Being a seasoned traveler, I was not concerned about the multitude of things to be done before embarking on the 24 hour plane ride that would bring me to the “city of squalor”, as The Hangover‘s Mr. Chow describes the bustling city of Bangkok…
Sufficient Medications to supply a small rural clinic: CHECK
Enough North face apparel to be a mascot for the store: CHECK
Camera with macro and telephoto lenses: CHECK
Wait, what about vaccinations? Scanning down my bright yellow CDC card I was certain that I had everything I needed. Typhoid up-to-date, yellow fever good for another 8 years, every childhood vaccination booster acquired. What could I be missing? My slightly neurotic mother, wanting to be sure that I made it back from my semester abroad alive, booked me a special appointment at a local “Travel and Infectious Diseases” physician because she did not believe that I could possibly have everything I needed. There must be some other disease for which they have recently invented a vaccine.
After recieving the usual speech about don’t brush you teeth with the tap water, never eat the salad, only eat fruit you can peel, stay away from the street food (all warnings that would certainly be ignored once complacency set in, except perhaps the rule about brushing ones teeth with the tap) the doctor finally took a look at my vaccination card. “Hmmm okay…yep, looks good…okay great all you need is Japanese Encephalitis!”
This was certainly a new one. After I brief explanation I was ensured that it was a necessary vaccine if I did not wish to die from the mosquitos I would be encountering in the rice patties of rural Thailand. Sure, why not, lets add another shot to my life list of vaccines. The physician prepared my vaccine and just before injecting the live culture under my skin…
Physician: “So you can come back on the 18th for your second round right?”
Me: “Ummm no, I arrive in Bangkok that day”
Physician: “Oh!! Well this is quite a problem. You need to recieve your second dosage. I don’t even know if this will do anything for you without the second dose!”
What happened next was a long, heated debate between my mother and the physician about the impossibility of delaying my trip, the fact that I couldn’t receive that vaccine the day before my flight for fear of allergic reaction, etc. We arrived at the decision that I would receive the first dosage regardless and hopefully there would be a sketchy medical clinic at the Bangkok airport that could give me the second dosage without giving me AIDS as well on some pre-used needle.
My father, being a retired medical professional, was not satsfied with this response and so did some research and found out that he could call the manufacturer and have a pre-prepared vaccine shipped to our house. From here we had three options: (1) He could inject me the day before I left and I could risk potential allergic reaction during my 24 hours of traveling across the globe (2) I could take the injection with me and inject MYSELF upon arrival, or (3) I could find someone who claimed to be a liscend doctor upon arrival and they could adminster the vaccine. Somehow none of these options seemed kosher.
As my parents argued over the best course of action, I sat imagining the possible outcomes. The first was that I immediately got arrested at JFK international airport for carrying a loaded syringe of a non-native disease. I would certainly be sent to Guantanamo Bay for bioterrorism. The second scenario was that I would arrive in Bangkok, attempt to inject myself and then pass out with the needle still in my leg. Third, I would be lucky enough to meet a fellow participant on one of the flights over. I would introduce myself as follows, “Hey, I’m Coral and I go to Georgetown. We are going to be stuck together for the next few months so I think we should get to know each other. Let’s start with an ice breaker, like you jabbing this large needle into my leg!” Somehow I didn’t think this was the first conversation I wanted to have with someone. The fourth and final scenario was that I was lucky enough to find some “doctor” at a small clinic in the Bangkok airport. I imagine that he would be missing multiple teeth and possibly be an x-head hunter from a rural village on the Thai-Laotian border. Thankfully I would have brought the vaccine with me so I would not have to use a needle from his personal supply which he ensured were cleansed with pure, boiling water.
I must admit that my family and I have not yet decided what the best course of action should be. I am sure the result will lead to another interesting and entertaining blog post. For now, everything else is packed and ready to go. I have a few more goodbyes to say (who knows, if I contract Japanese encephalitis they may be my last) and then I will be ready to go.