Overseas Medical Emergencies

From critical events where minutes count, to major issues that should be addressed ASAP, medical emergencies come in varying degrees of urgency. Hopefully, you, a family member or colleague will never have a medical event that needs absolute, immediate attention. But if it happens, knowing where to call for help, and available treatment options, can make all the difference.

Can you answer these questions? Where is the nearest hospital? Who do I call in the case of an emergency? Is there 9-1-1 here? What surgical procedures can be/are safe to be preformed in my local hospital? What type of incident qualifies for medical evacuation? Who do I call for evacuation? Does my insurance cover it? Should I get my home-country Consulate involved? If you’re not sure about any of these possibilities, you’ll want to get the answers before you’re in the middle of a panic situation where seconds count.

A minor surgery in Ecuador convinced me to be prepared…

I opted to undergo minor surgery in Ecuador for a frozen knee. Knees are not life threatening nor a medical emergency. However, my experience in an Ecuadorian hospital told me that had I been in a real emergency situation things could have turned out quite differently. Here’s my experience in a nutshell:

Picture yourself on an operating table in Ecuador. You’re awake because you’ve been given a spinal tap to nullify the pain of the surgery. You’ve been watching the arthroscopic operation in progress on a video monitor and chatting with the surgeon, when bang! The monitor goes dark, the overhead lights flicker and you’re all in total darkness. That was me, until a surgical assistant’s cell screen illuminated the area. The hospital did have a back-up generator, but couldn’t get its big diesel motor started.

Later, in the recovery room, I learned a guy in the surgical theater down the hall had survived open-heart surgery in spite of the 52-minute outage. This was cause for celebration. A year later I had the same knee fixed in my home country since the result of the surgery in Ecuador was never quite right. 

I had had the option to tough it out on a frozen knee or submit to surgery in the developing world. I chose surgery. That was a mistake with little consequences. But what if the medical event had been of a serious nature where the results of a bad decision could have been fatal? As ISR constantly stresses: research, research, research! This holds true for your medical options as well as with choosing an International School.

Embassies are usually an excellent source of emergency medical information as they will already have a plan in place for their employees. They can also recommend doctors and hospitals with whom they have had a positive experience. But, if you’ve been thinking your school Director will take care of things for you, that could be a foolish, even fatal mistake. He/she may know even less than you.

If you’re an educator working in a country with top-rated medical services, consider yourself lucky. If you’re in the developing world, it’s important to keep in mind that many, if not most medical issues can be stabilized or postponed until you can reach quality, qualified services. Additionally, bring the topic up at a faulty meeting. Long-time staff can be a good source of information–there are qualified doctors in every part of the world. Talk to the school nurse. ISR strongly recommends you do your due diligence before an emergency strikes. Be prepared for the unexpected. Then make a plan! You’ll be glad you did!

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11 thoughts on “Overseas Medical Emergencies

  1. Overseas staff should always be prepared for medical emergencies and ensure that they have proper medical insurance. While working in India I had an accident during a weekend. I found by my neighbours unconscious, on the floor and in a coma.They called a local private hospital who sent an ambulance and I was in ICU for 3 days in a coma. My neighbours had to give their credit card as security before I was admitted however. They called my school, but of course no answer – it was weekend.The treatment was terrific and they did a battery of tests and I luckily recovered – my wife and son flew out to India at great cost too. I wasn’t allowed to be discharged until I paid the hospital bill which was $6,000! After being discharged I went back to Europe for further treatment. I imagined that the school medical cover would pay for everything – I was told that I had more than adequate cover – BUT it transpired that was ONLY for while I was working for the school and on school premises!! I left that school. The medical treatment and flights came to around $10,000 – but I did not die.
    Staff should really check the medical cover that the school supplies.


