I’ve been meaning to write to you since I read your piece on medical care in Guatemala. Interestingly, I never considered Guatemala as a place to visit or spend a few months in until I read your piece.
My elderly mother, 87, has a fair number of medical conditions to deal with. Last July she started having chest pains and a rapid heartbeat followed by a very slow heartbeat. I called the EMT and they took her to the ER. They released her and two days later the pains returned and this time she was admitted into the hospital. After a few tests the cardiologists determined she needed a pacemaker and some meds to keep the heart from racing.
Okay, not so terrible.
Going to the hospital can be a traumatic event
She was there for nine days in what I thought was a normal room with nothing to indicate any special level of care. In fact, my mother and I found her care to be quite sub-standard and at times abusive.
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I actually had a huge fight with a PA on the floor when she refused to attend to my mother when the alarm connected to her heart sounded for ten minutes. I begged her to look at what was happening and she told me the nurse would do that. The nurse wasn’t there and my mother’s heart was racing to over 160 bpm. I screamed for help and the PA (Physician’s Assistant)told me she would call the guards to have me thrown out of the hospital.
Needless to say I wasn’t going to take that nonsense.
I called the CEO’s office of the hospital. They promised me someone would come down to talk to me and although that never happened, they did switch PAs and the care was a bit better.
My mother has dysphagia, a swallow disorder and despite the signs above her bed warning that she needed all liquids to be thickened, she and I had to fight to get the thickening agent at her bedside. They grudging gave her one or two little packets a day and when I asked for more they told me there was none available on the floor. I suggested they call the dietary department to ask for more, but that was met with glaring and hostile remarks.
Pills, pills, pills
I’m telling you this story because when we got the bill from the hospital stating she owes a deductible of $350, the bill was itemized. Apparently she was supposedly in an intensive care unit (I never saw any indication of that) and the cost of the room alone was $9,000 a day. The total cost of the nine day stay was $170,000 and from what I’ve been told the cost of the insertion (a separate bill from the doctor’s office) was around $30,000, for a total of approximately $200,000.00.
I can tell you this is not an isolated incident.
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I’ve been caring for my two elderly and very sick parents for seven years now and my father was hospitalized many times when he was alive and my mother has been in hospital every year for the past few years, sometimes twice a year. I suspect their medical bills easily topped a million, maybe more.
I can honestly say for the most part the care in all of those hospitals ranged from decent to substandard to downright abusive and neglectful. The actual medical care was pretty good in all of those hospitalizations although sometimes I had to laugh when they suggested certain treatments.
Once a cardio guy called me to say he wanted to put a pacemaker into my father. I asked him why he would consider doing that to a man in the end stages of Alzheimer’s. He hung up on me and told my father’s doctor I was hostile and refused the pacemaker.
Once a psychiatrist called me from the hospital to say he had spoken to my father and he was hostile, uncooperative, and obviously had psychological problems. I asked him if he knew my father was in end stages of Alzheimer’s and perhaps that was the problem. He wasn’t pleased with my question and again reported to dad’s primary care doctor I was also hostile and uncooperative.
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So, when I read your article about Guatemala and your experiences with the medical care system it led me to another path I might consider. Mom is relatively stable now (after another horrible medical problem caused by hospital staff that almost killed her two weeks ago) and she wants to get out of here ASAP. Our finances are not so good, but I think we could easily afford to live comfortably in Guatemala to hang out, veg out and think about our next moves.
Health care delivery affects us all
It’s become impossible for me to think clearly here. I’m stressed out and upset all the time. I think we’ll try to get our lives here wrapped up as much as possible and head for Antigua so I can perfect my Spanish and hang out a little while.
Thank you for your great articles. Believe me, I blocked them all out because of wanting to go elsewhere until I read the medical care piece.
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Thank you for taking the time to write. We always appreciate hearing from our Readers.Your first-hand stories about caring for your aging parents sound uncomfortably similar to some of the experiences we had of hospital stays and doctor care in the States, either for ourselves, siblings or for our own parents who have since passed on.
It is my firm belief that someone in the States who is receiving serious medical care needs a health care advocate to navigate them through the system. This was the position I found myself in more often than not. I would be sure my loved one received adequate attention in their hospital stay, I monitored the pharmaceuticals they were being administered, I accompanied them in their follow up appointments with the doctors, took notes, asked questions, picked up their prescriptions and waded through the massive paperwork from insurance and hospital offices that followed.
In our experience, the questions we asked doctors about the medications loved ones were receiving or the procedures that were recommended to them were not always received openly but were sometimes taken as an attack on their job performance. This was not our intention and I understand that doctors are often not questioned. However, neither Billy nor I are blind followers and we want to know what is going on around us and we deserve an explanation for care that we are paying for. We research side effects of medications and consider alternative approaches to health conditions. We have found that US doctors normally don’t look kindly on this involvement.
Patients unite for better care!
We have spent a good deal of time out of the U.S. and have therefore received medical attention in various places around the globe. These occurrences have afforded us a different perspective on receiving the “care” part of the health care equation. We are grateful for that perspective as it has solidified options for us. Instead of feeling that we have no choice but to pay exorbitant prices and deal with annoying attitudes, we know that we can receive quality care given by human beings to other human beings in a compassionate environment.
You mentioned moving to Guatemala. That would be an enormous change for you and your mother if neither of you have traveled before. However, that being said, there are numerous places in Latin America where one could live comfortably, regroup, get involved in the local expat and indigenous activities and allow yourself to enjoy your life without the intense focus of becoming bankrupt over receiving reasonably good health care. Guatemala has been advertising Medical Tourism options but of course, Mexico has good quality care also. We have friends who rave about Argentina, Chile and Columbia.
You may want to take a look at our Medical Tourism Page and see what appeals to you. There are some excellent companies listed there.
Let us know if we can be of any assistance to you and of course we wish you and your family the very best.
Thank you again for taking the time to write.