24 -> Chinese
Travel can be very tough on the
body, and we wanted to do everything we could to look after
This led us to the Travel Doctor, a Sydney clinic whose sole
business is the protection of travelers from all manners
of afflictions - from diarrhea to Japanese encephalitis.
Australian backpackers and backpackers visiting Australia
ensures a steady stream of business.
Would-be travelers come to the Travel Doctor to
get multiple inoculations, buy malarial pills and first aid kits.
A huge world map spreads across one wall, which someone is always
staring at dreamily. A variety of mosquito nets and insect repellent
are on sale, as well as Lonely Planet guidebooks. Framed photos
of exotic-looking people in exotic-looking places adorn other
walls. There is an excitement about the place. If you are at the
Travel Doctor, you are going somewhere!
Our initial consultation was with Dr. Chiu, a Chinese-Australian
of (I gathered) Cantonese origin. He was as knowledgeable as he
was dramatic. He described horrifying symptoms with something
bordering on glee, fixed us with a serious gaze when discussing
the arguments against certain inoculations, and adopted a detached
expression when describing the impact of taking certain medication
on the effectiveness of birth control pills.
A large atlas lay open at the front of his desk.
As we rattled off the itinerary, he would masterfully flip to
the correct page, stabbing particularly virulent countries with
his fingers. “There is a serious risk of yellow fever here!” or “You’ll
be fine if you stay in the big cities. But in the country, major
malaria risk!” This was clearly his favorite part of the
initial consultation. In each case, he would jot down the disease
that we needed protection against. He gave a snort and jotted
something down when we mentioned Papua New Guinea, and began scribbling
wildly when we got to India. When our itinerary got to the West
Africa nations, however, he set down his pen. “I think maybe
we’ll just give you everything!”
Lucky for us, we had started thinking about the
inoculations early. Dr. Chiu planned a detailed schedule of tests,
shots, and further consultations that spread over more than four
months. Multiple live vaccines cannot be administered at the same
time, certain vaccines were not immediately available in Australia,
other vaccines are only effective for a short amount of time;
these had to be taken closer to our departure date. The logistics
were daunting, but Dr. Chui had done it a thousand times.
Health is the primary but not only reason to visit
the Travel Doctor. Many countries, particularly in Africa, require
proof of yellow fever inoculation at border posts. Travelers who
arrive at the border sans certificate of vaccination could be
turned away completely, or at the very least are forced to bribe
their way in with hard currency. In this way, the shots protect
against both diseases and extortion. Another racket has to do
with proof of cholera vaccination, which from time to time has
been required in certain countries, but is no longer required
in any country today. In fact, the cholera vaccine has been proven
ineffective - so what’s the point?
However, imagine the uninformed (and un-vaccinated)
traveler arriving at a dilapidated West African border post. He
has his visa, he shows his yellow fever certificate. The guard
looks unimpressed and continues to flip through the traveler’s
inoculation book. “Where is your cholera certificate?” he
demands in French. After much argument, the traveler parts with
US$20, only to learn later of the border guard’s ruse. Thankfully,
the Travel Doctor staff was prepared for such a scam. Although
we had never received the cholera inoculation, we were given a
large official-looking (but bogus) stamp in our books that read “Cholera” and “Non
Datum Est”- Latin for something like “this means nothing” -
enough to fool dishonest border guards.
During 6 separate visits to the Travel Doctor, we
received more than a dozen shots. The Aussies call them ‘jabs.’ Both
names are appropriately unpleasant. We were getting 2-3 shots
per visit, and often had to wait in the doctor’s office
for thirty minutes just in case one of the life-saving inoculations
made us faint or stop breathing.
In total we spent around A$1,200 (US$700) on inoculations,
malaria pills and a first-aid kit. Though expensive, it was
well worth it. We left the Travel Doctor feeling invincible
- at least
against bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. If only science could
develop a vaccine against larger threats - runaway trains,
thieves, and earthquakes - travel might be a less dangerous
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