If you happen to pass through the historic city of Khiva, Uzbekistan, give wide berth to the guy with the camel in the center of town. The camel’s name is Catherine, and taking a short ride on her last week is why I have a broken collarbone today. But my experience may save you some anguish if you know what to do if you’re injured when on the road.
It doesn’t matter if you’re visiting a relative a few hundred miles away or making, as I was, a television show in a Central Asian country half way around the world—getting sick or injured can get complicated quickly, and it’s a nightmare all travelers dread. During last week’s incident, I learned a couple of lessons I think are worth sharing.
Catherine the Camel is tended by a nice man in the Ichan Kala, or old fortress, of Khiva (pronounced “Heev-ah”). This walled city has been partially restored to the glory of centuries ago—300 families still live in Ichan Kala—and Catherine is the only camel in town, available so visitors can pose atop her for a quick picture.
My crew and I had been filming a show on Uzbekistan and the Silk Road for about 11 days when we came upon Catherine, and we decided it might be clever to doctorlose the show with me on the camel holding a silk carpet. My line was, “I’m headed home, laden with silk, spices, and loads of great High Defintion footage. Reporting from Uzbekistan, I’m Rudy Maxa.” And then I say, “goodbye” in Uzbek.
We arranged for the camel owner to lead Catherine by a rope while I rode sans saddle with my carpet and a traditional Uzbek hat. We did one take, and Catherine behaved nicely during the 20-yard walk. But as we prepared to do a re-take, Catherine bucked wildly, flinging me in the air before I crash-landed on the cobblestone street.
Two things happened at the hospital in the larger, nearby town of Urgench. I had two stitches to close up a cut on my head. And when an X-ray showed my collarbone was broken, the local doctor suggested surgery immediately. He said there were chips of bone that could sever an important artery if not removed.
Here are the two lessons I learned.
Lesson No.1: Get a second opinion, and have an exit strategy. I’m a member of MedjetAssist.com, a medical evacuation service that has doctors on call around-the-clock and that will take you by private jet to a hospital of your choice if you require hospitalization when you’re away from home. One of my crew called MedjetAssist, and even as the local doctor was suggesting surgery, the MedjetAssist doctor was calling a specialist in bone injuries. Within minutes, a US-based doctor advised me that most collarbones can heal themselves, and I should refuse surgery. And since I was headed home in three days, as long as my shoulder was in a sling, I’d be able to be X-rayed and receive treatment at home in a much more modern facility.
Lesson No. 2: Pay attention, something I didn’t do as well as I should have. Four days later, at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minn., I could not answer the examining physician’s question as to whether or not the needle used to put in my stitches came out of a sealed packet or not. In other words, was the equipment used to sew up my scalp sterilized or not?
The likelihood of my contracting a disease from a dirty needle was miniscule, I learned after meeting with an infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic. But that was a meeting I wouldn’t have had to take if I’d been able to tell my attending physician with certainty that the needle used days before was sterile.
It can be difficult to pay attention when you’re hurt. But if you can, do so. It’s easy to buy access to medical care (or evacuation, if necessary) through companies such as MedjetAssist.com. I’d recommend not leaving home without it.