Lessons Learned

A Caravus client recently described his trip to Punta Cana, leading me to ask him to put pen to paper.  It highlights the surprising twist of a spring trip and the experiences with another country’s health care system.  Our client asked that he remain anonymous but his story could be that of anyone.
Be well. 


What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Our annual spring trip is something we look forward to… an escape from dreary St. Louis.  It’s always somewhere warm – sun, beach, and friends.  In recent years, we’ve gone to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, a southern Caribbean cruise, and this year to Punta Cana.  We had never been to the Dominican before, but it seemed like everyone was going.  What could possibly go wrong?

Night Six

On night six, our world turned upside down.  After the usual late afternoon walk and cocktail on the patio, we went back to our room to clean up for dinner.  Stepping out of the shower, I felt terrible.  Then I found myself on the bathroom floor calling my wife for help.  I wasn’t sure what was wrong but I was afraid to try and get up.  I’m not a doctor, but I knew that I needed one! 

So the adventure began with an ambulance to the Punta Cana Hospital.  I will never forget what the doctor said after a hurried EKG, “Bad news… heart attack.”  The results led to a night in the intensive care unit.  Dr. Romero – who did not speak English - literally kept me alive.  This was followed by the realization that I had to be moved to Santo Domingo for surgery because the Punta Cana facility was not equipped for the procedure.  After being transferred via medical helicopter, the surgeon, Dr. Garcia, found two blocked arteries and put in two stents.  After three days in the ICU – where only Spanish was spoken – I was taken by ambulance to the airport for a five-hour medical air transport flight back to St. Louis.  When I arrived at Missouri Baptist Hospital, I could only think “There is no place like home!”

This story is just not about me; however, it is about my wife and friends.  Keep in mind, little English is spoken in the Dominican.  They worked their way through communication issues with doctors and hospital administrators; credit card limits; pre-payment issues (all medical services had to be paid for upfront); and insurance questions.  All this in a strange city in another country with just an iPhone, an iPad and each other. There were many frustrations – the Dominican wheels turned slowly, but their tenacity was unwavering.  And thank goodness for our travel company’s Dominican representative and two fantastic hospital public relations people.  All three spoke English, and were totally unselfish with their time and energy.  We could have never done it without them.

In Retrospect...

Fortunately, I feel fine which leaves the story with a happy ending.  But, in retrospect, there are many lessons to be learned.  First and foremost, the Dominican people were wonderful.  Language barriers aside – from the doctors and ICU nurses to the medical evacuation specialists – all were kind, caring, professional and capable.  I am not a “hugging person” but I hugged several with tears in my eyes to thank them for taking care of me.  I was a stranger in their country but they made me their first priority.  I will never forget their kindness.

I laughingly think to myself that we will not be traveling out of the country anytime soon.  But there is a lot to think about next time.  For anyone going on trips out of the country, I have some recommendations:

  • Really understand where you are going - especially language, standards and medical facilities.
  • Take out trip insurance.
  • Understand your own medical insurance, and what is covered in case of emergency out of the country. 
  • Take a list of emergency numbers – family, doctors, your insurance representative, your bank. 
  • Know your credit card limits and consider raising them before you leave. 
  • Make sure your phone is set up for international service. 

So, you’re thinking, “Nice story, but it will never happen to me.”  That’s what I always said.  Don’t believe it because it can happen to anyone.  Take note of the lessons we learned through experience.  Hopefully, you will never need them but, if you do, I hope I have helped.