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This is my story of what happened when I got injured as a working nomad, including 10 key takeaways for everyone.
Let me preface that I’m not a doctor or healthcare professional. This is only my story and learnings of what I did after fracturing my arm in Montenegro.
Well, it finally happened to me…I got injured as a digital nomad.
I’ve deep dived in Cozumel, rock climbed in Colorado, hiked the snow covered mountains of Georgia and rappelled into a Croatian cave. Luckily, I’ve escaped injury each time and had the time of my life!
This day though I wasn’t so lucky.
I woke up on April 3 full of excitement for the new community I was co-living with! I was partaking in a 2-month co-living, network state experiment called Zuzalu in Montenegro. Zuzalu is the brainchild of Vitalik Buterin, and brought together core members of the crypto, web3, longevity and network state communities.
I consider myself to be an active and healthy person but Zuzalu opened my eyes to additional ways I could enrich my life, one being cold plunging.
I began cold plunging in the Adriatic Sea each morning with my fellow community members. I learned about cold plunge benefits such as longevity and boosting your mood! I cold plunged a few times before my accident, so thankfully it didn’t happen on my first attempt.
This brings us to April 3. How did I get hurt and what did I do next?
On April 3, I woke up early and started my day with an 8am cold plunge with my husband and other community members. I did the 5 minute walk from my apartment to the Adriatic Sea. It was starting to warm up for the summer, so I wore my hiking boots as easy shoes to slip on and off, a wet shirt, shorts and bathing suit. At 8:05am we went into the water. When you first go into the water, it’s cold, but after jumping in and swimming your body begins to feel good! This was the case for me. I stayed in for about 10-15 minutes. This was in April and the water was already starting to warm up! It was still cold but had begun warming up for the summer months.
After 10-15 minutes, I got out of the water. I felt great! I put my wet shirt back on to block the wind and took a group photo with the other cold plungers to mark our plunge for the day!
I then put on my shoes but didn’t tie them since I was wet and had a 5 minute walk home. They were hiking boots so I just stuffed the shoelaces inside of my shoes for my walk home (pro tip: always tie your shoes!).
After I said my goodbyes to the group, I then started making my way home for a shower and dry clothes. From the beach to my apartment was a set of stone steps. I started walking up the stone steps and this is where it happened!
The shoelace from one shoe connected to the hook of the other shoe and sent me falling up the stone steps! I fell harder than I have ever fallen before and landed on my left arm. A fellow cold plunger saw it happen and said it looked very painful. It was also very embarrassing. Everyone looked at me and the adrenaline kicked in! I said I was fine and played it off. I then walked up the steps fast and after 1 minute of walking home with my husband I had to sit down.
The fall took my breath away. The next 4 minutes of walking home were agonizing. After I got home, I sat down catching my breath. After I calmed down I took a shower and put on a large sweatshirt (pro tip: don’t put on hard to get off clothes if you’ve hurt yourself…). I didn’t realize how bad the damage was at this point. I then went to breakfast and carried on with my day like nothing happened.
As the day progressed though, my arm began hurting more and more. I was hoping the pain would just go away but it didn’t. Around 5pm, I went home and tried taking off my sweatshirt but my arm couldn’t bend and hurt tremendously. Once I got my sweatshirt off and looked at my arm, I thought it looked fine until I showed it to my husband. I couldn’t see the back of my arm and that had become extremely discolored and large. We then knew I had to see a doctor.
I had just changed my health insurance plan to one that works both within the USA and globally, it’s called GeoBlue Xplorer Premier. I knew I was insured which was good. I previously traveled with a different health insurance for nomads called Safety Wing.
Getting injured in a place that’s not your home is challenging. I was in Montenegro with a hurt arm and didn’t speak the language. Luckily, the resort I was staying in was incredibly helpful! I went to the front desk and they had a doctor on call who could come see me. The doctor met me that night and advised me to go get an X-ray and gave me the name of a place to visit. He sprayed a pain reliever on my arm and wrapped it for me.
The next day I went to get an X-ray. The closest X-ray was a 45 minute drive away and I used a taxi to get there. Luckily, I was traveling with my husband and he could accompany me. If you get injured, I recommend bringing a friend or family member with you.
The X-ray was very efficient and affordable. It cost $50 and the technician recommended items for me to buy at the pharmacy next door. I was in and out of the X-ray and pharmacy within 30 minutes. After my appointment, the technician sent my X-rays to the capital Podgorica to be reviewed and provide me with a diagnosis through email.
