Update! Getting Sick Abroad | Seeking Medical Care in Athens, Greece
First, Catch Up on the Getting Sick Aboard Saga...
Just before leaving Prague, Czech Republic to go to Leeds, United Kingdom, Shannon came down with pain, discharge, and pressure in her left ear. To add insult to injury, it was topped off with a large percentage of hearing loss in the affected ear. We tried vinegar and heat, both DIY at-home remedies, but finally ventured to navigate the UK medical system as foreigners. Read the details in Getting Sick Abroad | Seeking Medical Care in the United Kingdom. In summary, the UK NHS (National Health Service) was nowhere near as scary as we thought it would be. Shannon diligently used the prescribed ear drops and we both hoped for a quick recovery.
Getting Sick Abroad: The Update
Shannon’s biggest fear was getting on a plane with an ear infection and she dreaded the pain she thought she’d experience. Unfortunately, by the time we boarded the plane bound to Athens, Greece her ear was still not healed and she had to face her fears. Luckily, she experienced only minor discomfort, possibly because she’d imagined horrible amounts of sharp and intolerable pain.
When we landed in Athens, we’d just about maxed out the recommended dosages of the ear drops she’d been prescribed in the UK. So, we knew it was time to seek additional help, probably in the realm of oral antibiotics. We needed to kick this infection in the butt!
Getting Antibiotics in Athens, Greece
We did a bit of research online and learned from community boards and comments that many medications that need a prescription in the US, were over the counter in Athens, including antibiotics. We’d read that pharmacists in Athens were as good or better at recommending medications than doctors for many common ailments (this was later echoed by the homeowners of our house sit). With that in mind, we headed to a pharmacy. We had our translator app at the ready and with a few hand gestures and translations, we communicated what we were looking for. At the first pharmacy we visited, we were disappointed that the pharmacist said we had to go to a doctor and that she couldn’t give us antibiotics. Feeling a bit deflated, we almost stopped there but ended up deciding to try another pharmacy just in case. To our relief, the next pharmacist spoke great English and recommended an antibiotic we could get over the counter. We spoke with him a bit, took a picture of the antibiotic and stepped aside to look it up online. Our goal was to corroborate the information he'd given us, so we did this by not only researching the antibiotic online, but also by going to a second pharmacist and asking their recommendations. In the end, when all of the information matched up from the second pharmacist and multiple sources online, we purchased a round of antibiotics and a matching dose of probiotics to balance out the 'biotics'.
Results of Taking Antibiotics
We’re used to being seen and monitored by a doctor when we get sick, so the approach of seeing a pharmacist and not having a formal ‘work-up’, was a bit jarring for us. As Shannon took the medication, she was diligent about paying attention to her symptoms and monitoring her progress. She continued to be extremely careful when showering, not letting any water get in her ear, and she didn’t put anything (Q-Tips, headphones, etc.) in her infected ear. After one round of antibiotics, she noticed improvement in the discharge and jaw soreness, but still had the same amount of pressure and hearing loss. We opted to go with the pharmacist’s advice and do a second round of antibiotics.
Would it Ever Heal?
We were particularly concerned about the pressure and hearing loss Shannon was having, so when it was recommended that we might try moving the fluid through the ear by chewing gum and holding her nose and blowing, she tried it. She experienced ‘popping’ in the ear, which we mistakenly interpreted as progress. Unfortunately, she quickly realized the discharge from her ear got worse. She immediately stopped and decided to let it heal at its own pace. We later found out that this was the correct thing to do and that it could take up to three months to get her full hearing restored!
At the end of two rounds of antibiotics, we were in Sofia, Bulgaria and were extremely glad that the pain and discharge was completely gone. Her hearing loss persisted and was a bit unnerving, so we did more research online and called our doctor in the US. It turned out, from the symptoms Shannon experienced, she'd indeed had an ear infection which subsequently caused her ear drum to rupture!
We learned some new lessons and reinforced a few things we already knew. Whether we’re at home or are traveling, we need to be diligent about washing our hands before touching our faces or preparing food. If we start to feel sick, it’s crucial that we treat the symptoms right away. There are plenty of DIY remedies that work well, like gargling warm salt water, drinking tea with honey, inhaling moist air (in the shower, using a (travel) humidifier or inhaler, or boiling a pot of water), staying hydrated, and most importantly getting rest. When it comes to ear hygiene, our worst offender is probably our headphones. Having them in the ear canal creates a moist and warm environment that breeds bacteria and fungus. So, we need to limit our use of inner-ear headphones and clean the tips of our headphones regularly.
We were forced to embark on an adventure that we frankly dreaded the thought of. Seeking medical care abroad was a daunting thought. However, we learned that while medical care may be different in each country, ultimately we’d almost certainly be able to find assistance and care in any country we travel to. Cost and convenience may vary, but our health is our number one priority, so we’ll do whatever it takes to get medical attention and care (after a bit of self-care of course)!