Banged Up Abroad: Injured in Ilulissat

Well bloody hell, I’ve now had one travel experience that I won’t be in a rush to repeat.

Due to some unfortunate events on an organised dog sledding trip (dogs were boisterous, people were knocked, knees met a rock in a rather forceful manner) I ended up rather nastily injured.


My left knee was slightly bruised, but barely uncomfortable, but my right knee got seriously banged up. As I was knocked, I hit a big rock seriously hard, and my poor right knee copped the brunt of the force. It was so unbearably painful that the initial thought was that it was possibly a fractured patella, but thank god, there were no fractures or breaks – just some serious bruising and swelling – but the journey to finding this out was not exactly a simple one.

I am writing this post one week since this unfortunate event and let me tell you – this knee is not healing well! I showed it to a guy in Longyearbyen just to convince myself I wasn’t being a total wuss and he described it as ‘seriously proper fucked’, so I am most definitely not being a princess about the whole thing!

After the initial shock and pain – my biggest concern was that my beautiful 7-14mm lens had hit the rock too and was now pretty smashed beyond repair – at the time, I was a lot more upset about my lens than my knee!

I mean, sure, it hurt. But it was also very cold on this day (-15 degrees Celsius) and I think that the cold kinda acted to numb the pain a bit. I knew I had banged it up, but I was able to continue without too much discomfort until we got back into town. However, once I got into the warmth of a car, the pain went from mild to downright extreme.

My tour guide insisted that I go to the hospital to be checked out, but I was feeling stubborn, sad about my camera lens and didn’t want to go to hospital if it was a minor injury. I mean, why should I clog up an emergency department if it was just going to be a little bruise?

However, things quickly worsened. I stubbornly insisted on going back to my apartment to inspect the damage and see what I thought about it. By the time I had been inside the warmth for around 30 minutes I started having serious concerns. I could barely walk, I couldn’t lift my leg at all, my knee had become so bruised that it was already black and blue, and it had also become so swollen that it appeared around twice the size of my other knee.

I could stand on it and put weight on it without too much discomfort, but as soon as I went to bend it in any way, the pain was so strong that I couldn’t stop myself from groaning and crying. At this point, I was worried.

Though I am a health professional, I am only a midwife and not a nurse, so anything outside the realm of pregnancy and childbirth is most definitely not my forte. I have no experience with anything related to knee injuries and had no clue what to look for when assessing myself!

At this point, I still did not want to go to the hospital. I was genuinely worried that something may have been fractured or broken, and as stupid as it sounds, I wanted to live in ignorance for a little longer. If it was something serious, it would mean that my trip and my adventures would be cut short very early, and that I would have to go home and spend time on a couch and recovering – which is the absolute last thing I wanted.

After a few hours of living in pain and denial, Jannik – the owner of the apartment I was staying in – told me that he was taking me to the hospital and that was that. Off we went to Ilulissat hospital, and spending time there was such a bizarre experience.

In the hospital that I work in back in Australia, a significant portion of the women I care for are indigenous – coming from remote communities and often not speaking much (if any) English.

In the hospital in Ilulissat, people spoke Greenlandic or Danish – but very little (if any) English. It was kinda scary! I had no idea what people were saying or what was going on and for the first time, I really got a glimpse into what the women I care for may be experiencing when they come to a hospital in which nobody speaks the language.

After performing some tests and an overall assessment, the hospital managed to find someone who spoke extremely broken English, who could tell me the good news.

No breaks and no fractures!

I was instructed to avoid movement, prescribed pain meds and required to wear a special compression bandage.

I ended up spending two days in complete bedrest, which sucked. I had come to my favourite place in the world and instead of exploring, I was confined to a bed and wasted away hours watching about a million episodes of Breaking Bad!

However, by some sort of miracle, my last day in Ilulissat ended up being memorable for good reasons and not negative ones. Stay tuned!

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30-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

83 thoughts on “Banged Up Abroad: Injured in Ilulissat

  1. As someone currently trying to figure out the medical system in another country I can relate to the fear that comes with that type of experience. Thanks for sharing and love your blog.

      1. I’ve had everything under the sun including amebas this week but I’m on the up and up. I think it was the antibiotics that were more damaging then the actual illnesses.

  2. I rarely give advice, but today, you are lucky… 🙂 I had a similar injury (although I hit cement, not Greenlandic rocks). I ended up with a torn meniscus, that ultimately required surgery. My advice is to have a followup evaluation made by your Aussie doctor. The prognosis if you do have a meniscus injury is quite good considering your age and health! Get well fast Ellen!!

  3. Accidents and injuries are part of life. It can be so difficult to allow ourselves time off to rest and recover when we just want to get out and explore… but this is a lesson in self-care and prioritizing your own health.

    I have had to learn so much about this since I broke my wrist last month! No skiing, no climbing, no weightlifting?? It was a difficult adjustment but healing is so important. Wishing you a full recovery!

  4. You are currently my favorite travel writer. You continue to write on a consistent basis and the topics you write about are so relatable. Please keep writing and I hope you recover well. Knees are also a scary injury. I tore my ACL a few years ago. I’m glad you didn’t tear or fracture anything.

    1. Mark – can I just say thank you so much. Comments like these are a big part of what keeps me motivated to keep writing each week. I hope you continue to follow my travels and I hope that I can continue to keep you interested and engaged!

