Saturday, January 22, 2011

BMA experience

One of the most frequent questions we get about living here is what we think of health care in Belize. Our standard response is that we’re quite happy with it, although we haven’t had to deal with anything extreme. It’s affordable, the doctors are knowledgeable and compassionate, and unless you need some high tech life saving procedure, you will probably be cared for as well here as anywhere in the world.

We recently had to put our money where our mouths are, since I finally got to the point where I needed to have a long-delayed hysterectomy. Tom and I spent a lot of energy deciding whether to do it here, or to go back to the US to do it. We looked into our options, and decided to do it here for a number of reasons. First, we didn’t see any reason why the care wouldn’t be as good or better as what we would get in the US. We researched doctors, and found a surgeon recommended by just about everybody, Belizeans and expats alike, and met him and talked to him before making the decision. We also decided to go to a private hospital, Belize Medical Associates, rather than one of the government hospitals, mostly because this doctor is affiliated with Belize Medical Associates. Second, I didn’t want to travel to have the surgery, and then not be comfortable traveling after the surgery to get home. I wanted to recover at home, since if I’m going to take a trip to the US to visit, I’d rather do it when I feel good and can have fun. Our third reason was not really a decision point, but definitely sealed the deal – it was a lot less expensive to have it done here. We have only catastrophic coverage insurance in the US with a $5000 deductible, and the surgery costs more than $5000 in the US, so it would have cost us at least our $5000 deductible plus travel expenses – probably another $1000-$2000 – to do it in the US, while it was just under $3500 total here.

Not quite two weeks out, we’re quite happy with the decision to do it here. Everything went according to plan, and the care in the hospital was outstanding. Tom was allowed to wait in my room while I had the surgery, and he said that after the surgery the nurse sat in the room with me until I came out of the anesthesia. When I was a little more coherent, the nurse didn’t stay in the room, but came in to check on me at least once an hour, and helped me get a sponge bath and brush my teeth in the late afternoon after the surgery – which did wonders for making me feel human again. The next day, after the IV and catheter were removed, they left me alone except for coming in every four hours to check vitals, but if I needed something – like pain meds – somebody was there within about 30 seconds of me ringing the buzzer. And, best of all, when I was sound asleep for the middle-of-the-night vitals check, the nurse elected not to wake me and just skipped it so I could sleep. The surgeon himself was in three or four times a day for the two days I was there, and was happy to answer my many questions. In the US, I spent a fair amount of time with my mother in hospitals, and I remember wondering if anybody worked there since it seemed that my mom sometimes had trouble getting a nurse into her room, and she was always complaining that they woke her up in the middle of the night, and my experience here was the complete opposite.

There were a few notable differences between surgery here and surgery in the US. Here, I was still completely conscious when I went into the operating theatre, and remember being strapped to the table with my arms out. I had knee surgery 10 years ago, and don’t remember anything like that. And, the day after the surgery, the surgeon showed up in my room with a bucket and showed me what he took out of me. I’m not sure if that’s standard procedure, or if he just decided that with my many questions, it was easier to just show me rather than explain. And, I actually appreciated it, because having him show me what was wrong made it very clear to me that the surgery was the right thing to do – and for the day of the surgery and a few days afterward, I was definitely wondering what I did to myself. I really respected the doctor for this because what he found wasn’t what he (or a few other doctors) had diagnosed, and he admitted that when he explained what he was showing me. I had to do a bit of disassociation as he was palpating my parts (“It’s just plastic, it’s not out of me…”), but, as I said, I now completely understand why I needed the surgery, and I might still be wondering if I hadn’t had the show and tell.

So far, so good with the recovery. I’m still a little sore…but I have a six inch incision in my lower abdomen, so I guess I can’t expect to be instantly back to normal. The doctor used to live up here and he knows the road, so he waived my two week checkup, figuring (correctly) that I wouldn’t feel like bouncing myself down the nine miles of bad road it takes to get to the Western Highway. He gave me his cell phone and his email so I can reach him at any time if I have any concerns, which I haven’t had so far.

Do I have any regrets about doing this in Belize? Definitely, no. Would I do it here again? Definitely, yes. And, we feel much more comfortable about some of the what-ifs we think about, knowing that we’ll probably need more medical care as we age.

1 comment:

sandy a. said...

I loved to read this post. My good friend just had the same operation here in the States. She and her husband have no insurance, so negotiated a price for cash. She ended up paying a little more than 6000.00 after much negotiating. The doctor told her that if he and hospital had billed an insurance company, the operation would have been $30,000!!! And people wonder why insurance costs are so high here? When we move to our Belize house full-time, I will have no qualms about receiving medical care there (Phil was treated once for pneumonia in Placencia)and I appreciate your detailed post underscoring my confidence in Belize medical care.