Visiting the E.R. in the D.R.

in Adventure Travel / Dominican Republic / Travel Fitness
14 Comments
cabarete medical clinic dominican republic

As I flew through the air Superman-style, arms outstretched and legs trailing behind me a good four feet off the ground, a frantic stream of panicked messages streaked my consciousness. “Shit, don’t land on your knees, your knees are for running, not the knees, this is not good…” then SLAM! I was buried face-down in the sand, unable to breathe and feeling lightning bolts shooting from my left rib down to my calf in a way that had me screaming and hyper-ventilating simultaneously.

It was my third lesson in kiteboarding and my lovely instructor Angel from Spain had been coaching me in a practice exercise where I sat on the beach with knees bent and feet flexed so I could power up my kite using a figure-eight motion, which would pull me up and onto my feet with a gentle force. In total control, I would run forward, de-power my kite, and Angel would explain how, in the water, I would need to turn my body to the side more so the kite could pull me up and forward on the surface of the water.

It made total sense. So I practiced my figure-eights based on the twelve-hour clock of kite positions I’d learned. Eleven to two. UP! De-power. Twelve o’clock. Sit down. Eleven to two. UP! De-power. Twelve o’clock. Sit down…Piece of cake…Hey Ryan’s in the water! I wonder if this might be safer over there…

“Try it one more time and we’ll hit the water!” Angel said. One more time? No problem…

But instead of the water, I hit the beach. Hard. And, after that, everything became a blur.

According to Angel, when he said “one more time,” I didn’t do exactly as I’d done the five times we’d practiced before that. I got a little sloppy and took my kite from 10 o’clock to 3 o’clock, which super-powered the kite on this already windy day, and had the effect of yanking me off the beach like I was a six-year-old walking a St. Bernard who’d just spotted a squirrel.

In a haze, I remember as I screamed, the beach sprang to life and dozens of kiteboarders dropped their equipment and ran to my aid. I was spitting out gobs of sand into Angel’s lap while begging him to get my harness and helmet off so I could breathe. Then suddenly a stranger appeared and shoved a pill in my mouth, telling me to swallow. I think he said “Vicodin,” but I wasn’t sure. Frankly, he could have said “crack cocaine” and I wouldn’t have cared.

For a moment, I thought, “Don’t panic, you’ve just had the wind knocked out of you…don’t bother Ryan…this will pass…once they get this harness off, you’ll be fine…DON’T PANIC.”

But then the harness came off and the pain seemed to intensify. And as I rubbed my hip, I realized I couldn’t feel the skin on my side, while my leg was stabbing me with pains that shot all the way to my skull.

Which brought back memories of lying on a roller derby rink in New York exactly a year ago, after being hit from both sides simultaneously in a scrimmage and hearing a snap so loud in my head I thought I’d broken my helmet. And as I laid on the floor, I put my hand on my right collarbone and realized it was in two pieces. I didn’t know yet that my left collarbone was also in two pieces. I just knew I was terrified and in excruciating pain, and yet the first thing that came to mind was the medical bills. “How much is this going to cost?” was my first question to the medics as they lifted me into the ambulance.

And now I was lying on what Ryan would later call “a Dominican stretcher,” which was a beach lounger that five guys had lifted me onto and now sprinted up the beach carrying. They were yelling at people to get out of the way as they dashed out to the street and flagged down a taxi. Meanwhile, I was wailing in pain and panicking in my head, “Shit, what if I’ve broken something…what about sailing…how am I going to get back on the boat…where is Ryan…HOW MUCH IS THIS GOING TO COST?”

Now, if you are an American, or you know an American, then you already know that the subject of medical costs in the U.S. can drive a Yankee’s blood pressure from 0 to 60 in a nanosecond. Our voices grow louder as we recount tragic tales of friends who went bankrupt over, say, a botched appendix operation, and we whine about our monthly insurance bill and the things it doesn’t cover. Or we blurt out a stream of justifications for why we don’t have insurance and probably don’t need it anyway. “Live free or die!” or something like that…

If you are nodding your head, recalling the last annoying conversation you had with an American about our health care system, then I have to ask you to excuse us, please. It’s not our fault. We, as a nation, have endured major, prolonged trauma in the form of the world’s most expensive and unattainable health care. Despite the fact that we spend more per capita on health care than any other country in the world, we are ranked a dismal 38th in the world by the World Health Organization for quality of care. We’re like those abused children who duck instinctively when a hand is raised, except we immediately bark “HOW MUCH?!” any time we see a doctor.

So, if you think it’s crazy that — as I got wheeled into a private medical clinic in Cabarete and was attended to immediately by half a dozen doctors and given over a dozen X-rays and sonograms along with an IV drip of painkillers in the space of under three hours — all I could think was How much is this going to cost?, then just remember I AM AN AMERICAN.

Which means I pay $1,000/month for my and Ryan’s insurance coverage, and yet that only covers us in three states in the U.S. And even then, after all the money I pay, my insurance doesn’t cover ambulance rides, so my 10-minute trip to the hospital with my broken collarbones last year cost me $1,000. And, still, I was grateful because if I’d had that accident outside of New York, New Jersey or Connecticut, or if I’d not been insured at all, my bills would have cost me upwards of $10,000. No joke.