  2. There are very few countries with standards of care approaching EU or North America. Do not have dentistry, elective surgery or invasive procedures in developing countries. Do not rely on word of mouth advertising or testimonials. I once went to a “highly reccomended” dentist who broke part of my tooth off during a root canal. The teachers who reccomended that dentist had never had anything done other than routine cleanings! Over the years I have seen many bad outcomes in fellow teachers including 2 that died. One died from massive infection following a cosmetic surgery procedure! The other died from a misdiagnosis– gall bladder removal for colon cancer. The doctor gave wrong diagnosis. By the time the teacher realized she was getting sicker and returned to Canada, the cancer had become too advanced. If you have medical needs, avoid jobs in developing countries. Even medical tourism countries might not be up to standards. In my current country, in the private hospital, the doctors get incentives for every test and treatment they order! I needed an excuse for work due to a fever from a cold and the doctor wanted to do blood tests, urine test, chest x-rays, abdominal ultrasound, throat swab, start an IV, consult with internal medicine specialist, and physical therapy for helping me to “relax”. I told the doctor all of that was unnecessary as fever had broken and I was feeling better. I had been sick less than 4 days! My doctor friend in Canada said everything reccomended was unnecessary. Needless to say, I found a new doctor. However in that country everyone says all private hospital doctors behave similiarly. If I ever had a true emergency, I hope I can be on the first plane OUT!


  3. I am not going into a long missive, but want to state that within the past month (I am now home in the USA), almost DIED due to inadequate medical treatment in a Kazakhstan, regional hospital. BE AWARE of where you are and the reality of available, IMMEDIATE, emergency medical treatment. BE AWARE!!!!


  4. worked in Baku, Azerbaijan and had surgery for prolapsed uterus with mesh implant. I was the only foreigner in the hospital & went home to recover. After two weeks, was not getting better and began bleeding profusely. My husband and I ran down the street with clutching a towel to myself trying to get a taxi driver to take us to the nearest clinic. Finally got one and they had to redo the surgery due to a nicked capillary. There is no 911 overseas – good luck. You have to find your own help. We paid the taxi driver double for being willing to help us. Quite the experience…….. To top it off, I had to pay for the redo!!!


    1. AT THIS MOMENT i AM IN AKTAU, kAZAKHSTAN with an irregular heartbeat and chest rattling cough. If I get out of bed and just walk to the bathroom I need to lay down and rest for 10 minutes. This is very common and simple to treat, as I have been through it before. However when I went to the hospital, they told me (and my interpreting assistant), that I was in heart and lung failure, had a blood clot, and that my lungs were full of fluids from the heart failure. They started talking I need heart surgery, etc… Needless to say I left. Problem is I am leaving here for GOOD in less that 2 weeks and cannot physically do it. All the hospital had to do was give me a very common medication to kick my heart rate back and if that didn’t work a slight electric shock, but instead a bunch of completed fabricated crap! I don’t know what to do at this point and my school is no help. They said I’m on my own. I physically do not even have the stregth to pack.


  5. I am currently in Aktau, Kazakhstan and have been on and off sick all winter, but after seeing the hospital conditions of non-cleanliness and the outright whacky diagnosises and treatments I have seen doled out here under the guize of medicine here- I am going home in 3 wekks and will WAIT to see my regular doctor.


  6. I was in Tiawan for 4 years.My had braces for 600.00. A brain scan for $12.
    I had 2 colonoscopies for next to nothing. The care was better than the states. $3 dollars for teeth cleaning and xrays.
    I love Taiwan.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. After a horrific accident in Bruges causing me to be in ICU for 6 days, 2 days in induced coma as blood was absorbed from a severed artery after a fall caused by a maid with a vacuum in a hotel. After 4 more days, I was released, and I thought to reach out to the Moose Emergency Insurance policy I had taken out years earlier. It covers accidents while traveling. They translated my hospital discharge papers, worked to make sure I was ready to fly home, and paid for my husband’s and my airplane ticket to fly home to the USA. I suggest looking into it. You need to belong to the Moose, and it costs less than $200 a year.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Good article. I found myself in a real emergency the middle of the night in Indonesia. I had no idea what to do. None at all. I knew where the hospital was but without a car how would I get there. I called the director. No answer. The school did not have an emergency number. I called for a cab. Fortunately they could speak a little English. At the hospital they admitted me and began running tests. I thought I was having a heart attack. Hours later they informed it was just “gas.” What a relief…no pun intended. After that experience I headed a committee that did the research and came up with a print-out recommending what to do in the case of a medical emergency. It’s now part of the welcome package.


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