Ending up in the Australia Emergency Room due to a potentially life threatening diving injury, decompression illness, a.k.a. “the bends,” was an extremely eye opening travel experience.
Up until this event, I believed that I was safe. I was a confident diver & had just completed my 60th dive. Decompression illness only happens to divers who aren’t diving safely & don’t know what they’re doing! So I thought.
I was very lucky & I knew that I would make a full recovery. Some people aren’t as fortunate &, despite a positive outcome, I was shaken.
This experience has me thinking. How exactly do I determine if something is worth taking a risk for?
In travel & in life, we’re always making choices & with every decision, whether consciously or not, we are assessing the risks of every outcome.
In medicine, we weigh the risk vs. benefits of different treatment options. In the same manner, our brain is constantly calculating the risks vs. benefits of various scenarios. Our brain is amazing because it does this automatically! Imagine–how empowering it might be if we were to realize this incredible, built-in function of our brain &, by adding intentionality, utilize this process to our advantage.
Yesterday, I had a long conversation over beer with my physician friend, Ryan. He’s a very close friend who I have known for several years. As a doctor, Ryan is extremely analytical in his decision making process. This is a trait that he uses not only in his career, but also in making life decisions. I value our friendship because he challenges me approach each important decision with a “risk vs. benefits” analysis.
Channeling the wisdom of my friend, I have outlined 3 questions I stop & ask myself before undertaking any activity– whether it’s SCUBA diving, skydiving, solo travelling, or travelling down the Amazon in a cargo ship.
Assessing Risk As A Solo Traveler, Tip #1: Physical Risks
What are the potential physical risks?
Back in my pharmacy school days, a wise pharmacist once said to me, “you will do great as a pharmacist as long as you always remember the importance of your job & never let yourself get too comfortable.” This piece of advice is as true in medicine as it is in diving– or any potentially risky activity.
I let myself get too comfortable in diving. I ignored the physical risks. I ignored my body, which was exhausted. I went beyond my physical limits by pushing myself to make all of the dives, when my body was trying to signal me to rest. Sure, I dove within my limits. I made safe ascents & had the exact same dive profile as my dive buddy, who did not end up with the bends.
We can’t prepare for every situation, but we can listen to our bodies & stop when something doesn’t feel quite right. We can be aware of our own physical limitations & stay within them.
Assessing Risk As A Solo Traveler, Tip #2: Financial Risks
What are the financial risks & will insurance cover the cost?
The question of physical risks logically leads to the question of potential cost of injuries. Of course, it is impossible to predict every bad outcome but there is a way to mitigate cost.
TRAVEL INSURANCE. Yes, I had travel insurance. I did not read the fine print. It did not cover the cost of diving injuries, which I didn’t discover until it was too late. Before any activity, opt for travel insurance & read the fine print. I learned this lesson the hard way.
Assessing Risk As A Solo Traveler, Tip #3: Your Relationships
How does this decision affect other people, including friends and family?
How easily could a family member be by my side if necessary? How much worry & grief it might create? Might there be a potential financial burden on others? Do I have any connections in the place I’m staying to people who might come to my aid in an emergency? These are all questions to consider as a solo traveler.
As it turned out in my Australian diving adventure, I was capable of handling the situation on my own. However, these are thoughts I had never really entertained until I was laying wide awake in the emergency room at 2am.
In a Nutshell…
Depending on the activity, there are many questions a person might want to consider before any undertaking. These are only a few examples that in hindsight might have prevented the overnight emergency room, 4 days of treatment in a decompression chamber, the huge financial burden & a lot of headache & worry.
I view the experience as a valuable learning opportunity because all is well that ends well. There is no use in fixating on a past I can’t change. Fellow solo traveler, let my experience be a reminder that it is important to intentionally pause & weigh the risks before jumping into any glamorous opportunity.
Those who know me know that I am not one who lets fear hold me back from a new adventure. There’s a fine line between weighing risks to guide a decision & living life in fear of what might be.
Stay tuned for next week’s post about how I overcome fear while attempting to keep myself safe.