So with each X-ray my Dominican doctors gave me, Ryan and I anxiously played a real-life game of “The Price is Right,” mumbling guesses back and forth as to how much the bills would come to in the end. Ryan guessed $1,000 after four X-rays. But, after a dozen more tests, we said we’d be happy if it cost less than $3,000.

I smiled with relief once the X-ray and sonogram results came back and the doctors assured me I hadn’t broken anything. The mix of good news with strong painkillers numbed my worries…apart from the ones related to expenses. “How much is this going to cost?” I muttered to Ryan again, as the nurse removed my IV and helped me into a wheelchair.

“Ssshhh. It doesn’t matter,” Ryan said, trying to soothe my anxiety. “Whatever it is, we’ll pay it.”

So, when Ryan returned from the doctor’s office laughing out loud, I knew we’d way over shot with our guesses in “The Price is Right.”

“How much?” I asked.

“Eight thousand,” Ryan said.

“Dollars or pesos?!” I exclaimed.

“Funny you should ask,” Ryan said. “That’s exactly what I said to the doctor. I thought he was going to choke! It’s in pesos.”

“Two hundred dollars?” I asked.

“Two hundred dollars,” Ryan said, laughing. “And this is in a private clinic. If we’d gone to the public one down the road, it would’ve been much less.”

“I love this country,” I said. “I can play sports and hurt myself and I don’t have to worry about going bankrupt.”

“That’s anywhere but America, by that criteria,” Ryan said.

ryan kiteboarding kitexcite cabarete dominican republic

Ryan’s 3rd lesson in kiteboarding was cut short by my accident.

cabarete medical clinic dr

Feeling much better after a few painkillers and once I saw the bill.

cabarete medical clinic

It’s amazing how your medical bills drop when you leave the U.S.!

12 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Mid-Life Cruising! May 2, 2013, 12:14 pm

    Wow, $200 bucks for all of that is almost free! Glad you’re feeling better now and your bank account isn’t empty!

    • Tasha May 2, 2013, 12:21 pm

      Thanks! I’m looking forward to taking that kite out again…on the water, not the beach, though 🙂

  • Melody s/v Vacilando May 2, 2013, 12:41 pm

    Oh my GOSH! Your initial facebook post didn’t sound so scary. I’m so glad you didn’t break the bank OR bones, but I’m so sorry you had to endure that pain and panic. Sheesh…

    • Tasha May 2, 2013, 1:31 pm

      LOL. With my accident-proneness…I might do well to stick to sports outside the U.S.! I’m just glad I didn’t break anything this time…

  • Deana May 2, 2013, 3:27 pm

    Troy spent 10 days in the hospital in Santiago. We played the same game wondering what would happen to our cruising dreams and how we would afford the hospital stay. His total – for all 10 days, including all medical tests – was around $5,000 US.

    • Tasha May 2, 2013, 3:49 pm

      Wow, that’s still a hefty bill. But less than what it would have been in the U.S., for sure. It’s scary when you end up a situation like that! Glad you guys got out with your bank accounts intact, too 🙂

      Tasha

  • Michel Guay May 2, 2013, 7:48 pm

    I’m glad you are well, sounds as if you took a good tumble. Like your last blog culture vs. animal rights it is amazing how much medical expenses differ from country to country. I worked in Spain for about 8 months and had thought I had an appendicitis, some of my crew took me to the hospital for emergency exam, a muscle relaxant shot (ouch!) and x-rays at the local hospital, total cost was zero. You take care of yourself, it sounds like the kite is winning in all of those kiteboarding lessons 😉

    • Tasha May 3, 2013, 10:13 am

      Lol. The kite is definitely winning. But I’m gonna get one up on that thing one of these days! Spain is a great place to end up in the hospital…I know from experience, as well. I love countries with universal health care!
      Tasha

  • Laurie May 7, 2013, 7:06 pm

    Love the post. Great writing from the St. Bernard to the Dominican Stretcher to your subtle soapbox of our f’edup system in the States. Just had our own emergency down in Guatemala and, we too, thought “how much???”. It’s crazy! So glad you’re okay and back to cruising (and less bruising).

    • Tasha May 7, 2013, 10:03 pm

      Thanks, Laurie! Ooh, I hope you’re okay down there in Guatemala and it didn’t set you back too much! I’m much much better now, learning to ride a motorcycle (of course) and hoping to be back out kiteboarding soon 🙂
      Tasha

  • Mariko October 30, 2015, 6:48 pm

    Just discovered your website and I love your writing and stories! I’m in the midst of researching travel insurance, specifically ones that cover expensive gear (laptops and cameras) and sailing in open ocean as my boyfriend and I will be sailing in the Caribbean in the spring for 3.5 months. Do you have any advice about that? Thanks!

    • Tasha November 2, 2015, 12:56 am

      Hi Mariko,
      So glad you found us! We use Pantaneus for insurance – it was difficult to set up because we had to negotiate a lot over the terms, but we asked a lot of people about their insurance companies and they seem to be the biggest one out there for covering a boat that plans to go around the world. And I believe they will cover personal items, too. I hope that helps!
      Tasha

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