If you feel that having travel medical insurance is a waste of money, we just want to ask are you sure? Yes we know insurance is only for those ‘what if’ moments but the reality is that if the ‘sh#t hits the fan’ and you have no travel medical coverage when you need it, you are going to be in for some nasty surprises.
As youngsters both Michael and I travelled oblivious to the need for insurance. In fact we both embarked on around the world trips without even thinking of insuring ourselves. But hey we were young and seemingly indestructible.
Nowadays we are a little more conservative, because we now know what would be at stake when the ‘sh#t hits the fan’.
Our Experience of the sh#t hitting the fan!
It was early morning on January 2nd 2015 when Michael was rushed into emergency with what appeared to be nausea and dizziness.
The following hours passed in a blur of questions, tests, more tests and eventually a diagnosis. He had a massive pulmonary embolism and was in a critical condition. First step was to get him on blood thinners and then transfer him to a larger hospital better equipped to deal with his condition.
After being hooked up in intensive care, with a drip in each arm and a nurse whose sole job was to monitor him and the readouts that blinked and beeped behind his head. The reality started to sink in………. he could have died that morning.
The first symptom of a pulmonary embolism in approximately 15% of cases is sudden death. I am going to repeat that….. in 15% of cases the first symptom is death.
Our Guardian Angel
He was lucky, very lucky indeed. Lady luck was on our side in multiple ways.
Firstly was that we were staying with our friend (a retired nurse) who packed us off to the hospital. Secondly was that the doctor who initially saw us in emergency put two and two together and checked for evidence of a clot, even though there were none of the classic symptoms. Thirdly was that we were in our home town and therefore had access to the British Columbia, Canada medical system.
As Michael focused on getting better while enduring multiple blood samples, CAT scans, MRI’s and being poked and prodded by a series of doctors. I had the task of having to inform parents and siblings that their loved one was in the trauma unit, while they are stuck in a snowstorm, miles away. Believe me it is not fun.
Neither is spending hours waiting outside the trauma unit, being allowed only an occasional visit. Or to return after a bathroom break to find a stranger occupying the spot where hubby used to be!!!
Despite my temporary heart palpitations, the news was good; the ‘patient’ had been moved to the High Acuity Care Unit on an upper floor because he was now considered less critical.
Here was where my role of bedside companion kicked in. Michael was wired to a machine and hooked up to two IV’s. Whilst the machine monitored his heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and oxygen levels he drifted in and out of sleep.
No sleep for me though, I had to be there to answer the questions of the Doctors that dropped by, to be there with a smile when he woke and had to figure out how to deal with the aftermath.
Change of Plans
After the seriousness of what had happened had sunk in, I realised that our immediate future was not going to go as planned. Three days later we were supposed to fly to Miami and from there to Honduras as we had planned to be in Utilla on the 7th January.
There was no way that Michael would be out of hospital by then and no way would he be able to fly. Had lady luck abandoned us?
No she hadn’t, in fact she was safeguarding us once again. If this incident had happened in Miami (without travel medical insurance) the hospital bill would have crippled us financially. If it had happened in Utilla it is very doubtful he would have survived as we have seen the level of medical care there. Their response would probably have been to put him on a plane to the USA, which would most likely have finished him off on-route.
We had already taken out travel medical insurance coverage, however as we had not left the country I was able to cancel it for a full refund.
Our flights had been booked on a credit card with trip cancellation insurance and we did ultimately get a refund, although it was not an easy or straightforward process. You can find more about our experience dealing with the credit card underwriters here
For a more detailed account of our emergency please visit our blog post
After 14 days, Michael was finally released and we were both extremely thankful for the following:
- The emergency room Doctor who identified what the problem was
- The outstanding medical care received from all Doctors, nurses and staff
- The friend who got us to the hospital a.s.a.p., shared her home and provided her expertise for the much needed role of advocate
- Friends and family for their ongoing support and assistance
- British’s Columbia’s wonderful medical system
- That we were still in our home province and not in The Bay Islands of Honduras
The Moral of the Story
The unexpected can happen.
Michael was young, healthy and had no underlying reason for developing the blood clot which resulted in the embolism. It took us and the medical profession by surprise. As we say sh#t can and will happen. We know that having travel medical insurance in place makes dealing with the stress and the trauma, a hell of a lot easier.
Although we have never yet used our travel insurance coverage we continue to protect ourselves. Having been there once, we do not want to be wondering how we are going to pay for medical care or wondering how to get home while in the throes of an emergency. Trust me it is extra stress you can do without.
There are some parts of the world where you do not want to be admitted to the local hospital or even the better ‘private’ hospitals. Sometimes you need to get home as quickly and as safely as possible, so do consider including medical evacuation coverage as well.
With the advent of Covid 19 we feel that having travel medical insurance is even more crucial these days. However at the time of writing many insurance companies will not cover anything Covid related. The one exception we do know of is Safety Wing which does include Covid coverage and has the added flexibility of being able to extend coverage as your plans change and you can pay monthly which can help even out the cash flow.
This medical emergency and the subsequent battle of wills with our insurance underwriters was our catalyst for researching and writing The Travelers Guide to Travel Insurance:
Insurance does not have to be a minefield but you do need to know how to determine what types of coverage you need and where best to find the coverage, we hope you find it both enlightening and useful.
We have included useful links to a variety of insurers below. We hope that you never have to deal with the sh#t hitting the fan, but if you do, we hope you have yourself and your finances protected.