I wrote this post awhile ago about my experience having surgery in Australia. It’s a funny story so I thought I’d share it on the blog today. Enjoy!
I hate the prevalent smell of disinfectant and the harsh unnatural brightness of hospitals. I hate the fragility of human nature. That it’s possible for us to break. Being in a hospital makes me all too aware of my own morality. The blood rushing through my veins. How easy it would be to end it all with the snap of a neck.
Dark thoughts, yes? Clearly I am not meant for any type of healthcare profession.
I actually avoid hospitals and doctors like the plague. If I don’t go, I can’t be diagnosed right? Which means nothing bad can happen.
Yes, yes. Clearly that logic is flawed. But I want you to get the sense of how much I fear hospitals.
Add Australia into the mix. Not that anything is particularly wrong with Australia’s healthcare, just the fact that it’s not MY healthcare. And living in a hostel abroad, it was the last place I wanted to have emergency surgery. Lucky me right?
So What the Fuck Happened to Me?
I honestly have no clue. Neither did my surgeons. All I know is it was St. Patrick’s Day. I had really been looking forward to good ole St. Paddy’s day because I was 19 and living in Australia. Which meant I could legally go out with my friends and have green beer.
But my leg hurt. More specifically, it felt like I had pulled a muscle in my groin. Nothing unbearable, but definitely uncomfortable. So I stayed in to sleep it off.
Fast forward three days later. My leg still effin’ hurts. I can’t really walk without limping. And scarier yet, the inside of my thigh has started to turn purple and black giving me an ugly spider web of bruising.
Time for a doctor’s appointment.
My Visit to the Australian Doctor:
The Australian doctor is remarkably similar to an American doctor. Just different accents. I go in, tell them my name, say that I have an appointment. You get the gist.
My doctor is lovely. Joking. All smiles. Curious about my travels. I’m starting to relax.
Then he looks at my leg/groin.
His face automatically falls.
“Please, promise me you’ll go to the Emergency Room. Promise me.”
Well fuck. There goes all my relaxation and peace of mind.
Melbourne’s Emergency Room:
The ER is nothing like I imagined it. In my head, you go in and you’re immediately wheeled off somewhere and treated. There’s a sense of urgency. Because clearly the word emergency implies immediate action.
In reality, the ER is very boring. As an American, I have to pay $250 Australian dollars just to see a doctor. That’s no treatment at all. So I pay my upfront fee and keep the receipts so my traveler’s insurance can later reimburse me.
And then I wait.
It’s dinner time so I buy some chips from a vending machine.
And I wait some more.
Until a few hours later when I am finally admitted and able to see a doctor.
I Find Out I’m Not Pregnant:
What the fuck is wrong with doctors? I go into the ER complaining about my upper leg with bruises to match and the first thing anybody can think is that I might be pregnant. Here’s how the conversation goes:
Doc: Could you be pregnant?
Me: No, not at all actually. I’m actually on my period right at the moment.
Doc: Well, could you be miscarrying?
Doc: Well, I don’t believe you. But that’s my job as your doctor isn’t it?
Those words are seared into my brain. An hour later, after my pregnancy test came back negative I wanted to scream at my doctor’s “congratulations, you’re not pregnant.”
WELL I FUCKING ALREADY KNEW THAT DIDN’T I?
My doctor’s next genius diagnosis? Either my appendix is about to rupture or, I kid you not, one of my ovaries has fallen into my leg.
Neither option sounds really good. But especially my ovary falling out. That can happen?
**I actually just Googled this and your ovaries CAN fall out of your vagina. Except for they don’t fall into your leg, so still not sure how my doctor got that one.**
Well, it turns out, my appendix and ovaries are both solid. My doctors literally cannot figure out what’s wrong with me. So they ride it off and tell me to get some sleep. I’m dismissed from the hospital that night and told to come back if the pain gets worse.
One Week Later:
I’ve spent the whole week in my hostel in bed binge-watching How I Met Your Mother and waiting for my pain to subside.
The bruising has luckily gone away. But now I have two swollen balls in my leg. Time to go back to the ER.
Melbourne’s Emergency Room Round 2:
I pay my $250. I make a friend go with me this time too because I’m scared shitless. I have a new FEMALE doctor who believes that I’m not prego. Apparently miracles do happen.
I get a very painful ultrasound and it is revealed that I have a groin abscess.
For you other non-pre-med students who have no clue what an abscess is: basically it’s this pocket of pus and other fluids that gets trapped in your body and can’t drain. They can start from as something as simple as an ingrown hair. Sometimes antibiotics can drain these fluids, but usually they have to be cut opened and drained. AKA surgery.
