Be Prepared: Dangers in a Tropical Paradise
‘The Chef’ picked up a large Ziplock bag and held it up for me to see. I almost gasped with laughter. It was bulging at the seams with gauze, tape, bandages, and assorted first aid essentials. In all the years I’ve travelled I never needed a first aid kit so I kind of thought it was over-the-top. I don’t think so anymore.
Now as we get ready to make the move to Coron I’m reminded of the dangers that lurk in ‘paradise.’ Just last month in August a 24-year-old tourist died of speculated anaphylactic shock from stepping on a stonefish or sea urchin and also last month the town of Busuanga declared an outbreak of dengue fever (carried by mosquitoes). At least 90 people were admitted to the Coron District Hospital and one person died.
As beautiful as Palawan is it’s also fraught with dangers. There’s a big controversy now that the town of Coron is not ready to deal with medical emergencies. The tourist who died from stepping on a sea creature was apparently never warned by anyone, including the boatmen, not to step on the corals. They didn’t know what to do when he was in distress. The tourist’s boyfriend was the only one to attempt CPR. One can only speculate what the outcome would have been if the they had a first aid kit with an epi-pin.
On our second trip to Coron we stayed at a semi-remote cottage at the edge of the rainforest. ‘The Chef’ was bitten around the ankles by little black flies. His ankles swelled up, turned red, black and blue and became painful. He limped when he walked. It took 10 days and 20 antihistamines before it returned to somewhat normal. During that time the owner of the cottage thought we should have it checked out at the hospital which was a little concerning after she told us the hospital has the reputation that you ‘only go there to die!’
It started as a little itch on my leg. Over the course of 48 hours the itch had turned into a nasty, oozing, blistering rash. It didn’t hurt but it sure didn’t look pretty. I applied a topical antibiotic and ‘the Chef’ wrapped it with gauze to keep it clean. I drastically wanted to know what it was so I resorted to searching the internet to try and find out what it could be (I know that’s not a good thing). I was hesitant to go have it checked out as I knew the poor reputation of medical care here in Coron. The last thing I wanted was to be prescribed something I knew nothing about from someone who might not know what they’re doing.
As it turns out I must have brushed against what they call ‘burning grass’ when we went on an excursion to check out a property. A local told me to clean the rash, then pour hot, hot water over it a couple of times a day. It worked but it took a long four weeks for it to fully heal. During that time I joined a handful of other tourists in town whose appendages were also wrapped in gauze from various mishaps.
Renting a motorbike can be perilous especially if you’ve never ridden one. Our friend King, received cuts and bruises when he crashed his motorbike over the side of an embankment trying to maneuver over a dilapidated wooden bridge. He was very lucky. In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have attempted that particular trip and at the least would have insisted he wear a helmet. King as we found out is quite accident prone. During one of our property searches he stepped on a rusty nail while walking through the jungle and had to dig out a little piece left behind in his foot when he took out the nail.
Probably the most common health risks in the tropics relate to the heat and sun. Sunburn, heat stroke/sun stroke, heat rash, and dehydration can sneak up on you if you’re not paying attention. We’ve experienced all of these so now we know what to look out for.
We sometimes take for granted that there will always be medical help when we need it. You should be prepared.
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Educate yourself on the dangers in that environment.
- Don’t assume medical help will always be close by or even adequate.
- Make sure your basic vaccines (such as tetanus) are up to date.
DIY First Aid Kit List
What you put in your first aid kit will depend on risk factors like how long will you be travelling, what kind of activities you will be doing, etc. We usually stay a minimum of three weeks and are quite active. We like to swim, snorkel, motorbike and explore off-the-beaten path places. Here’s our first-kit supplies (we’ve used everything). We’ll probably add an antifungal cream and an Epi-pin.
- Analgesics (eg. Tylenol, ASA, codeine, ibuprofen, Tylenol #3)
- Assorted bandages and gauze
- Topical Antibiotic (in Canada we have Polysporin)
- Antihistamine (such as Benadryl)
- Adhesive tape
- Anti-septic wipes
- Eye patch
- Safety pins
- Antidiarrheal (such as Imodium)
- Antinauseant/motion sickness (such as Gravol)
- Mosquito repellent (the local OFF is very effective)
Would you rather buy a first aid kit? Day Tripper puts together an excellent one that’s compact, lightweight and easy to tuck away in a travel pack or suitcase. Adventure Medical Kits Day Tripper