Perth, Western Australia

It’s common knowledge that the world outside Australia, Europe and North America is a constant nightmare of seething diseases, oozing infections and Lovecraftian parasites, where much of the populace is stricken with horrific maladies that send them crawling up and down the streets, moaning through mouths speckled with weeping sores, or else lying in sweat-soaked sheets shaking with fever as monstrous insects burrow deeper into their brains.

That’s why it’s important to take proper medical precautions when travelling. A fully stocked first-aid kit could prove to be the difference between life and death, unless, like me, you don’t have even basic knowledge in first aid. I’m picturing myself lying at the bottom of a ravine with the bone sticking out of my arm, using my other hand to triumphantly retrieve the triangular bandage/sling from my first aid kit, and then bursting into tears because I have no idea what to do with it. Why the hell aren’t first aid courses part of the standard high school curriculum? They spent months and months on STDs, trying to scare the hormones out of us, and not one second on CPR or anything like that. I know how to put a condom on a banana, but I don’t know what to do if somebody drives their car into a letterbox in front of me and is launched out the windshield.

In any case, a first aid kit is better than nothing, so we bought some standard St. John’s packs from Woolworths and are now fortifying them with other things we need. They came with gauze, pads, bandages, bandaids, tape, scissors, a needle, tweezers and an emergency reflective blanket (which I can see myself simply pulling out and using when I’m cold); to that I’ve added anti-diarrhea tablets, a fuckload of painkillers and some antiseptic cream. I’ll also be adding cold and flu tablets, paw-paw cream, antihistamines and maybe something else for gastro sickness. I also took a few medi-swabs and gauze pads from the ridiculously overstocked first aid kit at work (that we will never use because in the event of a code blue all the first aiders in the store come running with their own kits), but I’m not sure why I bothered, because medicines are more important than bandages and space is at a premium.

On the topic of medicine, we also bought our antimalarials. This a fun subject and is apparently the cause of much debate amongst backpackers: in the tropics, do you bother taking anti-malarial pills, or do you just hope not to get it? The reason it’s a debate is because, depending on your brand of antimalarials, the side effects can be pretty severe, sometimes being indistinguishable from malaria itself. We’re taking doxycycline, the side effects of which include:

  • Severe headaches, dizziness, blurred vision
  • Fever, chills, body aches, flu symptoms
  • Sever blistering, peeling and red skin rash
  • Urinating less than usual or not at all
  • Pale or yellowed skin, dark coloured urine, confusion and weakness
  • Severe pain in your upper stomach spreading to your back
  • Nausea and vomiting, fast heart rate
  • Loss of appetite, jaundice
  • Easy bruising or bleeding

If I suffer from any of those I’ll just stop taking it and run the risk. There’s no point protecting yourself against malaria if you’re half-dead and can’t enjoy your trip. You have to take precautions to guard against mosquitoes anyway, to prevent dengue fever, for which there is no pill or vaccination.

The other question was when and where we should be taking them. Some health maps can be pretty dire, urging us to be popping pills all the way from Singapore to China, but the CDC map is a lot more reasonable. We’ve decided to take them only in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos (and, of course, for the necessary four weeks after leaving a malarial zone). The absolute maximum amount of time we’ll spend in these countries is a month, or about twelve weeks, so we each got fourteen weeks worth of pills. Come to think of it I’m not sure how we calculated that, since it’s two weeks short. Well, whatever. It’s not like the people who actually live in malaria zones have the luxury of taking pills every day.

Malaria Zone sounds like a 1980’s Nintendo game.

13 days to go!

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