Brazil Pt. 1: This Is What Happens When You Have a Medical Emergency in Rio de Janeiro

Of the two months Logan and I spent backpacking around South America, we spent half in Brazil. While our first month was an epic backpacking journey through Lima, rural Peru, Chile and Buenos Aires, our second month was firmly rooted in Rio de Janeiro. We did venture outside of the city for a few days (more on our trip to Buzios in a different post), but for the most part, we enjoyed discovering what it was like to “live” in Rio. We got an apartment in Ipanema, Logan took a lot of jiu jistu classes, and I started the month with the expectation of spending my time hanging out at the beach, drinking coconut water and sipping on frequent occasional cocktails.

Unfortunately, I actually spent at least a fourth of my time in Brazil holed up in our apartment, barely able to walk. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let me tell you about our apartment.

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Our Airbnb in Ipanema, a popular neighborhood for travelers and expats, was sunny and modern, located above a launderia in the heart of the action. We were about a 10-minute walk from Ipanema beach and a stone’s throw from a dozen restaurants. A charming newspaper and food stand was stationed below our Juliette balcony, weathering a constant influx of Brazil nuts that dropped from the gigantic tree next to our window. We were also a five-minute walk from Lagoa, an upscale neighborhood named for its large lake, which is surrounded by green space, walking paths, and food and drink vendors.


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When we weren’t out exploring Rio, we spent most of our time trying Brazilian craft beers and local coffees while sitting on this little balcony watching passersby. It was a bright and sunny time… I also happened to read The Power of Now, a book which ultimately changed my life for the better, making our time in Rio de Janeiro one that I look back on with rose-colored glasses.

At the time, though, it wasn’t quite so rosy. Our first few days in Rio were great. We get settled in, explored some restaurants, did some people-watching (it’s not just a stereotype that Brazilians are beautiful people, inside and out), and sampled some local brews. When things went downhill was when we decided to go swimming at Ipanema beach.


Let me back up a bit: Ever since Buenos Aires, I’d been dealing with some kind of allergic reaction that left me with itchy hives all over my body. I was coping, but on one spot just above my right ankle, I apparently scratched the scab clean off of my skin, leaving an open wound. When Logan wanted to take a dip in the ocean, I was apprehensive, having read warnings about water quality. I only went in for a few seconds, figuring that I’d be okay. But by later that afternoon, I started noticing sharp pains in my ankle… Pains that make it difficult to walk.

The next morning, I woke up to greatly reduced mobility in my right leg. Stepping on my right foot caused pain to shoot up and down my limbs, though I couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem. It wasn’t until that evening that the area I’d scratched on my right leg began to look like it might be infected. I put some antibiotic ointment on it, covered it with a Band Aid, and tried to suck it up and deal.

By the third day, though, it had become apparent that it was a probably a nasty staph infection. Logan had gotten staph before on a trip to Thailand — it’s common to get staph from that mat in marital arts classes. After a Skype chat with my mom (who is a nurse), I was finally convinced that I had to go to a doctor.

Brazil has public hospitals, but as a tourist, I knew I needed to go somewhere where English was spoken. I’m sure Brazil’s public hospitals are just fine, but I felt a lot more comfortable going to a travel clinic. So, I went in to Clínica Galdino Campos.

I waited for about two hours to be seen… The first of what would be MANY hours of waiting over the course of the next two weeks. On my first day at the clinic, I was given an IV with antibiotics, as well as given an oral antibiotic to take for the next week. A few days later, when my staph didn’t look like it was improving, I went back to the clinic again, and made an appointment to come in a third time to have the infection lanced (that is, cut out).

Deciding to have the staph removed was the best decision I ever made. I was afraid it would be painful, but the doctor (who was, conveniently, about 30 years old, hot, and a fluent English speaker) made the experience pleasant by numbing my leg completely and joking with me the entire time. After the staph was removed, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I still had to wear bandages around my right leg, and I had to take a strong antibiotic for the following week, but it seemed like I was in the clear.

All in all, the entire thing cost about $1,000 USD, and a week and a half of my time.

The main takeaway I have from this situation is that YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE. Thanks to the travel insurance I had purchased through Expedia, my costs were fully reimbursed. I have nothing but positive things to say about Aon Affinity, the company Expedia uses to handle the medical claims. They refunded the money I had spent, no questions asked.

Despite these obvious setbacks, we did find time to do some fun things during our first few weeks in Rio. We arrived in Rio on February 1, and Carnival was coming up at the end of the month (thankfully, I didn’t have staph during Carnival!). The city heats up in the weeks leading up to Carnival, and there are lots of pre-parties around. And by pre-parties, I mean random gatherings of people in costumes on street corners. There’s nothing unusual about people drinking in the streets when you’re in Rio de Janeiro!


The second half of our time in Brazil was a lot more exciting. In addition to partying it up at Carnival, we also explored other neighborhoods, like Santa Teresa, Copacabana and Leblon, and checked out Jardim Botanica. We even took a little road trip about two hours outside of Rio to a beach town called Buzios, where I had — wait for it — another medical semi-emergency. More on that soon!

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