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The medicines you should never travel without

Wednesday 24 April 2013

I'm the kind of fool who ends up embroiled in some kind of medical melodrama on a lot of trips. If I'm lucky, my problems can be solved in the chemist. If I'm not, then it's a foreign hospital for me.

Even as I write this, I'm crossing my fingers and knocking wood. But it just seems to be my lot in life.

Last week, as I made my way to Spain, I decided enough was enough. I was going to be prepared. I had felt a slight tickle in my throat, and after a horrible dose in Portugal last year, I wanted to knock it out of my system before I got on the plane.

So I cleared the shelves in Boots, buying Vick's First Defence, paracetamol, and vitamin c. Before I left the house, I remembered to throw a few bits in my suitcase.

This is because however available medicine is in the country you're visiting, no matter how many chemists you pass each day, it will always be a pain to find certain stuff abroad.

But despite all of my preparation, I was still caught short.

I feel it's only fair to alert you, at this early stage, that this tale includes a story of discomfort in a rather intimate female region. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, I won't judge you for averting your eyes.

Well no, actually, I would judge you. But how would I ever find out  you did it?

Back to the story. After my first day in Spain, I began to feel the stirrings of a UTI. If you've had cystitis in the past, then you will understand the sheer panic that washes over you when you think it might be happening again. You will do anything to avoid it.

I thought of the almost-full pack of Cystopurin sitting in my room at home, mocking me. I cursed myself for not bringing a sachet along.

It was 8pm, and the woman in my hotel told me that the pharmacies were all closed. We were heading out to dinner soon, and she helpfully drew me a map, showing me how to get to the night chemist. The problem was, I was on a press trip, with people I had met only the day before. All I wanted to do was sneak away, sort out my issue, and keep it as my little secret.

But I didn't get my wish.

As we walked to dinner, I spotted an open pharmacy. A couple of the girls with us knew I needed to get in there asap, so I told everyone I would be just a minute, and entered the tiniest pharmacy known to man.

I scanned the shelves and spotted a herbal remedy, but then got into a chat with the chemist, with the help of a translator. As we got to the description of my symptoms, the door opened, and everyone on the trip walked in to have a browse.

Have you ever described a UTI while 7 people you just met are standing right behind you? One of whom is the spitting image of your granddad? If you haven't, I really recommend it. For the comedy value alone.

I was starting to get a little grouchy as I continued the chat. I was asking if there were any drugs that I could get, instead of what looked like dried cranberry pills for €15. It turns out this was a herbal pharmacy, with no authorisation to sell drugs. At all.

In the end, mostly just to get the hell out of there, I bought the herbal pills. The tight-arse in me really resented paying that much for what I was convinced wouldn't do a thing. But I got them anyway, turned to my little rag tag group and said

"I'm so glad you were all here to share this with me."

I'll wrap up this horror story with some sage advice.

1. If you have any medical conditions, you're clearly going to travel with your prescriptions. You're not an idiot. But I'm not talking about asthmatics taking inhalers with them. If you, once in a blue moon, get a UTI, then take some Cystopurin with you. It turns out in Spain they don't sell it over the counter. So just throw a couple of sachets in your bag. You never know.

2. If in doubt, pack it anyway. I travel light, but really, a few pill packets are going to make no difference at all.

3. If you have a hidden pouch in your suitcase, keep your stash here, and don't bother unpacking it. In all likelihood, you'll forget it's there, only to be brought to tears of relief when you find it on another trip down the line.

If you want my advice, I would recommend you bring the following on every trip you take...

  • Your preferred painkiller (nothing worse than being given asprin when all you want is ibuprofen)
  • Vick's First Defence (honest to God, this worked)
  • Antihistamines (good for insect bites and allergies)
  • Immodium (snigger snigger)
  • Cystopurin or similar
Even if you're as healthy as can be, holidays can mess up your usual routine and immune system. Strange food, different climate, lots of things can impact your health. I'm not saying it will happen, but I am saying there's no harm in being prepared. 


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