I have become ill in many different ways while staying in Nepal. So I want to share a little from those experiences and the lessons I have learned
High altitude sickness
The first time I got ill, were the mild symptoms (extreme weakness, heart racing, headache, grumpiness) of high altitude sickness at Gokyo Lake (the Mount Everest region). That was quite problematic for me, because the one thing that you are supposed to be doing when suffering from high altitude sickness: Walk back to a lower altitude I could not do, because the people I was trekking with wanted to spend two nights at Gokyo Lake. I sincerely regret having given in to their pressure back then, because I spend some miserable 36 hours in that beautiful but really cold place.
The other time I experienced symptoms of high altitude sickness was on the Annapurna Trek while crossing the Thorung La pass. That time I was in a much better position, being independent in my decisions. Having trekked slowly up to Thorung Pedi at app. 4500 m (two days from Manang Gau), crossing the pass in one go the next day was exhausting, but I only ended up feeling somewhat weak from lack of oxygene when drinking my tea at the top of Thorung La (app. 5500m) – from which I therefore left after only 10 minutes for Muktinath.
Lesson learned: If I ever trek with a group again, I will discuss beforehand how we will handle a group members high altitude sickness, and make sure that everyone understands and agrees to me putting high priority on trekking downhill and/or acclimatizing depending on the severity of symptoms. There really is no need for anybody to die of high altitude sickness ever, since the symptoms set in slowly. It is crucial to really follow that guidance of your own body from a certain altitude upwards.
I believe that almost every single time I was in Nepal I had some form of digestive infection accompanied with diarrhea. Which I sincerely hate. Every time I was truly miserable and every time I had to take antibiotics. At some times I would travel with toilet paper, but at other times I would clean myself the Nepali way: With the left hand and water. Which I believe is actually the cleaner way – as long as you carry soap with you. These digestive infections also happen to Nepali (even though maybe not that often). In every little medicine store you will be able to purchase re-hydration minerals. The most famous brand Jeewan Jyal. Which I personally learned to truly hate, because it just tastes disgusting. I would drink it holding my nose closed, to avoid the actual taste as much as possible.
Lesson learned: I honestly don’t really know what lesson I have learned – other than: Start with the rehydration (in case of diarrhea) as fast as possible. Having your body feel weak and sore in addition to all the other symptoms (sickness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite) is not really necessary. If you hate Jeewan Jyaal to such a degree as I did (to my surprise I realized that there are actually some foreigners who seemed to like it), ask for other options or at least drink Coke. It might not be the healthiest option, but it is certainly better than drinking only water (which is super important as well though).
A Nasty Wound infection
Especially during my first stay I managed to get some scratched open moscito bites on my face and legs infected. At that time my immune system was already really at a low point because of having taken a lot of antibitoics for some digestive infections. I tried to desinfect the wound several times, but by then it was already too late. And I would walk around for a whole week with this disgusting blain on my face, not knowing what to do about it, and really not wanting to see the doctor just again. I became lucky though, since I met another French Canadian volunteer at that time, who was carrying a antibitoic ointment with her, which made the infection go away within half an hour. But of course again the antibiotics certainly did not help to improve my overall immune system’s strength. At that point I was totally worn out, mentally and physically and really needed a break from everything – would have needed to just rest somewhere for a week and enjoy my freetime.
Lesson learned: I thought that the lesson learned was to carry such an antibitoic ointment with me the next time I would travel to Nepal. But it turned out that German doctors were very reluctant to prescribe anything antibiotic without an acute infection. And their reasoning is very understandable since an abuse of antibiotics will attack your immune system and might lead to antibiotic resistance. I think what I really have learned from this experience was to actually take a rest from volunteering / researching / working / trekking if the immune system is down and to really allow the body to regenerate itself. The two places that probably serve best for these purposes are the lakeside of Pokhara (if you do not get stressed out by too much touristic crowds) or a stay up in Nagarkot, where it is really quiet, the air is fresh and you really have nothing to do, but relax.
A contusion on my left foot after a motorbike accident
This is probably pretty rare, but is still an interesting story to tell. I was riding a offride-motorbike on the dirt road leading from the Karnali river in Accham to district headquarters in Mangalsen. A coworker was sitting on the backseat and we were going downhill after it had rained just recently. Taking a downhill U-Turn the bike slipped on a rocky spot that was overgrown with wet slippery moss. The bikes kickstarter fell on my foot – and that was all that happened. My passenger did not get harmed at all. But foot swell immediately to its double size. But still we managed to get the bike started again and arrived back in Mangalsen. I immediately went to see the doctor in the public hospital there, but unfortunately he was on holidays back in Kathmandu. His assistant told me to rest and keep the foot cool, so that the blood could return back into the rest of my body. Which sounded like a shady diagnose to me already back then, but I was willing to take a risk. Unfortunately the foot never swelled down again. And for the next two weeks I was running almost every day to the hospital in the hopes of having the doctor returned and would have the same conversation with his assistant every time. Finally the doctor came back and with teary eyes I approached him and he took a 3 second look at my foot and said: “Your foot is infected, you need to take antibiotics.” Which I did and then swelling was gone within 24 hours.
Lesson learned: I really don’t know what I have learned from this, other than keeping your scepsis up in regards to the diagnoses of medical assistants. If you stay in a remote place like Accham, which at that time was not even accesible by cars – really be clear on what to do in case of a medical problem. You cannot rely on medicine to be always available, you cannot rely on doctors to be always available. Do you have someone who will in the worst case manage to carry you towards the road? How about phone access? It is a risky thing to stay in such a place, and you will not be able to completely avoid all risks, but prepare as well as possible.