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~Doom and Gloom~
Have you ever thought about what the worst thing that could happen on your holiday might be? A bit of dodgy tummy and some sunburn? Volcanic ash shutting all the airports? Your luggage going on its own trip to somewhere completely different? Getting your valuables stolen? I'd argue that all of those are things you can deal with and that a good travel insurance policy will fix for you sooner or later. They are also things that could happen to you in the UK. These are inconveniences - admittedly some quite expensive ones - rather than disasters. For me and many others who travel to what some consider the less 'developed' bits of the world, there is one fear that surpasses all others and that's a medical emergency for me or someone with whom I am travelling. OK, my travel insurance will kick in and pick up the costs of treatment and repatriation but what if you're faced with the need for surgery and you're scared silly about whether the local doctor or hospital has a reliable supply of sterile sharps to fix you up again?
~Dib dib dib - Be Prepared!~
I suspect every traveller hopes they'll never be put in such a position - but only some of us choose to actually do something about it. Unless your idea of travel damage limitation means vowing not to go anywhere more exotic than Weston-super-mare, you might want to think about investing in a Sterile Medical Pack. I'm currently on my second pack - the first has fallen foul of our inability to ever find the boxes of 'holiday stuff' when we need them and so last year we went out and bought a new pack before setting off to India. My first pack had been bought for a month on a truck in Africa 15 years ago and had come from Boots, neatly packed in a nice little zip up pouch that I used for our main first aid kit for many years. That pack went around the world with me for many years, for holidays and many business trips and would still be going now if I hadn't misplaced it.
Running into Boots the day before we left for last year's holiday I asked the pharmacy assistant for a sterile medical pack and she had to go and hunt for one in the store-room, returning with the last one in stock priced at £13.69. Due to this being a very large Boots store and them still only having the one pack, I'd suggest that you plan ahead and shop online where they're readily available - just search on the term 'Sterile Medical Pack' and you should have plenty to choose from at prices from around £12 to £30 depending on the level of complexity of the contents and the fanciness of the pack they're presented in.
My pack is one that's widely available and was made by a company called Homeway Medical. It's nothing fancy to look at - just a tough plastic bag, fully sealed but with a zip-lock closure to reseal it after opening. The opening is marked with the instructions "Only to be opened by medical personnel in an emergency". Personally I prefer this fully sealed sterile bag to other products which include a lot of first aid bits and bobs that you might feasibly feel happy to use yourself. For my money, the less the contents are touched and fussed with, the better. Years of being battered in the bottom of my travel bags are likely to damage delicate bits and bobs so I prefer that this pack is off limits to all but the people who really need it.
~I'm Content with the Contents~
So what do I get in the pack? It's a good range of products which I trust to be sufficient to get someone out of immediate trouble. The pack contains 3 syringes, a total of 8 needles in two different sizes plus a single long dental needle. There's an intravenous drip needle too as well as a so-called 'cutting needle' and silk for stitching you up. 6 injection swabs are included as well as a pack of steristrips, 2 non-adherent dressings in different sizes, a roll of surgical tape and a pair of disposable gloves. It might not do to see you through open heart surgery, but this should be plenty to deal with a large number of medical mishaps and emergencies. There's a larger pack version made by the same company which includes a 'giving set' to enable you to give blood when you just can't trust the quality and safety of local supplies and need to help a friend or relative. I would probably upgrade to that set next time I buy one of these kits
The main concern people will have will almost certainly be AIDS/HIV but there are plenty of other blood borne diseases to which you won't want risk exposing yourself. I have a friend who caught Hepatitis C from unclean blood donation equipment several decades ago (and that was in the UK!) and even if you can avoid diseases, there's no fun to be had from a dirty needle spreading germs and dirt around your poor ravaged body.
Also inside the pack you'll find a certificate of verification in six different languages which might be handy if you have any problems with over-bumptious officials demanding to know WHY you're carrying syringes and needles. One design flaw of this pack is that the translation is INSIDE the sealed pack whereas my previous pack had a card with all this information that could be accessed without having to break in to the pack and compromise it's sterility.
~Provide Essential Info~
There's a panel on the pack where you're encouraged to fill in your name, blood group and emergency contact details. I'd suggest to also write any known allergies, diseases or health problems on there too. If you're travelling with friends and never quite got round to mentioning over cocktails on the beach as the sun set in shimmering pinks and oranges into the ocean that you just happen to be massively allergic to penicillin, wasp stings, or whatever, it might come in handy that you've made a note of it somewhere important.
~Don't just hand it over~
If you find yourself in trouble and the pack has to come into play, don't just assume that because you've handed it over, the medical staff will automatically use your pristine new shiny gear. I'd suggest to hold on to the pack and hand over what they need as and when they need it an make sure that what you give is what they use. Also consider that it might not be you or your family and friends who need your pack - perhaps the greatest gift you could give someone in trouble would be to hand over your pack contents in the event of need (but cross out all your details of allergies and blood groups first please!)
Of course nobody can be 100% sure (short of staying home or travelling with a medical emergency team trotting along behind you complete with a portable operating theatre) but sometimes just knowing you've got your sterile pack in your bag can act like a talisman to ward off evil and injury. My pack has an expiry date of December 2010 written on the outside but I'll be carrying it for many more years than that. So long as it's sealed and kept well I'm not worried about it 'going off' but I will buy another in the next couple of years to keep it company. At less than £15, I'd be crazy to travel without the reassurance of my own sterile supplies though I hope to continue to view this as something that I always have but hope to never need.