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medical recordsAlthough anyone can get sick anywhere in the world—including at home, with a few precautions, you can minimize your chances either of getting sick or of irritating some pre-existing condition you might bring with you on your mission trip.

Here are some things that Sherrylee and I have learned to do—and we have rarely been sick in all of our travels to all parts of the world. I’m not a medical doctor, so the information I’m giving to you is totally based on experience. If your doctor tells you something different, then he is right!!

  1. If you deal with chronic health issues, choose your destination more carefully If you have severe asthma, you might want to go to a place that does not have severe air pollution. If you have knee issues, you might not want to go to a church that meets on the fourth floor with no elevator.  If you have immunity issues, you might want to go to a more hygienic country.  You do have choices! God’s people all over the world need help, not just in the countries that would most endanger your health.
  2. Go with people who understand your health needs. This is usually a spouse or near relative, but if you are not going with someone that close to you, then go with a good friend to whom you can fully disclose your health situation. If you are not willing to tell someone the full story, then you probably should not go.
  3. Get all of the appropriate vaccinations and shots before you go. The CDC is an excellent source of information about health and foreign travel. You may have a travel clinic in your city, and they too will provide good information and the medications that you need.
  4. Take all the medications/equipment needed with you for any chronic condition that you have, including prophylactics to prevent the onset or to control an unexpected attack or event.   You cannot count on getting medicines you might need, nor seeing a doctor for a local prescription, so get enough for your whole trip–and a little longer–to take with you.  Be sure and put your important medicines—whatever you can’t do without–in your carry-on, just in case your checked luggage does not make it to you! I always include my extra contact lenses and/or an emergency pair of glasses. And if you are prone to bronchial distress or events related to diabetes or hyper allergic to . . . anything that could become life threatening, just be sure you take with you whatever you would keep handy at home.
  5. Don’t go if you are already sick! This seems so logical, but after you have bought expensive tickets and made very important plans, it is hard not to get on the plane.  It might be easier to make the right decision if you have Travel Interruption/Cancellation insurance that covers illness. It is also possible to change most tickets for a fee—which is worth it to you, to your fellow passengers, and to the hosting people you might be infecting if you go.
  6. Try to adjust to local time zones as quickly as possible so that you stay rested. Starting your trip more rested and sleeping on the international flight go a long way towards helping you feel good when you arrive and adjusting more quickly. Short-term missions do not lend themselves to lots of rest, so if your health requires more rest, you may have to sneak away for a nap every now and then.
  7. Be aware of everything that goes in your mouth! We all wish we had iron stomachs that could eat anything anywhere, but most of us don’t. On a short-term trip, you really don’t have enough time to adjust to local bacteria like a long-term worker can, so you just have to be careful.  Water is a big culprit. Safest is not to drink anything that is not bottled—with the lid commercially closed. Safest is to use the same bottled water to brush your teeth. Foods that have a high water content can be bad also, so avoid lettuce, soups, ice cubes, and jello that are made with unknown water.  Honestly, this is very hard to practice 100% consistently, so take the approach of just minimizing your exposure to bad water as much as you can.
  8. Wash your hands a lot—with soap. While I’m generally opposed to overuse of anti-bacterial hand products, I use them regularly when traveling overseas for added protection.
  9. Follow the suggestions of the local hosts. If they say use a mosquito net, then do so. If they say don’t eat from street vendors, then don’t. If they say, take malaria meds, then do it.  The only thing you have to be careful about here is when you are with locals who have not traveled out of their country and do not understand what your special needs might be.
  10. Know the difference in yourself between minor sickness and major sickness. Almost everyone who travels internationally has experienced some degree of upset stomach and/or Montezuma’s revenge. Most people don’t die even from food poisoning that can occur no matter how careful you are. One can become dehydrated though, so treat your symptoms and monitor your condition even with minor things so that they don’t become major. In almost all countries, you can trust local doctors for treatment of minor sickness, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if a minor illness seems to last too long or you begin feeling even worse.

Again, let me say that if you are in pretty good health, then you can participate in most short-term mission programs. But even the healthiest of us will be more effective on our mission trip if we stay healthy!  We don’t have complete control over that, but these few tips will certainly help you.

Now, Go . . . into all the world!

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medical recordsAny person with average health ought to be able to go almost anywhere in the world.  In the last few days, however, I have had several conversations about health and short-term mission workers, so let’s talk about it briefly.

As a general rule, you should be in pretty good health for most short-term mission trips. Why?

  • Even just air travel requires pretty good health: carrying suitcases and bags, sometimes climbing outdoor ramps into planes, lifting bags into overhead spaces, sitting (in middle seats) for hours, and the dehydration of overseas travel.
  • Adjusting to new places: eating and sleeping hours are confused because of time zone changes, changes in air quality, changes in altitude, widely varying degrees of cleanliness.
  • New food and water: Trying new foods can be fun, but it can also make you very sick. You may also have problems eating regularly, if that is important to your overall health. And guarding against contaminated water is harder than you think. For instance, you can get bad water in ice cubes, hot tea, soup, stew, popsicles, even lettuce. You can get it in the shower or brushing your teeth—and especially swimming—or even baptizing.
  • New animals.  I’m not so worried about your being eaten by lions, but maybe by mosquitoes or lice or gnats, some of which can make you very sick.  Poorer countries don’t always clean up after animals like you might want, so you have to watch where you walk. If you handle chickens or other feathered creatures, you can pick up stuff too. That’s why U.S. Customs asks you if you have been on a farm or been in contact with farm animals while overseas…..
  • No elevators or air conditioners! You need to know if the place you are going is hot or cold because most people in most countries do not control the air temperature or quality in their homes. At best they might have a fan. In addition, you need to know if you can climb the steps into apartments—sometimes several floors up, multiple times a day?  Or walk 30 minutes to the bus stop?
  • Availability of quality health care! Are you subject to attacks (asthma, for instance) or dizziness or do you have to see a doctor either quickly and/or fairly often for any condition?  You cannot assume the availability of health care, accessibility to health care, and/or the quality of health care you might receive.

Now that I have made everyone over age 25 afraid to do short-term missions, let me say that in spite of all of the above concerns, there are many things you can do to guard your health while traveling and not exacerbate any relatively minor conditions that you may have to deal with.

Next post, we will look at things you can do to both protect your health and to accommodate minor conditions you already have, so that you can go on short-term mission projects.

 

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