When Rebekah Deschner decided on a two-month trip to Bali earlier this year, what she had in mind was a little rest and rehabilitation. It was also a chance to realize a long-held dream of starting a health centre in the Indonesian country.
But what she says she got instead was a near-death experience.
“I went to Bali to get nice, cheap $10 massages, to swim and rehab, eat fresh fruit and fresh fish and get better,” says the former Williams Lake resident.
In the month prior to becoming ill, Deschner was connecting with the local community in which she was living and sharing meals and cultural experiences with locals.
She says diarrhea was the first sign that something wasn’t right. Chest pain followed, along with muscle spasms and profuse sweating. It escalated to trouble breathing, which was when she, with the help of an Australian contact, was admitted to an International hospital located in the island’s largest city.
“My plan was to stay there for just a day or two,” she says. She thought an injection or a pill would improve her health, but after two days she became worse and experienced the challenge of making calls to her insurance company as the hospital staff spoke little English.
“They don’t speak English very well so I didn’t know what was going on,” she says.
Without a diagnosis and with her condition worsening daily Deschner says the treatment was antibiotics.
She wanted to be discharged from the hospital to access care in Singapore — she had booked a flight to that country prior to becoming ill to complete some business — but she says staff were reluctant to discharge her. After being in the hospital for 11 days, an Australian relief nurse — sent to the hospital by a Bali contact Deschner had made earlier in her stay and who assists travellers in foreign countries navigate the health-care system — helped to discharge her. At that point, she boarded a plane for Singapore alone and was still gravely ill but had to play the part of a healthy tourist as Deschner was told she might not be admitted to the country if officials knew the state of her health. She made it to the hospital where she was placed in intensive care and told she needed surgery to treat an abscess that had migrated from her waist to her shoulder.
“I had a kidney infection on top of that and skin infections so they quarantined me until they got that rectified and then started talking about surgery with me,” she says, adding she was later told one of her lungs had collapsed. That was rectified through surgery but she says doctors were still at a loss to explain the blood that seeped from her nose before and after surgery and her constant sweating. She remained for surgery and recovery in Singapore, eventually returning to Canada April 17.
“I’m still getting sweats and funny things happening. They don’t know what caused it,” Deschner says, adding she still experiences bouts of extreme fatigue, fluid retention and suffers from an iron deficiency.
Deschner has completed a battery of tests in Canada to determine the cause of her illness but it remains a mystery.
Deschner says she won’t return to Bali and that her dream of operating a health centre in that country has died.
“It was scary being in a foreign country. I didn’t know if I would see my family again,” she says, adding, “I learned never to give up, trust your intuition and be resourceful and do whatever it takes to take care of yourself.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada advises that Canadians travelling abroad can access help from the nearest Canadian government office. The office supplies names of local medical providers and facilities; will visit travellers in the hospital and provide basic translation; assist in arranging for medical evacuation if treatment is not available locally (either paid for by travel insurance or the traveller); help with travel health insurance issues; contact next of kind if travellers have an accident or are hospitalized or in the event of their death; provide advice about burying a Canadian abroad or repatriating the remains to Canada; assisting obtaining financial help from family and friends and make alternative travel arrangements including obtaining visas and other travel documents.