No, this post is not about how to manage and play well in the last few minutes of a football (soccer) game
I am going to talk about how to deal with (physical) injuries while you’re travelling in a foreign land. I started thinking about this after a recent knee injury while playing football. Although I haven’t been too unlucky while travelling, I have suffered from occassional twisted ankles, finders-caught-in-the-door, scratches and bruises, and the likes. Dealing with an injury in the right way is especially important if you are travelling solo and don’t have anyone to fall back on (no pun intended). So, here are some tips based on a recent experience while on a trip to Barcelona..
1. I am not a trained paremedic or a first aider (yet) - I am going to do a first aid course in a couple of months.
2. I am going to focus on physical injuries here. For other type of medical situations, I am probably not the best to advise, so please do consult your doctor before going on a trip. There are also a lot of resources on the internet to go through. A quick google search led me to this fairly useful looking link.]
Here are my tips and thoughts:
1. Keep Calm – This is probably the most cliched advice, yet equally the most important advice as well. If you suffer an injury, do not panic! Consciously pause for a minute and relax – taking a few deep breaths will help in keeping calm.
When I suffered a twisted ankle while roaming around alone in Tarragona in Spain, I knew it was another occurence of a recurring injury my left ankle has been suffering from, and was nothing new. I immediately sat down on the nearest footpath, took a few sips of water and tried to clear my mind of all thoughts.
2. Assess the situation, extent of injury - How bad does it feel? One of the things I have learnt about ankle and knee injuries – if it doesn’t feel too bad, it’s probably not too bad. If it’s something awful like a ligament tear, it’ll hurt like hell. Also, another point to note: If it doesn’t hurt when the injured part is idle and not being stretched, things aren’t too bad. If it was a ligament injury, it’d hurt even if you were not moving at all. The above advice of ‘if it doesn’t feel too bad, it’s probably not too bad’ doesn’t apply to head injuries, so be careful!
It was not a new injury, it did feel painful, but not something I had not felt before. So, I knew it wasn’t too bad. I had also grazed my arm a bit trying to break my fall, but the scratches were only superfluous. A quick wash would be fine.
3. Assess the situation around – What’s there in your surroundings? Are you in a location with lots of people around? Do the people around speak the language that you do? Or you’re in the middle of nowhere? Do you have a phone with which you could call for help?
If there are people around, don’t be afraid to call out for help. Ignore the language barrier, don’t feel shy – anyone in any culture would recognise pain. Almost everywhere, locals would be more than willing to help. Even if they don’t have medicines (say, someone from a restaurant or a house ran over to help you), ask for water. Drinking water helps alleviate the pain (I don’t know why!) and helps you relax as well. Also, request the person helping you to call for medical assistance if the situation looks bad.
If there’s noone around, first check if it’s safe to sit down and do first aid to yourself at that place. For example, if you are in the middle of a forest, it might be a better idea to go to some clear ground or high ground, as the situation demands. Similarly, make sure you are not in the middle of a road. Next, make sure you know what resources are available to you – this can be a phone, to a bottle of water, to first aid medicines to even a piece of cloth (can be used as a tourniquet to stop blood flow).
With my ankle twist, although noone was around, I saw a restaurant in the distance. After a few minutes of rest, I hobbled over there, and took a table and asked for water. As my ankle wasn’t feeling too painful, I also ordered some food and had lunch to give some time for the pain to reduce and natural body healing to happen. Also, the lunch acted as a good distraction.
4. Cold or hot treatment? – This a popular question. The answer that I know and follow is: ONLY cold treatment for first 24 hours (it can be an icepack – if that’s not available, go for frozen peas). Any hot treatment in first 24 hours can make matters worse. Applying ice helps keep the swelling down, a consquence you wouldn’t realise immediately, but is very important.
I ordered a bottle of icecold bottle along with lunch, and help that to soothe my ankle. It was a bit embarassing, but very effective.
5. Don’t be afraid to use external help – Even if you are travelling solo, try getting in touch with your friends and family – both to inform them, and seek their advice. In difficul times, it often happens that we can’t think straight, and someone sitting far away might have better access to advice and suggestions. Also, don’t panic, but don’t be afraid to cut your trip short. Although it would seem like a bummer to let the rest of the trip go waste, it is important to listen to what your body (and your doctor!) are saying and to make sure that the injury doesn’t worsen.
In my case, I didn’t tell anyone that I had an ankle injury so as not to worry them. In that situation, it was alright, but it’s not always the best course to follow. Please don’t follow my example there!
Oh, by the way, I did manage to safely hobble away from my ankle injury that day in Tarragona, and went on to enjoy the rest of the town, visit a Roman collosseum and even managed to visit another another nearby town of Sitges. By the end of the day, I was feeling much better, I took an Ibuprofen (painkiller and anti-inflammatory) and made sure that I wore my ankle strap (I keep this while travelling, as I know the ankle might act up any moment) for the rest of the trip.
Safe travelling! And if you do get injured, keep calm and make sure you listen to your instincts!