When Traveling, Pack Your Painkillers!

Patient Expert

There was an article in the New York Times recently about a couple away on a lovely vacation in Indonesia and the husband accidentally fractures his ankle. Not so lovely. Their cell phones turn out to be the most reliable tool they have. They make the decision not to have surgery in a foreign country and then have to figure out how to get him home.

It all sounded rather painful and unpleasant. His ankle fracture and subsequent pain reminded me that I still have 49 Percocet tablets in my cupboard.

Let me explain.

I had surgery in the early fall. As part of the post-op pain management plan they prescribed Percocet, 50 pills. The prescription reads: one or two, every three to four hours as needed, enough for days upon days upon days. Too many pills in my opinion, way too many.

I had taken one right after surgery in the recovery room for pain I didn't yet feel and one more when I got home. That evening, I had horrible withdrawal from all of the medication and certainly didn't want to take more narcotics for pain I wasn't having. Advil seemed to do the trick, so I put the Percocet away in the back of my closet. I had paid for them, and now there they sat.

I happened to be talking to a friend of the family a few weeks later, as retired surgeon. We were comparing joint surgeries and I remarked that I had a ton of narcotics in my closet and should I flush them down the toilet or what?

He said "No, they are invaluable when you travel. Keep them."

What huh?

Yes, if you get hurt and need pain killers, that is the standard medication. It could really help in an emergency. So don't throw them out, pack them with you when you travel.

I hadn't thought of that.

My standard foreign and domestic travel medicine pack includes the following all with the original prescription intact and a letter from my doctor:
Multiple epinephrine autoinjectors
Multiple rescue inhalers
Inhaled steroids
A broad spectrum antibiotic
A medic alert bracelet

Here's what the U.S. Department of State recommends:

A traveler going abroad with a preexisting medical problem should carry a letter from the attending physician, describing the medical condition and any prescription medications, including the generic names of prescribed drugs. Any medications being carried overseas should be left in their original containers and be clearly labeled. Travelers should check with the foreign embassy of the country they are visiting to make sure any required medications are not considered to be illegal narcotics. (A listing of foreign embassies and consulates in the U.S. is available on the Department of State's website at Foreign embassy and consulate contact information can also be found on the Country Specific Information for each country.)

If you have allergies, reactions to certain medications, foods, or insect bites, or other unique medical problems, consider wearing a "medical alert" bracelet. You may also wish to carry a letter from your physician explaining required treatment should you become ill.

Talk with your health care provider before taking any trip to ensure you have the emergency medication you need. But now I may be including these pain killers in my general pack, a lesson learned from this NYTimes couple.