Medical Emergencies Abroad – Being Prepared

In the almost 4 years that I have been living in Mexico, I have become familiar with the Mexican healthcare system. You know – the normal intestinal problems, falling and twisting my ankle or falling and getting cuts and abrasions. That sort of thing.

This past week I ended up in the hospital and realized I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I will share this experience with you in general and if you plan on traveling or living abroad, you can apply this information to the specific country which you plan to visit.

This past Tuesday, I found myself in a hospital bed with no idea how I got there. It turns out, I had had a TIA – transient ischemic attack – a decrease of blood flow to the brain.

Before going any further, I will assure you that all is well except for remembering anything about that day, and I am taking medication and will follow up with a neurologist. Anyway, I had enough functioning brain cells when the attack began to call a neighbor to say come and get me. So, without further ado, here are some thoughts about being prepared.

First, make sure you have medical insurance and know what is covered. Investigate travelers’ medical insurance. Learn something about the healthcare system in the country to which you are traveling. When I was in Wales, I had a terrible ear infection in addition to severe back pain resulting from taking a tiny, cramped airplane that was not well pressurized and exacerbated a chronic back problem. Their system is part of the NHS, the national healthcare system of the UK. They apologized when I went to their urgent care and said I would have to pay because I was not a member of their system. Fortunately, it was only 40 pounds for the doctor and clinic and 10 pounds for the medication, so everything worked out.

If you are living in a foreign country, please invest in a good health insurance policy. I have one that covers me not only in Mexico, but also when I am abroad, whether it is in the United States or other countries. I chose this plan rather than the Mexican national plan because this one policy does cover the world. So keep that in mind as you are investigating.

Next, make sure whoever is traveling with you, or your friends or neighbors, have contact information regarding who to notify in case you are unable to communicate. My neighbor had the contact information of my son, and called him that day.

Health care proxies – who will make decisions for you if you are unable to make your own decisions/ are confused or unconscious? I have a healthcare proxy document in the United States, but that is not helpful here. Even if they accepted the document, it is in English and pertinent documents here would need to be in Spanish. My proxies in the U.S. do not speak Spanish, so it wouldn’t do much good anyway.

This is one thing I still need to do, but with more urgency now. I need to find out where I can get such a document and who can legally prepare it and make it official, and select two Mexican friends as my proxies. I have been trying to find out this information for quite a while, but now time is of the essence.

And for your family members or those close to you – they should make sure their passports are current. If they need to come to the country in which you are hospitalized (or worse), there will be no time to renew or obtain a passport. It’s also a good idea to know the visa requirements, if any, for that country.

And next, the medical charges. I needed cash for the ambulance to take me to the MRI, and the doctors would only take cash. Fortunately, one of my friends was with me and provided some of the cash, as I did not have enough for all of it. With other charges, credit cards were accepted.

Also, make sure you get receipts for what you pay. In the hospital bill, the doctors’ charges were listed, but the ambulance crew did not give my friend a receipt, so now we have to question the hospital regarding which ambulance service was used and then I need to contact them and try to get a receipt.

For those wondering how the medical care is here, I received excellent care. In addition, my deductible is around $1800 USD, and my exams, the doctors, three days and two nights in a private room in a private hospital – with all that, I still did not reach my deductible.

I am grateful for the wonderful care I received and the care of all my friends here. However, I don’t know when I will be permitted to drive again, as I don’t want another attack to occur, especially not when I am doing an activity where I could harm others.

One last bit of advice. It would be a good thing if you have at least one friend who is a nurse. When I was studying for my heart failure certification, I was taking an online course as well as my regular study group. I remember the Med Ed instructor named Martha saying to make sure if you are a patient to always have a friend who is “a smart nurse with a big mouth on speed dial.” and that is priceless advice. A knowledgeable nurse who can be a forceful advocate is invaluable, especially when you are sick, distracted and/or confused.

The nurses know how the system works, they are knowledgeable in the medical field and can ask the questions you are too distracted or unknowledgeable to ask. They can also help you navigate the insurance red tape, and let you know when demands for cash instead of the insurance card is not permitted.

I will be forever grateful for my nurse friend for being my advocate and for all my friends here. It is wonderful to live in such a village where everyone takes care of each other.

Fortunately, I am better now. I even baked my pies for the Casita del Cafe yesterday and took one of the new moto taxis to deliver them, since I am not permitted to drive at this time.

Had to cancel my weekend in Guadalajara for the Japanese festival, but at least I wasn’t on an airplane heading overseas when this happened. I’ll be seeing a specialist and we will figure this all out.

So, until next time – Nos vemos!

Delivering my pies in the moto taxi