Getting sick abroad

Getting sick any time sucks. But feeling like sh*t when you’re abroad and having to fight the trials and tribulations of expat life while you’re sick sucks harder. Here’s a picture of my latest meds from the pharmacy:

You see, I was having a lovely little Easter weekend with my boyfriend (albeit in isolation … #stayhome #coronavirus), and then after I went to the loo, I felt that dreaded tingle ‘down there’. I tried to brush it off in the hope it would go away. But oh no, my friends, this Easter gift was here to stay. Yes, at the grand age of 27 years old, my body had finally succumbed to a UTI infection. The worst thing was that it started on the Easter Sunday and of course the next day was a bank holiday. So I only managed to get a doctor’s appointment and some medication for my little ‘down there’ problem TWO DAYS later. But at least I could suffer at home, and I had my boyfriend for company.

Fast forward two days later, I had a phone consultation with an internal doctor. I must admit, I’m so impressed with how my medical provider suddenly made lots of phone consultations available during the upheaval of the coronavirus. Good on you, guys! So, anyway, the doctor confirms that it’s probably a UTI infection and gives me a prescription for the meds you can see above. Oh and she said I also needed to ask for a sample cup for a urine test. And that’s when I had my first expat worry. How am I going to ask for that?! Will they understand me?! Oh mannnn …

So I pop along to the pharmacy, jiggling as I go because, you know, with this ‘down there’ situation I needed to pee literally all the time. The ten minutes that I was out, walking to the pharmacy and back, was THE WORST. I don’t know if this is accurate, but I felt like standing upright made the ‘I need to pee right now’ sensation even worse. Of course the first pharmacy was having technical issues with their tills, so I needed to walk a little bit further to get my meds. As Janice on Friends would say, OH MYYY GOD!

When I arrived at the right pharmacy, I was greeted with no queue (praise the Lord), the obligatory red tape on the floor, and staff in masks. These are strange times we live in right now, right? Luckily, I had an e-prescription, which meant that all the pharmacist had to do was scan the barcode on my phone. Wahoo! Then came the time I had to ask for the sample cup. It went like this:


“(Blank look) Sorry, I don’t understand.”

“You know, for a test, a beaker?”

“(Blank look) No, sorry, I don’t understand.”



So the poor pharmacist that had to serve me understood me eventually, but I had to get real crass with my language choice for sure. I cringed internally, but listen, as long as the communication is made and nobody is offended, it’s all good. I just wanted to get the hell out of there so I could get home quickly without peeing myself or embarrassing myself by jumping up and down on the spot.

I feel bad that after two years living in Poland, I still can’t speak Polish. Believe me, I tried. I did a course at the beginning and everything. But for some reason or another, Polish just hasn’t sunk into my brain. I’ll write about that whole fiasco another day. But, generally speaking, I’m a great believer in speaking the language of the country in which you live. So every time I go to the pharmacy and speak in English, I feel guilty about it. But here is my point: In sh*t situations when you’re ill and a bit worse for wear, it’s OK to speak English. If the people serving you eventually understand you in English, there’s no harm done, right? If they don’t, that’s where a good translation app comes in. No worries. Don’t stress that expat brain! By the way, I did ask the pharmacist what the name of a sample cup was in Polish; now I know for later. Though I hope I don’t need one later …

What to do when you fall ill as an expat:

Getting ill whilst living abroad can be more stressful than if you were in your home country. You have to organise a doctor’s appointment (I’m lucky enough to have a provider with appointments in English, but I know some people need interpreters, etc.), then you have to go to the doctor’s appointment and hope that the doctor understands you and your problem, then you have to go to the pharmacy and speak to the pharmacist, then you get home and take the medicine – and of course you don’t know what the hell you’re taking until you google it and translate the patient leaflet.

Or if it’s something that can be treated at home without seeing a doctor, you might not be able to find the products that you used to rely on in your home country, so you have to go to the pharmacy anyway and ask for an alternative. Or if you’re feeling daring, pick up something in the shop that seems remotely suitable for your ailment and risk it (don’t do that)! I sometimes stock up on some products when I go home to the UK; having familiar products like Lemsip, Tyrozets, etc., can be really reassuring!

So what should you do when you get ill? Here’s my fool-proof plan so you don’t add freaking out on top of your headcold:

  1. Take it easy. If you don’t feel good, just relax and watch Netflix. Have a soothing herbal tea.
  2. Consult a doctor. As awkward as some expats may find seeing a doctor abroad, it really is for the best. If it’s something you can’t treat at home or have no idea what the problem is exactly, GO TO A DOCTOR.
  3. Trust the doctor. Sometimes, language barriers don’t fill expats with much confidence in foreign doctors. But, listen, they all trained the same way for one purpose: to help you! So trust the doctor and do what he/she advises.
  4. Think about what you’ll do when you feel better. It really helps me to remember that I won’t feel like this forever – one day I will be able to pee normally dammit!
  5. Call a friend/loved one to take your mind off your problem, or text them if you have a cough or lost your voice!
  6. Eat soothing foods. Normally, I find that whatever I fancy when I’m ill is normally what makes me feel better – sometimes it makes no sense why it helps, but it does. The times when you’re sick are opportunities to revisit the childish foods your mum used to give you like Angel Delight, jelly, pudding, custard, yogurts. Anything nostalgic! If you can only get a certain food in your home country, I recommend ordering a bunch of things from home specifically for times like this. You don’t want to be feeling like sh*t and wishing you’d ordered Butterscotch Angel Delight or Reese’s Pieces beforehand. It’s just crushing not having what you want when you need it. Though if you have a stomach bug, you probably won’t want to eat at all.
  7. Have a herbal tea. You can’t go wrong with herbal tea. Add Netflix or Amazon Prime if necessary. Now is the time to watch the trashy TV you secretly love. For me, that’s Teen Mom, and I’m not ashamed.
  8. Take a moment to say to yourself: “I’m not feeling well right now, so expat life can wait”. It really can!

So there you go. That’s my plan for when you get sick as an expat abroad. The most important thing to remember when you’re sick is to give yourself a break and tell expat life to take a hike for the week. Your body is feeling stressed out and can’t handle that right now, and that’s just fine.

OK, so now I’m gonna go pee again … this bloody UTI, ahhh!




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