Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Travel Clinic

Last week Wednesday I went to the University Travel Clinic, an office whose existence offered me a mix of ease and discomfort: ease because there were experts who could tell me exactly what shots I needed, and discomfort because at the clinic, I knew I'd be getting shots.

I hate shots.

Previous to finding out about the travel clinic, I read guidebooks and surfed online to try to divine the right combination of immunizations. My independent searches left me in muddled confusion. Every book, every website and every chat room had a different recommendation. So I was very glad to have a couple of experts who asked me specific questions about where I was going to be, when I would be there and how long I'd be staying. All three of these variables, I learned, affect the immunizations necessary.

In addition to helping me select the right immunizations for my trip, the people at the travel clinic offered a consultation wherein we discussed more broadly how to safeguard my health. For instance, I am told never to eat anything from a street vendor, "not even a tidbit." They also gave me a 34 page booklet with rather comprehensive safety information which I am fondly calling The Book of Dread. The Book of Dread accounts for an extensive array of risks to health and safety in India and offers tips on how to avoid them. Read too closely, The Book of Dread could motivate one to never leave her house, let alone venture off to India. So for now, I am keeping it at arm's length, even if those arms are full up with tiny punctures from multiple vaccinations.

For people pondering international travel of their own, I have to say the shots themselves are a cinch. Only the Japanese Encephalitis immunization left my arm aching. But this is such an idiosyncratic experience. Just like your needs for vaccination are heavily dependent on your individual plans, your reactions to these miraculous meds depend on your individual makeup. I can't tell you what shots you'll need or how you'll react. That's why I felt fortunate to live near a large university with a clinic that specializes in this kind of thing. Still, a quick Google search revealed that there are travel clinics all over the United States. So if you're going to spend any length of time overseas in an environment significantly different than your own, I highly recommend picking up your own Book of Dread and getting a consultation at the travel clinic nearest you.

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