Ruth's Diary


And so, Summer finally returns on the last day of August. How typical.

Whenever I'll look back on August 2010 I'll always think of it as my month of needles. I'm certain that within this past month alone I've had the highest amount of vaccinations in my lifetime, more so than when I was a baby. The reason is that I'll be travelling to South America just over 4 weeks from now to take part in a number of volunteering projects. Just to show how bloody sanitised the developed (and non-tropical) world is, whenever you step foot in a tropical country you need a host of new vaccinations.

Going to Bolivia meant I needed to have the yellow fever vaccination, and that's where I started. Talking to people at church meant I got the name and location of a good travel clinic that sold the yellow fever jab at the cheapest possible price (£45) as well as giving you a full on consultation on whatever other medicines/vaccines you needed during the same session. I couldn't believe the list of things I was expected to get (I was even given the option of having a cholera vaccine, just to "strengthen the gut") and the prices were...a concern to say the least. But the key bit of advice that the travel nurse gave me was to check which vaccines were available from the GP.

So as soon as I got home I made an appointment to see a nurse (the next day) and find out which vaccines were available. The answers were: typhoid, hepatitis A+B and swine flu. I was administered all 4 during that session. Now here's where it gets interesting: swine flu is the only vaccine kept in the office so it was the only one I didn't have to pay for. Typhoid and hep A were available on the NHS but I still had to go round to the chemist and pay the bloody prescription fees for them both. Hepatitis B was not available on the NHS so I had to pay for it "privately", meaning that the NHS happily sells it. I had to pay the GP surgery a £15 charge and then the chemist £20. Also, the hep B vaccine is the only one that I needed to have multiple times. I need 3 before I go and then another one next year (and if I choose it, another one 5 years after that in order to be vaccinated for life). So imagine my chagrin at the thought of paying £15 twice more and paying £20 twice more. Well I paid £20 twice more to the chemist but the GP only demanded £10 the second time and the last time (today) they didn't ask me for anything. I chose not to make a fuss.

There were other odd happenings as well. For some reason the nurse that administered the 4 jabs also told me to get the Japanese encephalitis vaccine. Wha? Japanese encephalitis? I hadn't read about that anywhere! Before shopping around for such a vaccine I consulted some friends who'd been to Honduras what they got, with the vaccine in question not being one of them. I then scoured the web for medical information and travel advice. There was no mention of Japanese encephalitis affecting anywhere in South America, or the Western hemisphere for that matter. The nurse was obviously confused. So with some money saved I still fretted about finding anywhere offering rabies vaccines and what to do about the anti-malarial tablets? Turns out certain anti-malarials are available on the NHS but that still means paying £7.20. But here a turn of good fortune happened.

After picking up Nathan and Emma upon their return from SE Asia it was while driving home that Nathan said: "Oh I didn't use my malaria pills so you can have them." He was given 40 by his GP just in case he went into an area with a malaria risk (which he didn't). So the last one to fret about was the rabies vaccines, of which I needed 3. I managed to find a clinic relatively nearby (I wasn't prepared to go to London Victoria (yellow fever) again and for 3 more times!) and even went so far as getting the doctor to order more since they had no stock (well, that was just their policy, I wasn't at all pushy). Somehow not trusting them to call me back I kept making enquiries for status updates of a sort until I had the second hep B vaccine. The nurse this time wasn't the same nurse who did the 4 jabs (she had gone on holiday) and this nurse saved me a fortune! Having worked in the armed forces she has travelled to various places around the world, including South America. Upon hearing I was getting rabies vaccines she told me it would be a waste of money. I was advised by the other two nurses to get rabies vaccines since I'll be working on an outdoor nature reserve (so, animals). But the army nurse told me standard practice was to administer 4 injections to a rabies patient regardless of whether they had been vaccinated or not, and the vaccine(s) was only recommended to people who would be far away from cities with their sophisticated hospitals. Which I won't be. (Imagine how embarrassed I was when the doctor called me to say the vaccines had arrived.) Today I even consulted her about anti-malarials to be on the safe side (pointing out that Nathan only had 40, which meant I had too few should I follow recommendations of taking them 4 weeks after leaving the hazard zone) but she said mosquitos were only present when there was rain and they had no presence in the Winter months. I'm going to be in Bolivia in October (mostly) so while I'll be low-risk I've decided I'll take the pills while I'm there, as well as wear insect-repellent and if I couldn't spot a mosquito or I don't get bitten I'll just use them up and not bother buying more in Peru (which happens to be pretty developed).

I've decided that nurses in the armed forces are awesome! Makes me want to be one actually.

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