Yes, Medical Costs ARE Cheaper Abroad | Week 68 Abroad

Yes, Medical Costs ARE Cheaper Abroad | Week 68 Abroad

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“Whit, I’m so happy to see you! How was school?”

It was great! I….” Whit stops talking and slowly looks from my mouth to my eyes as he notices the bandages and blue streak across my nose. His eyes widen and his mouth closes in shock.

“Whit, is there something you want to ask me?” 



This week was full of pains: medical, accidental, emotional, planned… But not all bad.

The first happened while Ben was walking Whit downstairs to meet the bus. He came upstairs to find me yelling for him from the hallway bathroom, hands covered in blood holding my nose. What could have happened in the five minutes he was gone? I tried to close the blinds in my office.

Since Medellin is known as the city of Eternal Spring, most units don’t have central air. Instead they have floor to ceiling windows which open at least half way for continuous, perfect breeze. They many windows sometimes leads to overheating, so they also feature sliding blinds which move from one side to the other. On this particular morning I was sitting on my daybed/ office couch, right underneath the window blinds, and a metal vanity covering fell from the ceiling when I accidentally tugged the cord the wrong direction. The metal plate fell across the bridge of my nose, causing a deep, straight cut from eye to eye.

I was stunned with pain until it finally occurred to me to check for blood. And I found some. Luckily I ran to the bathroom before it really started to gush, and Ben arrived shortly to help care for me. He’s had his fair share of skin slices while mountain biking abroad (tour companies almost never have shin guards!), so he keeps all the necessary gear to clean and cover them with us. He bandaged me up, fixed the blinds, hid the metal covering so it wouldn’t happen again, and then asked me all day long if the pain was going away.

It didn’t.

It took 1 week and lots of very careful cleaning and redressing for the wound to completely heal, but now, 2 weeks later, it’s closed and looks like it may not even leave a scar! Thanks, honey.

The day after the dreaded window blinds incident Ben went with me to a local hospital for a consultation with a gastroenterologist.

I’ve been struggling with constant stomach aches, inability to sleep which leads to crankiness and low energy, headaches, and a host of other frustrating ailments for years now. Earlier this year I self-diagnosed that it must be related to an intestinal issue, and went on a strict gluten free diet for 8 weeks to further narrow down my options. After 2 weeks of my GF challenge all of my worst symptoms, plus many I hadn’t considered, went away. I then realized that Celiac Disease was a real possibility, but the only way to accurately test for it was to have a blood test and intestinal biopsy. That required being on a high gluten diet for at least 2 months and finding a doctor with access to the necessary tests.

Medical tourism is a big thing in Medellin. Prices are much lower than the United States for routine and elective procedures, Colombia has some of the highest rates of plastic surgery in the world, their dental work is sought after around the world, and the city is a dream to visit. Why not plan a vacation to this fun, gorgeous, safe city while getting your otherwise expensive medical treatments? You’d probably still come out ahead.

Since our minimal health insurance doesn’t cover this sort of thing, I’d be looking at $3,00-6,000 for a referral appointment, endoscopy with biopsy, lab results, and follow up. Instead, I contacted the hospital’s international nurse on Monday, had an appointment for a referral on Tuesday, my endoscopy was Thursday, and my results were back 5 days later. All for the low price of around $240.

The experience was cheap but a little stressful. The international nurses only spoke limited English, and asked for my permission to run an additional test before telling me any of my results. I did what any normal person would do: look up the test online. Turns out the test is only run for a few purposes, and I was able to rule out all of them on own except one, CANCER. I had about 10 minutes of fully freaking out before the nurse got back to me that she had the name of the test wrong and actually recommended something really routine!

Hey, remember that time I thought I might have cancer? I can now joke with Ben.

Despite some unfortunate hurdles navigating the hospital, speaking Spanglish, and trying to get my biopsy results explained I met with a patient, I ultimately met an English-speaking doctor who performed a great endoscopy. I was treated well, and within 8 days of inquiring about an appointment I had results. Not too shabby!

So, was I right? No, I was not.

I was initially really stunned and confused to hear I most likely do not have Celiac Disease. All of my symptoms fit, my most bothersome symptoms plus more I hadn’t previously connected to CD went away when I stopped eating gluten, and they came back with a vengeance when I went back on gluten. How could it not be CD?!

Let me tell you, to be in pain and not have a reason is, well, super frustrating. I spent a day or two feeling really depressed at the idea that there wasn’t a clear answer for my symptoms, which meant they may never really go away (or could be something worse I’d never figure out). 

Even though the biopsies reported low likelihood of Celiac Disease, my doctor recommended I get back on my gluten free diet since it made me feel better the first time. I was so concerned with getting an official, correct diagnosis, but he (and other doctors I casually contacted during this time of confusion) didn’t act like going off gluten without an official diagnosis of CD was a big deal. OK? I guess I will?

It took a week for us to get rid of the gluten ingredients in our apartment, and then I went off gluten for the second time. It’s been 6 days, and I don’t miss it at all.

Going to the hospital for that first referral appointment was a blessing in more ways than one. The hope of finding answers and of finally talking to someone who understood my symptoms gave me something to look forward to on a day I usually dread: our stillborn daughter’s birthday.

After my appointment Ben took me to lunch at a fancy Italian restaurant and we picked out a beautiful birthday cake. We talked all about our dear Eleanor over dinner with Whit, reminding him that our family was sealed in a temple of God and will be together forever in heaven after we die.

As we talked about what our eternal family would look like in heaven, the topic turned to how our personalities don’t change, and that what makes us special on Earth will stay the same. I asked Whit what made him unique, what made Daddy unique, and what made Mommy unique. He answered, “Well… I’m pretty sure no one else has a husband like Daddy!” We all laughed, and Ben was proud that he has become my “something special.”

I’m never sure how much Whit pays attention when we talk about religion, but that night it warmed my heart to hear Whit say in his prayer, “Please bless Eleanor to be happy when we get to heaven.” The pain over losing her gets a little easier ever year, as we all grow up, mature, and build new memories. I have no doubt she’s watching over us daily, though, and it makes me happy to think she’s experiencing these travels with us.

Instead of feeling sadness and pain, the day was full of hope, love, and family.

It’s been a rocky past couple of weeks, but I’m more grateful than ever to report that we’re alive, healthy, and have each other. That’s all that matters!