Later that day, I received the results that my arm was fractured.
Now I had to find an orthopedic surgeon. I worked with the hotel staff again to find an orthopedist. They were amazing and called on my behalf different hospitals and doctors to set up an appointment. I was able to get one two days later on April 6.
The orthopedic doctor was 20 minutes away and in Kotor. My husband and I decided to rent a car and drive ourselves for more flexibility. My appointment cost $230 and lasted about 15 minutes. The doctor had looked at my X-ray’s ahead of time and knew it was fractured. He then examined my arm and told me I had to wrap it twice a day with half alcohol and half water, take ibuprofen and wear a sling for 10 days. I also had to do hand exercises.
After that appointment, I did follow-up telehealth appointments with my healthcare provider and a physical therapist who provided me with exercises to do.
If you find yourself injured while living the digital nomad lifestyle, I’m sorry this has happened to you and I hope you get better as soon as possible!
Here are my 10 key takeaways for both before and after injury:
- Get help!
- You know your body best. If you’ve injured yourself, seek treatment. Don’t wait for it to get worse. My husband encouraged me to seek treatment right away and I’m thankful I did.
- Travel with health insurance.
- Find a travel health insurance that works for you. I started nomading with Safety Wing but switched to GeoBlue Xplorer Premier this year. I was able to submit my healthcare receipts to GeoBlue through their online portal for coverage.
- Ask locals for help.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your host or contacts for help. Each person I asked for help along my journey was more than willing to assist me! One even said that she’s happy to help because she doesn’t know when she’ll need the help in the future.
- Have a friend assist you.
- Have a friend accompany you with getting the care you need and help in your recovery. I had my husband accompany me. I was thankful I had him to provide emotional support and join me at each appointment. It can be scary injuring yourself and navigating an unfamiliar healthcare system. Having an ally by your side is hugely beneficial. If you’re a solo nomad or traveler, try finding someone through your networks or accommodation who could assist you.
- Have a working cell phone with internet access.
- I recommend having a local SIM card or using an eSIM when you travel. This is incredibly valuable to have if you’ve injured yourself and are seeking care.
- Download the local language on Google Translate.
- The Google Translate app is one of the most used apps on my phone! I love to talk and Google Translate allows me to talk anywhere I go. I try to learn key words and phrases when I travel but sometimes you may need a little extra help! Having the local language downloaded to your phone when you get injured could help you communicate while getting the care you need. I communicated with taxi drivers, admin assistants, pharmacists and doctors when I fractured my arm through Google Translate.
- Download the local Google Maps.
- Each time I travel to a new destination, I download the local Google Maps. Sometimes addresses you were given don’t align with Google Maps directions and can take some investigative work to find them. This happened to me when I went to get my X-rays. The address I was given and visual descriptions didn’t line up. I had to communicate with the taxi driver through Google Translate and use Google Maps to find the correct place we had to be.
- Rest and recover.
- I had to rest for 6 weeks. I didn’t realize how tired I would be after my injury. My body needed to strictly rest for a few days after. I also researched what food to eat to aid the healing process and obeyed my doctor’s orders. I couldn’t scuba dive for 6 weeks but could begin physical therapy after 2 weeks.
- Utilize Telehealth.
- Telemedicine has become my best friend! If I have any healthcare needs, I set up a telehealth appointment with GeoBlue and speak to a doctor within 5 minutes, either on the phone or by video call. This is included in my plan at no extra cost to me. If you don’t have telehealth on your plan, I recommend checking out Doctor7. This isn’t sponsored but I know the founders and also spoke with them on next steps. For $9.99 a month, you get unlimited medical care, you can learn more here.
- Wear the correct clothing.
- Before you find yourself injured, I recommend wearing the correct attire for any activity you partake in. I wrote a blog post about the types of shoes I travel with as a digital nomad. If I was wearing sandals and not hiking boots to go cold plunging, I don’t think I would have fallen and fractured my arm at the end. I fell because of a user error, the shoe lace of one hiking boot connected to the hook of the other hiking boot. This would not have happened with my Birkenstock sandals. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way and will no longer skip steps as a digital nomad.
I hope my story and learnings can help you on your journey as a nomad. After a few weeks, I went back to cold plunging and still love it! I didn’t let my fractured arm hold me back from living the life I’m creating for myself.
Let me know in the comments if you have questions or if there’s additional resources I should share if you find yourself injured as a digital nomad. As always, happy traveling, I’m rooting for you!