Overseas Medical Emergencies

January 24, 2019

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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