While vacationing in our version of paradise at the exquisite Decameron Resort, Panama, my husband Jim and I were suddenly thrust into the real concern of needing medical assistance while out of country.
Jim had an abscess on our first day. After consulting the Spanish speaking resort nurse we were taxied off to the doctor in the local town. It wasn’t expensive. With cab fare, the $12 doctor fee and prescriptions for what we understood were pain killers and antibiotics, it cost under $85 US.
Jim felt it was under control until the following night when the swelling increased, along with more discomfort and pain. We returned to the nurse’s office, where he hoped his abscess could simply be lanced or pierced and drained with a syringe. Once again, the nurse did not speak English well and Jim’s Spanish was limited. This time she brought a doctor into the office who was at the resort.
He advised him to go to a Panama City hospital, a two hour drive away for surgery. The words he was able to speak in english were “incision”, “surgeon” and “immediately”. Jim quickly went from minor concern to approaching terrified.
We left the nurses office prepared to either take the trip to Panama or book the next flight home. How to decide? We did two things. We asked a local Panamanian his opinion and we searched reviews on local hospitals.
That’s when fear kicked in. A Panamanian gentleman strongly advised we go home. The first online review of Hospital Santo Tomás read, “I have travelled through many countries and lived in remote Afghanistan for four years but never encountered care as poor as this…”
Fortunately Jim’s abscess broke over night. He continued taking his antibiotics and was able to take care of his condition when we were home in Canada the following week.
This left us with the understanding of how risky foreign travel can be. People tend to exaggerate dangers such as terrorism or exotic diseases like Ebola and minimize common risks like car or bus accidents, malaria or hepatitis. The reality is, anything can happen.
So what do we do to secure piece of mind while travelling? Plan your trip so you’re prepared for the possibility you might require medical care abroad.
1. Check Hospital Reviews of your top destinations before booking
If you haven’t settled on where you’re going, this could be the deciding factor!
2. Get vaccinated against Hepatitis B, Cholera and Malaria before you travel.
Call your doctor to book as much as six months before you plan to travel.
3. Make sure you have Travel Health Insurance
Check with your credit card company to see if you’re already insured and check the specifics, like if your spouse is covered, for how long and how much. Increase your health coverage if so desired.
4. Travel with all your medication and special needs items
Things like magnesium and travel probiotics can do a lot to ease bloating, pain and other more embarrassing symptoms.
5. Pack your own travel health kit
A good travel health kit contains enough supplies to prevent illness, handle minor injuries and illnesses, and manage pre-existing medical conditions for longer than the duration of your trip. First aid supplies and medications may not always be readily available in other countries or may be different from those available in Canada.
Things like bandaids, hand sanitizer, iodine pads, safety pins and scissors, tweezers for removing ticks or splinters etc, can come in handy when you need them in a pinch, and aren’t cumbersome to carry along on hikes and excursions.
Pre-departure planning with assessment of potential disease risks can help prevent illness or injury during your travel abroad.
Safe and happy travels!