You can get sick at any time. Last January, after proudly not setting foot in a hospital for fifteen years, I found myself in the ER three times within two weeks (let’s give it up for stomach flus that spread through an entire university). While that experience was scary, at least I knew the American health care system and had insurance. But what about when you’re abroad?
Well, luckily for us, IES Abroad has it covered. I needed to see a doctor in London after a health-related incident, and while I had to front the bill, my family quickly received a refund—after a small deductible—when I filled out the necessary paperwork. (Side note: a lot of healthcare institutions—including the college doctor in Oxford—only take cash, so make sure you bring some. In England, they have a single-payer healthcare system called NHS—which I believe you are eligible to sign up for if you are staying for the entire year—that pays for nearly everything, so most people don’t pay privately, and the fact that you are might confuse them.)
But there’s more to it than just the financials. Getting sick abroad can be really scary. I’d imagine communicating with a physician would be worse in places where you don’t speak the primary language, but even the cultural differences surrounding healthcare in England were a little difficult to reconcile. And unlike back at my University, I’m on a different continent from my family, so there’s no safety net there.
Without getting into specifics, I unfortunately listened to some bad advice from a doctor in London who didn’t really listen to what I was trying to communicate to her. I ended up taking a prescription that did not rectify any symptoms (if anything, it made them worse) and made me sleepy all the time. Fortunately, the college doctor in Oxford I visited a month later was much better and recognized that I had been misdiagnosed.
I probably just had a bad experience, and I don’t know if this will be possible for everyone, but I would recommend trying to see a doctor who does not work at a “10 minute clinic” in a tube station if you can.
There’s no shame in getting sick while abroad, even if you’ve never had any major physical or mental illnesses prior. Going abroad can be a stressful experience and can agitate and cause various symptoms. There’s no shame in asking for help. But keep in mind that you know your body better than anyone else does, and if you disagree with what a doctor or physician is telling you, it might be a good idea to get a second opinion, even if it involves time, effort, and money (which you shouldn’t have to pay, because you have insurance while here!). Your health is more important.
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<p>Scott Abrams is an English Literature major at the University of Rochester and is attending Oxford through IES Abroad Direct Enrollment in the fall semester of 2016. His favorite things include warm woolen mittens and celebrity Twitter feuds. He hopes you won't judge him too harshly.</p>