  5. Ouch! I’m so sorry to hear this, Ellen — it sounds really painful. 😑

    I agree with msgt3227’s comment: it would be a good idea to get your knee checked again when you get back to Australia. Even though there aren’t any breaks or fractures, knees are a complicated joint. I fell on my right knee five years ago – at the time I thought it was nothing to worry about, but now I wish I’d gone to the doctor sooner as it has left me with swelling, muscle wastage and patellar tracking disorder.

    So, yes, better to be safe than sorry and always follow the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) advice with joint injuries, which it sounds like the hospital got you to do. I hope you recover soon!

    1. Thanks Grace. I ended up going to a hospital in Vienna for reviewed and got a more formal diagnosis, luckily its fixable with physio and shouldn’t require any surgery – which is very very lucky!

  6. Ouch. I guess these things happen and ultimately you have been lucky. I love that you can learn about your own clients from the experience and that you had the great joy of watching probably the best TV drama ever made! 😄 Bryan Cranston…we thank you.

      1. Ah, now there is an interesting subjective discussion. I enjoyed the wire also but found the excessive use of bad language (which I suppose was accurate for the nature of the characters) and the feeling that it drifted away from a central story line at times to be a bit frustrating…but still good. 🙂

    1. I’ve seen the photos. She forbade me from posting them on facebook. It was really, really bad, and the other knee was rather awful, too.
      I kid you not, she’s very lucky it wasn’t a fracture based on the photos – think yellow/black/purple and the right knee twice the size of the left.

      No journalistic license, there; it was nasty.

      1. Yikes. Well all kidding aside, I really am hoping there’s nothing more serious than some bruising. I’ve learned the hard way that knees are tricky things. Hoping she has a speedy recovery

  7. Always good to end with a cliffhanger.
    Sorry about the camera lens, that a beautiful bit of glass to lose but good luck for the recovery. Sounds like your patients back home will benefit from your experience with the language barrier.

  8. Wow, so sorry to hear about your accident. It really sucks to get hurt/ill while traveling (been there, done that). This kind of accident reminds us how fragile we really are – you were lucky, but your life can change for good in seconds if you are unlucky.

    Sounds like you got good medical care, but agree that you definitely need a second opinion when you get home. Also, do you have medical and medical evacuation/repatriation insurance when you travel? I won’t leave home without it, and once needed it to get home from Switzerland with a broken wrist.

    1. I absolutely do travel with travel insurance, but regardless – sometimes actually getting the ball rolling on your cover can be quite difficult.

  9. So to hear about your knee, at least it was only one. Like you I think I would have been pretty hacked off if I broke my favourite bit of equipment. A lens can be replaced but your knee cap could have been real nasty indeed. 😡

  10. Sorry about the pain you experienced, but it made me and I’m sure others smile with your story about it. That’s got to be some consolation to you, even if it makes us guilty for our glee in reading your misadventures. I hope the lens can be salvaged, and I’m glad you are on the road to recovery.

    1. Hahaha don’t feel guilty! I pride myself on writing about all aspects of travel – the great adventures and the terrible ones too!

  11. So glad you were not hurt to badly. You should know better than to wait for medical attention with something like that. I blew a knee out and walked on it for months after. Just got worse, needed surgery but luckily it was orthroscoped and was walking on it within a few days. Still gives me problems. Take care of it and have a great time. Can not wait to hear the good news that you led us on with.

  12. I hope this note finds you healing well and on to more adventures! It’s never fun to be sick or injured so far from home, you have a lot of pluck and I know you’ll be just fine! Take good care…

    1. I ended up hobbling around on it while firmly strapped up and compressed for around 6 weeks, it possibly was a little bit more stress than I should’ve put on it, but I also think the regular exercise did it a bit of good too.

  13. Oh… sorry to hear about the injury, but glad to know you’re on the mend. It also makes for an illuminating detour from otherwise ‘normal’ travel adventures!
    I remember getting seriously ill, while traveling and staying (solo) at a sweet guesthouse on an island in the middle of Lake Baikal (Siberia), with a couple who didn’t speak a word of English. To top it off, it was my birthday; I spent it in bed, with the Russian guesthouse-keeper hauling up bowls of rice and thermoses of hot tea to my room throughout the day. I chalk it up to a memorable deviation 😉

    1. Hahaha, that is so lovely of the guesthouse-keeper to be doing that for you! And I bet it is a birthday that you’ll remember forever!

  14. Sorry to read of such a distressing event. With time, PT and TLC, you will be back on track. It is a positive indicator, that you mention being in Svalbard, almost in passing. It will surely be a good day, when you return to Ilulissat.

  15. “I wanted to live in ignorance for a little longer.”

    This sentence resounded with me quite strongly.. I think I’ve done the same thing before.

    I’m sorry about your lens, all the best for a speedy recovery.

    1. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss, and I was so scared that my knee would be broken that I just didn’t even want to know! Thanks for reading and commenting Mario.

  16. That’s always been a fear of mine traveling in a country with a language I’m not terribly familiar with. Getting in medical or legal trouble in a place like that could be a horrifying experience. Glad you were able to get fixed up and back to traveling though. I went to Portland, Oregon this past summer and my friend and I were about to go on a 4 mile hike. Before we even reached the trailhead, I fell down. I don’t even really know why, my ankle just gave out. I sat there on the ground for a minute, because it didn’t seem to hurt as much as it should as hard as I went down. I was worried I might have done some damage that didn’t sink in yet. I decided to go on, but every time we hit any kind of rough terrain, I was freaking out hoping I wouldn’t fall again. The place wasn’t exactly super close to help. I was glad I was able to finish the hike without much issue, but I did have to ice my ankle when I got back. Glad you’re doing better, can’t wait to hear more of the positive points of your travels!

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