This is a continuing series of articles with a number of “parts.” Search for “Don’t Leave Home Without Them” and “Don’t Leave Home Without It” They are all categorized “Insurance”
Dear Mr. Miller:
I heard that you and your wife had a disaster on a recent foreign trip. This potential has always worried me. I’m glad to hear that your wife is doing fine, but what words of wisdom can you pass on to the rest of us?
Learning from Others
Introduction: You are right, we did have a serious medical emergency. Reading up on this I came across one person who believes that the odds of having a life threatening medical emergency (something more serious than the broken ankle) on a foreign trip is around 1 in 2000. So it is unlikely that you will experience this issue. Nevertheless, the language problem (we were in Argentina) and various other issues can create a situation that is certainly problematic. Time has a way of softening all problems. So thinking back on it now, it is just some great stories. But reading over my notes created at the time, I actually used the words “bordering on terrifying” to describe some aspects of the events.
I previously wrote about Medical Insurance on Trips and Travel Insurance. Looking back on what I wrote then, I was somewhat clairvoyant. But now that I have gone through it, I can speak from personal experience. (back to top)
Insurance to Have: I will repeat, insurance is not for what will ruin your day, it is for what will ruin your life. So the travel interruption/cancellation insurance is not where you focus. That?s not that you shouldn’t have it; it generally comes in the trip insurance package policies. It’s just that in comparing policies and prices, the amount of that coverage and terms, etc. is generally not where you should be focused. If you can’t afford to lose the cost of the trip, you probably can’t afford the trip in the first place. So where should you be focused? The evacuation insurance and the medical coverage.
While I was in the middle of this adventure, I started recording the events of the day. I am in the middle of trying to turn those memoirs into a book as there were many interesting and even funny situations that occurred during the Argentine hospital stay. Conversing by email with my family back home, my brother suggested that I put together a chapter on thoughts that might help others. So here goes. (back to top)
Smart Phone: Have a smart phone and know how to use it and its apps. Obviously, you need to be able to talk to people who can help you (medical evacuation assistance for one) and you don’t want to be looking for a pay phone or obtaining change, in a foreign currency, so you can use it. That means it’s time to retire the old clamshell. It just won’t be up to this particular job because you need all of the apps below and they require a smart phone. (back to top)
Currency Conversion: Currency conversion app so you know how much you are paying. You don’t want to have to do the math every time you are spending money, especially when under the strain that you will be when a loved one is in the hospital.
Translator: Translator app to provide the vocabulary words or even whole sentences so you can communicate. By the way, these apps don’t work overly well for technical medical phrases but they can be very useful for other conversations. (back to top)
WiFi Calling: Skype or other WiFi calling app (and an account to use it with a credit balance) so you can make calls at reasonable rates. My Verizon calling was at roughly $2 per minute. On Skype it was in the 3 cent per minute range. Trust me, you will be making calls.
Text Messaging: Text messaging app. I used it so I could authenticate myself to those to whom I was sending email that (even though I wasn’t asking for money) sounded like the proverbial “I was in London, got hit over the head, and they stole all my money and passport. Please send $$$$ so I can get home.” My wife used it to pass the time and, as she said, to make her feel that she had contact with her family/friends. (back to top)
Flashlight: Flashlight app so you can find things like the electrical socket under the desk. (back to top)
Contacts: Database of contacts with contact information. I had to contact my bank to work out some financial arrangements and my health insurance agent. Those may not be in your typical list of people you call.
Passwords: Password vault as you may need to get into your bank website or the patient portal for your loved one so you can communicate with her physician. (back to top)
VPN: Virtual private network. Most people know not to go to their bank or credit card websites when on a public WiFi system (and that is what you will be on at the hospital). Bad guys can steal your user names and passwords right out of the air. But if you encrypt everything via a virtual private network that problem essentially goes away. There are some very good free services; the pay ones are fairly inexpensive; mine is $30 for 6 months. They work quite simply after you have gone through it once and managed to hook up. And email can be encrypted, too. Almost every email service has a regular server and an encrypted one. You only need to know the configurations you need to change to make that happen. Customer service will be able to tell you that. And note that messages and data arrive unencrypted so you don’t even notice a difference. (back to top)
Power Adapters: US power adapters. Countries outside of North America have different electrical plug configurations than we do (the sockets on the wall have holes of different shapes and sizes than ours). Since you don’t know where your medical emergency is going to land you, you want a good collection. They are about $10 (search for international AC plug Adapters). You probably don’t need a voltage converter as most (but not all) devices are now universal voltage. The only electrical device that we travel with that isn’t is our electric toothbrush. And make sure you know where you pack these adapters. In the rush to pack to leave the cruise ship (where my wife fell ill), nothing was packed in its usual place. Trying to find the adapters as my cell phone ran down in the emergency room, was a frustrating exercise. It was only on the fifth search through the luggage after my phone had been dead for about an hour that I finally found them.
Next month we will discuss the money issues in a foreign medical emergency. (back to top)
This is a continuing series of articles with a number of “parts.” See Table of Contents and search for “Don’t Leave Home Without Them” and “Don’t Leave Home Without It”