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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9 Responses to Overseas Medical Emergencies

  1. B says:

    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!!!!

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  2. BG says:

    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!!!

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    • Barbara Lam says:

      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.

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  3. Barbara Lam says:

    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.

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  4. WestmeetEast says:

    Good article. I was in Kuwait for 3 years and although I never had a real emergency it’s a great idea to prepare. I’ll keep the questions you posted for my next posting.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    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

  6. Older Educator says:

    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

  7. Never Again says:

    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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