I love to travel. My husband, Jon, and I visit new places whenever we can. Nearly all of our trips have taken place without any problems beyond the occasional delayed flights or temporarily misplaced luggage. That all changed in January 2017 at the end of an amazing trip to the Caribbean island of Dominica when I nearly died. What did I learn? A passport isn’t the only travel document needed for international trips.
A little background . . . I left the United States believing I was healthy. On our trip I hiked and snorkeled. Days before we were to fly home, however, my appendix ruptured. I was within hours of dying. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life. We had to scramble to coordinate treatment. My medical team was outstanding; but I have to admit that my medical treatment didn’t exactly look like what I would have expected in a typical American hospital.
The most important lesson I learned after nearly dying while traveling abroad? Create your medical travel portfolio.
A medical travel portfolio is a snapshot of your medical biography. It’s ready, willing, and able to help in the unlikely event of a medical emergency while traveling. The file should be as detailed as needed to enable you to receive the right kind of immediate medical treatment.
Learn from my experience and also from the experts including the US Travel Insurance Association and the US State Department. Here’s a traveler’s medical checklist.
- Create a medical travel portfolio
- Medical Bio
- Copy of itinerary
- Copy of health insurance card and relevant phone numbers
- Basic medical history of things that could impact immediate medical care
- Date of birth
- Blood type
- Medical devices
- Current prescriptions
- List of current medical conditions
- List of current immunizations
- If you are pregnant, or suspect you may be pregnant, list first
- Medical Contact Sheet
- Emergency contacts (family, friends, business colleagues)
- Medical care providers, contact information, role in your medical care
- Healthcare manager at your company and contact information
- Insurance provider customer service
- Give a fellow traveler a copy of your medical travel portfolio, driver’s license, and passport
- Know what your healthcare policy covers for out-of-country emergency medical care
- Know how to call for emergency services/know cell phone access
- Pack a first aid kit
- Don’t be afraid to seek local help
- In cases of extreme emergency, contact your local embassy who can:
- Connect you with local healthcare services – don’t be afraid of this!
- Inform family and friends, with your permission, of what’s going on
- Help transfer funds if needed for payment
- List of doctors and hospitals in the country (website)
- Connect you with insurance providers who offer overseas coverage
- Travel insurance covers financial investment for a trip
- Travel medical insurance covers costs of medical attention abroad
- BUY insurance for trips; often same policy offers coverage for both areas
- Purchase travel insurance before you go
- Designate one point of contact back home as a go-between with everyone else
- Give them copies of everything in your medical portfolio
- Give them access to all of your travel logistics
- Let friends and family help, but be specific about what you want them to do
I was lucky to have a wonderful medical team, but this was seriously scary. It took me several months to recover once I got back to the States. To learn more about my journey through illness, recovery, and renewal, check out my book, The Power of Disruption: A Memoir of Discovery (available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble). You can download a free excerpt on this website.
As for travel? Jon and I still love to visit new places and do so often. The world is full of too many exciting experiences to miss!