Foreign travelers worry that America’s fierce advocacy of the free market includes opposition to government meddling in the water supply. I regularly assure them that all American tap water is drinkable.
No one believes that Taco Bell or McDonald’s sell healthy food, but foreigners worry that these exotic, colorful substances are toxic. We Americans are warned about eating in nations with poor sanitation; about one in three American tourists to these areas get sick. If we’re careful, our sickness rate drops to… Actually, it doesn’t drop. No one knows how to prevent traveler’s diarrhea. The Swiss get sick when they come to the US.
Americans accept air conditioning with even more enthusiasm than personal firearms, but most of the world has never caught on. They tolerate it as an odd American custom but believe that air from a machine is unhealthy whether it’s automobile exhaust or a box in a window. When someone falls ill, they turn off the air conditioning. I wear a suit, so visiting sick foreign tourists during the summer can be an uncomfortable experience.
Travelers blame the airline for any illness that occurs within a week of flying. This is not so for aches and pains and unlikely for an upset stomach but true for respiratory infections.
Vacations are stressful, particularly if children are involved. They miss their friends; they hate the food; they prefer watching TV to sight-seeing; they refuse to adjust their sleeping hours. It turns out that stress makes everything worse, but it doesn’t cause anything, so there’s no reason for the parents to get sick. When they do, it’s a respiratory infection, usually the children’s fault.
In his regular column “The Life of a Hotel Doctor”, Mike Oppenheim shares remarkable stories around visiting hotel guests as a doctor. When he began as a hotel doctor during the 1980s, only luxury hotels had a “house doctor,” usually a local practitioner who did it as a sideline. Nowadays, in a large city even the lowliest motel receives blandishments from a dozen individuals plus several agencies that send moonlighting doctors if they can find one.