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Emergency Medical Treatment in Foreign Lands



Hey, accidents happen: with me, more likely than not. Whether it’s a fall in the shower or an unexpected illness, if you need medical attention it can get to be a sticky situation in some countries.

Stuff Happens
Yes, stuff happens. I admit, I have slipped in the shower in Mexico and cracked my head open. Yes, I was drinking but what does that have to do with anything? I also once had a major ear infection in Jamaica. Nobody asked if I was drinking that time but if they had, the answer would be yes as well. The point is, accidents and illnesses can happen at any time, whether you’re drinking or practicing any other unsafe behavior like arguing with big, beefy souvenir vendors, jet skiing at top speed, riding mopeds through strange towns or just walking down a street with no sidewalks, streetlights or police after midnight. Yes I have practiced all of the above behavior, but sometimes circumstances, like my ear infection, are unavoidable, unpredictable and just plain unfun (is that a word?).

Sometimes You Pay, Sometimes Not
When I cracked my head open, the hotel sent a medic to my room who fixed me right up no charge. There were no stitches involved, though I’m told I would have gotten quite a few staples if this was in the States. Their main concern was I sign a release which I did. Did I mention I had been drinking? With the ear infection in Jamaica, the onsite-clinic was not capable of helping on their own so a doctor was called in at my expense. My credit card took a hit for his visit and the meds he brought, but he did help my condition and saved my vacation. The meds were immediately thrown out by my family physician upon my return because they were not only banned in the States, but not particularly ineffective for my injury. My normal family health insurance did reimburse me for the doctor bill but not the meds for the same reasons my doctor mentioned.

Cash is King
Some clinics, hospitals or doctor’s offices require cash, no matter what. I have heard of several instances in Mexico where treatment was refused until cash was produced. I’m not talking just a hundred bucks either. A fellow guest celebrating his honeymoon on the Mayan Riviera had foolishly rented mopeds for his wife and himself during a day trip to Cozumel Island. He was foolish for three reasons. One: traffic is scary dangerous down there, two: his wife had never been on a moped in her life and three: he didn’t bring enough cash for the obvious wreck that was about to occur. Not only did she wreck spectacularly before even traveling one block but there was significant damage to her face and arms, their ATM balance and the marriage as well. They returned to the resort with her sore, his wallet empty and the honeymoon turned sour.

Some personal health policies cover you while overseas, some not. You should check with your provider. If you are covered make sure you have the necessary documentation on you. Just because you are covered does not mean they will accept your coverage wherever you are. Heck, sometimes I have to fight right here in the states with my provider over who pays. Most of the time you must cover the expenses and then hopefully you will be reimbursed after submitting your paperwork when at home. Make sure you have cash on hand or credit cards with a sufficient credit balance available. As always, when traveling abroad, notify your credit card company in advance of your travel plans so they don’t shut your card down for unexpected charges from a foreign country.

Extra Insurance
If you are concerned about this issue or if you seem to be accident-prone you may want to consider travel insurance. Companies such as Travel Guard Frontier Medix and International Medical Group offer short term travel medical insurance. These policies can be tailored to cover emergency medical bills as well as transportation back home or to the nearest qualified medical center. This is important as sometimes a condition can come up that cannot be adequately treated locally. Plus, if you need a long- time recovery in a hospital, you may prefer to do it in the states rather than in a clinic in say, the Sudan. Unless you want to take a slow boat from China, this may involve an air ambulance airplane which, believe it or not can be even more expensive than a first-class airline ticket these days.

Bring You Own Med Kit
Most experienced travelers carry some sort of first-aid kit while traveling. This not only is handy in emergencies, but will save a small fortune. I once had to buy some Neosporin from a resort gift shop in Mexico for an affliction I’d rather not discuss. The same tube I buy in the States for under 10 bucks cost over $25. The good thing is, it cured what I wanted cured and we swear it is better stuff. Either that or the combination with the tequila worked wonders.


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