Travel Cures All Ills – How Sri Lanka Opened My Mind to Medical Tourism
Written by Jaillan Yehia
I remember way back when the phrase medical tourism was first bandied about in the UK.
To my mind it usually referred to people travelling to obscure Eastern European countries to have things like costly dental work and minor cosmetic procedures carried out at a fraction of the price that the same treatment would cost if done privately in the UK.
Enjoying high standards at cheap prices due to economic and currency factors which work in our favour is a basic benefit of all travel (think cheap wine and pizza in Italy, or $10 massages in Thailand), so it seems like a good idea in principle to extend that to the big once-in-a-lifetime expenses too.
But let’s face it, the idea of putting your health in the hands of doctors whose first language isn’t English and potentially being in pain in a strange land, perhaps attended to by brusque staff or risking cultural misunderstandings, isn’t appealing to the vast majority of Brits.
Fast forward a few years and I started hearing a lot more first-hand stories and reading more positive articles and about people travelling, often to warmer climates, to have everything from tummy tucks to open-heart surgery carried out abroad – often by doctors who may have trained in the US or UK before moving back to their home countries to work in private practices.
It seems like a way for travellers to get the best of both worlds; a trusted doctor who knocks out nose jobs for peanuts, plus a nice holiday relaxing on a beach after the treatment – surely better than convalescing in a grim hospital back in grey Blighty.
Anyone who has seen Michael Moore’s excellent documentary about healthcare around the world will remember that as well as Cuba being a great holiday destination, the country has an amazing health care system that puts the US to shame. Watching Sicko makes you question why we have such a preconceived notion of ‘Western’ countries leading the world when it comes to wellness and underlines the fact that our snobbery about the development level of other countries can be misinformed at best.
All this certainly made the idea of tackling my own health concerns overseas far more acceptable and enticing in principle but until very recently I didn’t give the topic any real thought.
But looking back, my lifestyle was conspiring to make me an obvious candidate for medical tourism since birth: I’ve travelled a lot, was born to parents from 2 different countries (England and Egypt) and also lived overseas for a spell – so I’m used to putting myself in the hands of people in other countries and always have been.
I’m also happy doing a lot of the day to day bodily upkeep that most people reserve for before and after their hols, while I’m away.
I find I have more time when I’m abroad, and prices are often lower, so I’ve had my hair dyed in Cambodia, experienced colonics in Canada, and tried everything from facials and pedicures to massages and Turkish baths all over the world. I’ve even done a week-long juice retreat in Portugal. In total I’ve probably been to spas in over 30 different countries and counting.
I figure the trifecta that unknowingly set me up for combining holidays with health has been building for years, and is as follows:
I already appreciate what each country does especially well. I know which locations offer value for money, and finally and most importantly, I’ve already learned to entrust people whose first language may not be English with my body, so far with positive results.
Where Does Sri Lanka Fit In?
After suffering persistent whiplash symptoms for a year after a car accident with no sign of any relief, I knew I needed to tackle my various aches and pains once and for all.
I found yoga and stretching helped a lot, but I struggled to find time in my day to day life for the endless exercises prescribed by my various physiotherapists and I was constantly being told that my muscles were tense. My recovery was 1 step forward, 1 step back, and often more like 1 step to the side, or in some random direction.
I started to come up with the idea of taking a long holiday in Sri Lanka and spending some time on myself whilst there and relaxing body and mind simultaneously.
Having been to Sri Lanka on holiday before I knew enough to be comfortable going there, but not so much that I wasn’t excited to explore the natural wonders of Sri Lanka some more. You can read a bit more about my decision-making process to spend a month in Sri Lanka if this sounds interesting to you.
It was almost by accident that I also discovered that Sri Lanka has its own ancient medicinal system, called Ayurveda, and it dawned on me that a lot of the things I was doing anyway – from yoga and healthy eating to aromatherapy – is all part of this system.
China, Japan, Sri Lanka and India all use this holistic healing system which is aimed at prevention as well as cure – and general mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.
Put simply it means if you have a headache, instead of taking an ibuprofen to mask the symptoms, you try to find the root cause of this headache and treat that. Music to the ears of a previously healthy person who has suffered an accident and been given a huge pile of pills by their GP and told to go away.
I’ll be writing more in depth accounts of all the Ayurvedic treatments I tried in Sri Lanka in other posts, but what I can say here without a shadow of a doubt is that they worked for me.
After herbal medicine, massages and acupuncture (none of which I would have particularly believed in before) I was able to lie flat on my back comfortably for the first time in a year and able to turn my neck fully from side to side too. I also felt better than I’d felt in ages, and I had an amazing holiday into the bargain.
So what my recent trip to Sri Lanka has done is completely open my mind to the idea not only of seeking out the same Western medicine available back home in other, cheaper, warmer or more service-oriented countries, but also to the idea of finding alternative cures for any problem overseas.
I’ve always believed that travel is the cure for almost anything, but now I am taking that philosophy quite literally.
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