Stories from the Baltic Road: A Medical Mishap

It was bound to happen. I have scaled mountain peaks in Iceland and traversed the mountain passes solo in Greenland, but it took a perfectly benign set of concrete stairs to a pedestrian street underpass to inflict my first major travel incident. A slick step, a heavy backpack, and once split second of lost footing and I was on my bum and watching stunned as blood ran a river down my right leg.

So that’s how I came to make an acquaintance with the public hospital in Riga, Latvia. Let me put it this way – a shallow (but to me much too deep) gash in the leg that spurts blood is a need-attention-now emergency. To the packed, hot, noisy, and exhausting waiting room of the Riga ER, it can wait. So I cleaned myself up best I could with my travel first aid kit and waited. And waited. And waited.

Which gave me lots of time to contemplate the moments immediately after my fall on the steps as streams of people rushed by. The only person to help was a young woman who had been begging on the steps. Of course, wariness set in as soon as the blood seemed under control and I could take stock of the situation. Why was she the only one helping? Would I still have my wallet and camera afterwards? I thanked my cautiousness in always wearing a money belt. If my day bag is pickpocketed, I always have most of my money and passport safely stuffed underneath my clothes. But I’m rather attached to my camera. Nothing happened, thankfully. The young woman with stringy blonde hair and sad eyes dived in with an arm to help me up, then sat me at the top of the steps out of the flow of traffic, whipping out Kleenex for me to hold against the wound. My shoes now have a trail of red through the Nike swoosh I can’t get out. She was sweet and such a blessing. I gave her a chocolate bar and trail mix, since I hate giving out money (who knows what it’s used for), and when I checked my bags and pockets later, everything still intact, I felt shame.

But that’s the world we live in, especially as an easily-marked tourist with a backpack walking from the bus station through a pickpocket heavy area. I decided she was my own angel sent to help amidst the  indifference of mass humanity.

So back at the waiting room, rank with sweat and crying babies, I finally get ushered into a not-very-private area with a curtain around the examining area and an older doctor with a poor command of English efficiently patched me up. The nurse (younger, with basic English) relayed his instructions – no stitches should be necessary (it’s a clean wound), but to keep it clean and watch it for infection. Treatment was free – the awesome price of the long wait.

My own little medical adventure. Hopefully more tame adventures lie in store for the next few days!


About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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