets really scary to be sick a long way from home. Sometimes as a traveller, you can feel quite alone. You can miss home. And this feeling grows and becomes much stronger when you’re sick and alone.
What can you do about it? Well, besides not becoming sick, not much. It’s something we have to live with, and luckily, not everyone will experience it.
But it’s extremely important to know it can happen, and when it happens, it really can be a very scary experience.