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Sunday, August 04, 2013


photo courtesy of stock images and
As I begin to write on July 23, 2013, we’re waiting to hear from our friends—the couple traveling with us—who will call from the hospital where she is admitted and where he stayed overnight and where they will be again tonight and perhaps for several more.  It’s highly likely we will leave for home without them.

The circumstances, unfortunately, remind me that I haven’t written any travel tips in a while.  What happens when someone suddenly gets sick?  What should we carry with us when we travel?  How do we protect ourselves?

Here are my suggestions, and I hope if you have others, you will add them in the comment section following this post. 

Make sure you travel with your insurance cards.  If you’re over 65, carry your Medicare card as well.  BUT know that your insurance may not be accepted at all and neither will your personal check.  In Aruba, for instance, the welcoming booklets clearly indicate the location of the hospital in Oranjestad but immediately make it crystal clear that you will need cash or a credit card.  No U.S. insurance is accepted.

In our friend’s case, a call to the insurance company took care of hospitalization as she was admitted through the Emergency Room.  Become familiar with your insurance company’s protocol, and if a phone call is necessary, make sure you don’t delay.

In addition to insurance preparation, be aware of nearby medical facilities in case you need them.  Many hotels and resorts list them, but if you are traveling when the emergency strikes as we were, use your smart phone to locate the nearest facility.  We went first to an Urgent Care and then were directed to the ER.

Do you have a Health Care Proxy and a Living Will?  While these may not be accepted at every medical facility, you should travel with them and you might even carry the Proxy on you.  I know this sounds gruesome, but just tuck it away as a regular part of your packing; you don’t have to think about it, but it is there if you need it.

Carry a copy of any medications and dosages.  It will make a big difference to the doctors you see.  You’ll be asked for this information.  If you have a chronic problem, a brief medical history might be appropriate.  Check with your physician.

If you are traveling out of the country, you might consider joining IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers), a Canadian-based organization through which, among other services, you will receive a booklet listing doctors, their credentials, and their ability to speak English.  Not only do you want your physician to understand exactly what you say but also you want to understand exactly what he/she is saying to you.  You don’t want the doctor to misunderstand your explanations nor do you want to misunderstand instructions pertaining to your health.

I might add, as well, that those of you who buy travel insurance might check the provisions providing transport to medical facilities. Does it provide local service or in case of something dire, will you be brought back to the United States

On our tour of Ireland and Scotland a few years ago, an American woman traveling alone had a stroke on the first night.  She was still in hospital in Dublin when the tour ended in Edinburgh almost three weeks later.  The tour company arranged for her daughter to fly over, but I never learned more about this event.

On a 2003 February cruise leaving Ft. Lauderdale, a bit more than midway to our first stop in Puerto Rico after a day at sea, a teenager developed appendicitis.  She had to be helicoptered from the ship to the hospital.  A parent accompanied her.  It was an extraordinarily exciting event to watch as the helicopter lowered the stretcher and the ship turned into the wind to steady it and the water poured out of the pools and we were aware of the huge number of passengers by virtue of the crowds gathering to watch what could have been a scene out of M.A.S.H.  But someone had to pay for the “taxi” service.

Rescue at sea-cruising
bringing the stretcher back to the helicopter
Rescue at sea-cruising
only the staff was allowed at that end of the ship while
the evacuation proceeded
I bring up these two examples because the unexpected does happen, and it is not necessarily a matter of age.  Our friend’s problem was diagnosed as Lyme Disease that attacked quickly in all its virulent fury.  Her heart block was a result of Lyme and entirely reversible after a three week course of intravenously introduced antibiotics.  She began the treatment in Virginia, and was able to drive home to have the next day’s dose in her local hospital.  She was not released from the hospital in Virginia, however, until the EKG made release acceptable.  She was hospitalized for six days.  Not a picnic but totally curable.  Not age related and not something seen in the Shenandoah Valley.  Good doctors.  Good hospital. But, when the unexpected happens, someone might end up with a whopping bill.  You don’t want it to be you.

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