So, I’m given a bed but no food (since you can’t eat or drink before surgery). I’m hooked up to an IV which is literally my worst fear. And I somehow manage to sleep.
The next morning, before surgery, the hospital’s accountant (or demon-person who steals your money) traipses into my room with a big fat bill. $700 just for one night in the ER. And she doesn’t even know I’m about to have an expensive surgery.
My doctor’s scare her away saying I need rest and I freak out about how I’m going to pay for this since Australia is great and has universal healthcare meaning they won’t mess with other people’s healthcare systems who don’t live in Australia.
I’m wheeled into a room where I meet my two anesthesiologists. This pair is far from reassuring.
Anesthesiologist 1: So, how much do you weigh?
Me: Uhhhh, I have a rough idea in pounds.
I’m greeted with two blank stares. I have no idea how much I weigh in kilograms. To be honest, I hadn’t even weighed myself in months. I’m at the hospital for crying out loud. Where’s the scale they make you stand on the second you enter?
Anesthesiologist 1 to 2: So should I give her this many ounces?
Anesthesiologist 2 to 1: I don’t know. Your call.
Anesthesiologist 1: We’re going to be with you the whole time sweetie.
So as these two weigh me up with their eyes, I reflect on how I’m either going to die in surgery or even worse, wake up during the process.
I’m injected and wheeled into an operating room where the team of Grey’s Anatomy starts introducing themselves to me. Mid-way between waving and trying to smile I’m suddenly in a different room being woken up.
Having survived my surgery, I spend a grand total of five more nights in the hospital recovering. AKA sleeping at 8pm, exposing my groin injury and bandages to countless nurses and surgeon students, and contemplating on how boring the hospital is.
I also break a faucet. Water gushes out like a geyser hitting the ceiling. I wobble back to my bed with my exposed gown and attempt to tell a nurse. She smiles, calls me sweetie, and says someone will take a look at it soon.
Knowing she hasn’t fully registered the urgency of the situation, I go back to my bed where I can see the bathroom and try not to focus on how much this is going to cost me.
Ten minutes later, a nurse goes to look at the bathroom and immediately slams the door shut. Water is pouring out. They call a mechanic immediately.
However, they’re all laughing. One nurse tells me, “we never get this much excitement, unless someone is dying that is.”
I’m glad I can be a disruption to their day without kicking the bucket.
Eventually, I’m taught how to change my bandages and released back to home sweet home at my hostel in Melbs. With a new gnarly scar to show off.
Surgery abroad was the scariest thing I could literally imagine. My worst fear come to life all without my mom there to take care of me and figure out the rest of the details.
But somehow, I survived. Mainly because I had to.
I tell this story not to dissuade anyone from traveling abroad. Having to navigate the healthcare system in a foreign country alone was actually one of my biggest character building moments. I wasn’t allowed to give into the panic engulfing me because I had business to attend to. I remember some part of my brain speaking to me saying, breathe Phyllis. Get a grip on yourself. You are in a hospital. These people know what they’re doing. You are going to be okay.
And I was.
I think this experience actually attests to the power of travel. It makes you confident at managing the unexpected. Because the unexpected WILL happen. And you can’t plan for everything.
It also is a testament to traveler’s insurance. If I had had to come home early, my insurance would have compensated me. My $500 initial emergency fee charges were reimbursed. In fact, everything was okay because my mother had the prudence to make me purchase traveler’s insurance before setting off on my around the world trip. I would have been royally fucked otherwise.
So, if you’re planning a trip abroad, make sure to plan for the unexpected. Invest in traveler’s insurance. You don’t want to need it, but if you do need it, you’ll be glad you have it.
I personally use World Nomads. I’m not being compensated for this recommendation either. I found World Nomads through their cheap but comprehensive insurance plans. And after going through this hell, I would definitely recommend World Nomads to anyone else. The payback policy was easy to complete and their staff was present to help me along the way with the whole process. The only drawback was that I couldn’t file my claim until I returned from my trip and was back in the States.
Whatever insurance you do look into, make sure they cover health insurance. A good plan will also include some compensation for accidents-especially if you plan on doing any type of adrenaline-junkie activities. Other things your plan should have include evacuation costs and even an assurance of returning your body home (in the very extreme case of death).
Other than that, safe travels and if you do end up in the hospital, make sure they weigh you!
Have you been in the hospital abroad or while traveling? What was your experience like? More importantly, what traveler’s insurance are you using?