How to Handle the Fear of a Health Emergency While Traveling as an Older Woman


This is the scenario no one wants to imagine. I went on an Alaskan cruise, healthy and fit, and ended up leaving the ship in an ambulance for the emergency room of the local Ketchikan hospital.

I lived through what we might consider a nightmare. Yet, even though I feel vulnerable after this experience, I look forward to my next trip, and the one after that. Hopefully, my story and the insights I gained will help you deal with the fear of travel regarding health issues.

What I Never Wanted to Happen

I’ve lived an active, healthy life – playing tennis, swimming, hiking. But when I turned 60, I was diagnosed with heart arrhythmia, i.e., irregular heart beat, which is a common and medically controllable condition. Certainly nothing to stay home about.

When I left on my adventure cruise, I felt terrific. I hiked, I kayaked, and I enjoyed every minute. When we pulled into port on our last night, I felt really bad. Bad enough for my traveling companion to go to the captain’s bridge for help.

I knew there was no doctor on the small ship, but there was a designated medical officer who came to evaluate me. He took my pulse and asked me questions. He suggested I go to the emergency room.

“I Don’t Want to Bother Anyone”

I am the typical woman who doesn’t want to make a fuss, who doesn’t want people to be put out. We women do that, don’t we? And I couldn’t believe I was going to be the 60-something who leaves a cruise in an ambulance. I wavered. “I don’t know what I should do,” I said, not wanting to end my trip this way.

The medical officer said, “If you were my sister, I’d want you to go to the hospital.” That did it. I thought of my brother, and said, “Of course.”

The Kindness of Strangers

I learned that when you are in a crisis situation and ask for help, people are exceedingly kind. I was whisked to the hospital and received prompt, excellent care. How could I have ever thought I would try to make it home and then see the doctor?

I told my traveling companion that I was well taken care of in the hospital and that she should continue on to our hotel and enjoy her stay. We would either fly home together or separately, but that would be a decision we would make later.

Turn Lemons into Lemonade

At first, I was in a tizzy about missing my flights and all that would entail. But after I called my travel insurance company, and they put my mind at ease, I had no choice but to relax; there was nothing I could do.

The most important thing was my health. So I missed my flight, and I paid a nonrefundable hotel. All this would be recoverable afterwards.

I didn’t get to walk down the streets of Ketchikan, but I did enjoy the beautiful Ketchikan harbor from the picture window of my hospital room with its mountains, planes landing and ships passing by.

I discovered the real Alaska by talking to every person who came into my room: nurse, doctor, technician, cleaning staff, nutritionist, administration, social worker. I learned more about the lore and lure of Alaska – and their extraordinary lives – than I would have poking around a gift shop.

Be Healthy Before You Go

If you’re not feeling well before a trip or if a doctor tells you, “Don’t go on this trip,” you should definitely consider not going. However, as we know, many doctors err on the side of over-extreme caution, so you need to make the final decision on your own. You know your body best.

Take Your Paperwork

One of the things that helped me get excellent care was that I had copies of all my prescriptions and my medical diagnosis. The Internet and social media have made health care truly international. My doctor was contacted immediately to discuss what happened to me and the proposed treatment.

Buy Good Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is something we never want to pay for and hope we never have to use. But it can make all the difference when you are hospitalized and must change flights and hotel reservations. You can recover the entire cost of a trip, and even medical expenses depending on the travel insurance you buy.

One of the first things I did in the hospital was to call my travel insurance company. They kindly and efficiently instructed me how to file a claim and get the documentation I needed for reimbursement of my expenses. They would even help me to find new flights and hotels. I was impressed.

Feeling Vulnerable

Do I feel vulnerable? Yes, I do. It could happen again. But I realize I can handle it, and I’m not going to stop traveling unless I’m not well before a trip.

I do feel concerned for my travel partners, however. I don’t want to slow them down, scare them or make them pause when they decide to travel with me. So, I’m going to think about this issue and get back to you in a future article.

Have you ever experienced a health emergency whilst traveling? How did you handle it? Does fear of a health emergency stop you from traveling? Let’s learn from each other in the comments box below!

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