DOCTORS, DENTISTS: HOW WE STAY HEALTHY ON THE ROAD
Don’t let concerns about your health curtail your travel plans. There’s plenty of support out there!
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY JANNE HARDY
When people ask us about our life as full time Nomads, many of them tell us that they would like to do the same, but they’re afraid to leave their local doctor.
They seem to think they won’t have medical support, but we have found otherwise. The medical services we have used around Australia over the last four years have been excellent.
We are in our 60s and people rarely get to that age without things going wrong. Among other things, before departure Geoff had 9 years on a walking stick before a new procedure fixed a leg injury to the point where he could live a normal life again. I have had part of my thyroid removed and have been blind in one eye before laser surgery restored distorted sight.
Since we have been on the road, Geoff has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and I have been declared a type 2 diabetic, so we have needed medical help in numerous places and we both sing the praises of the system that has provided it.
When we visited 80 Mile Beach in remote WA the Royal Flying Doctor Service had flown in several times that season to pick up sick Nomads. This is a growing trend for the RFDS and we always contribute to the many fundraisers held around Australia for this lifesaving organisation. One lady we spoke to said the RFDS had picked her up from a cattle property in less time than an ambulance had taken to get to her in the heart of Melbourne.
Because we have sometimes lived in remote areas of central Australia for months at a time, we have regular medical check ups. These have occurred in Emu Park, Gayndah and Palm Cove in Queensland, in Alice Springs, in Busselton WA , at Laurieton in NSW and with a specialist at Port Macquarie.
We have found local doctors in these regions wonderful and thorough. Also, surprisingly, some regional facilities have rivalled those in cities. For example, after a yearly blood test Geoff was found to have prostate cancer and we discovered that the universe had brought us to just the right place at the right time.
We were in the Laurieton-Port Macquarie area for this momentous event, where we found specialists who develop new procedures for the treatment and diagnosis of this cancer and teach them Australia wide. The cancer institute attached to the local hospital is also first class and less busy than Sydney, and MRI s cost significantly less. A boon, since these are not covered even with our private health cover.
At all times our medical information has been made available to us online or in paper form and it has also been sent to our home doctor to update our files.
ENQUIRE ABOUT E-HEALTH
E-health, a government initiative, is now available as well. You just have to register, set up online access and log in. It has been rolling out since July 2012 with the aim of providing a personally controlled online health record…a secure summary that you can access anywhere.
Your doctors, hospitals and other health care providers can view and share information anywhere and for travellers or for people in accidents it means faster access to information that is vital for prompt treatment. Information about allergies, medications and so on is important if you are rushed to medical care unexpectedly. For Nomads, the potential of this system is excellent.
At the town markets in Kununurra the local health service was signing people up to e-Health. They were focusing on Nomads, and we were grateful when they set us up and got us on line there and then. They waved aside our thanks with: “Helps you, helps us!”
BE SCRUPULOUS ABOUT CHECKUPS
There’s something very important I want to say here because of what happened to an old friend of ours.
He and his wife were on a year-long trip around Oz and at one stage he noticed a strange mole. Because he knew he would be returning home he decided to wait and get it checked by his own doctor. He was too late. He died two months after returning home: he should have got it checked in the next town. So, in his memory, I ask you to put aside your reliance on your own doctor and think of the health system as a complete entity, accessible anywhere at any time.
During our 4 years on the road we have been to several hospitals for tests: Harvey Bay for an infection, a Bundaberg Private for breast scans and Port Macquarie Private and Public hospitals for Geoff ’s biopsies. We have found them all excellent and far easier to access than similar facilities anywhere in Sydney, with easier parking and a top class staff. Because of this and the world-class surgeons on his case, we will return to Port for any treatment for his condition in the future… but the monitoring of it will be done on the road!
A friend with a severe eye infection was rushed to Port Hedland Hospital and declared that if she were ever at home in Sydney and needed hospital treatment she would fly to Port Hedland because the treatment she received there was so good.
We have also attended dentists, one of whom was a surprising source of a very scary story. When Geoff broke a tooth at Emu Park in Queensland, the local dentist was excellent and the waiting time minimal. I had to have similar treatment in Broome. Again there was no wait and the treatment top class…AND the dentist had a mesmerizing story about being bitten by a crocodile! I enjoyed hearing his tale as he restored my dental health.
He had been on a remote fishing trip with mates who were doctors and dentists when he was unexpectedly grabbed on the shoulder by the croc, even though he was wholly within the boat. He slammed his elbow into the croc’s neck and it let go. He was immediately attended to by his fellow medicos who selflessly surrendered a whole bottle of Jim Beam to disinfect the wound before stitching it up. He was a lucky boy: apart from some stiffness he had good range of movement and little discomfort.
Which leads me to the next item: do a first aid course and make sure you take a comprehensive medical kit on your travels (and a bottle of medicinal whisky too!)
We have two kits. One is a small belt kit for hiking and I also have two wide, elasticised bandages for snakebite that I take for shorter walks in remote, snaky areas. Thanks to my son, who is a rescue officer, we have a large, very comprehensive medical kit. He made sure we have it all: neck braces, body parts bags, everything to assist in remote areas. The kit also has a Spot GPS device to call for help no matter where we are.
We were working in Mareeba on an avocado orchard and as a result I had a sore neck from looking up all day. I attended a local chiropractor who was fantastic. Everywhere we go we have regular eye checks as well. You can see we’ve utilised a broad range of health care and we’ve found it to be excellent.
BE PROACTIVE ABOUT HEALTH WHEN YOU TRAVEL
Food is important. In the beginning we put on huge amounts of weight because, on the road, we ate more than we could burn up in exercise.
It is not always easy to access good fresh food so we try to stock up when we know we’ll be travelling to remote areas. With the blessing of all my doctors, I have done the 5:2 diet for the last two years, eating fewer calories for two days each week. It isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle, and the weight has stayed off.
Finding a way to exercise can be a challenge, especially in freecamps where there is seldom a walking track. I simply walk round and round on the available cleared space to reach my required 10,000 steps a day. If you see me walking past your RV 50 times, that’s why!
I also do 20 minutes of yoga every single day and in my sixties I am more supple than I was in my twenties. I hike whenever I can, often alone because Geoff’s leg stops him from going too far. I carry the GPS device in case of trouble. I snow ski, ride horses and bikes and swim; all this just to keep fit so we can travel longer.
And do exercise your mind. Try Sudoku, puzzles, phone app games and meditation. I’ve done courses on emotional intelligence to cultivate a peaceful mind; learned to exercise gratitude for improved quality of life and written some Emotional Intelligence books with Sue Langley who is an international EI trainer. All of this helps us to stay healthy and to travel safely away from our doctors – and surprise, surprise: it’s all okay! It is necessary to work hard to be healthy on the road but the system definitely supports us if we support ourselves.
I hope this helps to take away a common fear that some people have about becoming a long-term grey nomad. You can survive well without your local doctor but you have to be proactive and help yourself too.