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Her Medical Emergency Abroad
Planning for the unpredictable...

Kristen Heshka is a freelancing kind of gal who, despite the medical emergency she describes in this article, insists she had “a spectacularly wonderful time on her trip through the Dordogne region of France.” Kristen writes...

Do you or your travel partner have a chronic medical condition that only very occasionally flares up? If so, please learn from my mistakes and don’t do what I did. I’m normally a practical, well-organized, well prepared Girl Guide type of person. However, I had a serious lapse of common sense when it came to planning a three week cycling trip with my friend whose epileptic seizures are normally controlled by medication.


Plan for the unpredictable...


two bikesHad we turned our minds to the prospect of my friend’s epilepsy possibly acting up on our holiday, I know that I would have been well prepared for it when it happened. But, having been caught up in the excitement and the planning that goes into cramming three weeks worth of clothing, toiletries, tour books, and bicycle tools into two panniers, the medical matter was sorely neglected. While no one was hurt because of our oversight, it did cause a great deal of unnecessary anxiety which could easily have been avoided.

Know before you go...

ambulanceFor starters, discuss any pertinent medical conditions before your trip. One should think about the fact that during any emergency that might surface, you or your travelling companion may be in no position to communicate exactly what to do. Having the proper information before hand is not only prudent for safety’s sake, it also prevents running up long distance phone bills to reach your doctor back home for instructions. Or, for unilingual people like me, it eliminates using a pocket dictionary to translate word by word the local doctor’s instructions.

Learn the local phone system...

pay phoneWe should have known all of the relevant phone numbers, including those of our personal physicians. A combination of it being three o’clock in the morning, a healthy level of panic, and an inability to read French meant it took me a full hour to get someone on the other end of the phone.

Since then I have learned that in France you must dial:

15 for an ambulance

12 for local directory assistance

17 to reach the police

0-800-99-00-16 to reach a Canadian telephone operator

0-800-99-00-11 to reach a U.S. operator

0-800-99-00-61 to reach an Australian operator

0-800-99-00-44 to reach a British operator

To be sure that you can use any type of telephone, at any time, always carry a calling card from home as well as a local phone card. And, an envelope containing enough coins to make a long distance call could be indispensable should you encounter one of those old-fashioned coin-operated pay phones.

Another helpful fact to know, is that in France, the city pharmacies open at night on a rotating basis. They will dispense free medical advice for minor problems and can refer you to local doctors, including those who speak English.

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