Most months we hold Chill Weekends at Grand Baymen Belize, to show potential investors and visitors what it is like to live here. Often asked questions include:
- "Is quality healthcare available in Belize?"
- "What insurance policies are available?"
- "Are there well trained specialists?"
We are working on assisting our investors in all three of these critical, sensitive areas. But, today I'm going to explore the last question. I will do so by sharing my recent, personal healthcare story.
I'm a very fit, healthy person, although approaching 60. After all, Mike and I designed, built and operated the first major fitness country club on Ambergris Caye, the San Pedro Fitness Club. I acted as the Club Director until a year ago. I work out at least four days a week, whether at the Club, or by walking the beach, riding my bike, or scuba diving.
But, *?#! happens.
A Fateful Fall...
After a lovely weekend with friends, Mike and I stepped into our condo at dusk at 5:30 PM on a Sunday. I had just picked up my new prescription sunglasses at the Hoy Eye Center in Belize City on Friday. I was pleased that the lenses are very dark. But, I wasn't used to "focusing" with the transition lenses. My hands were also full of papers.
On entering the house, I did not see our big, black dog, Ziggy, asleep on his favorite dark rug.. Â Before I knew it, my heels were in the air and I had landed on the unforgiving tile floor, directly on my hip. Â There was no opportunity to break the fall. Â The pain knocked the wind out of me. Â I knew immediately that this was not a good thing. After about fifteen minutes, I slowly started to move around.
That night I walked around a bit on my left leg. It was very sore. Mike and I tried to convince ourselves it was ok. Possibly, I'd pulled a muscle... Or, torn a ligament...
The next morning was a different matter. I could not lift my left leg at all. Mike headed to the San Pedro Poly Clinic at 9 AM to find some crutches. I didn't want to cause any further damage, if I had indeed broken something. He also checked to see if they had an x-ray machine. They didn't, so he set up a 10 AM appointment at Dr. Teresa Damera's clinic, five minutes from our house in San Pedro.
At 10:15AM, we met with Dr. Damera. Her x-ray machine was on the fritz. Because of my age, she insisted that I fly to Belize City to see a specialist that day. She told us that Dr. Sosa is the best osteopath in Belize. Dr. Damera set up a 1:30 PM appointment with Dr. Sosa for that afternoon, at the United Healthcare Hospital, a private hospital.
We rushed home to pack a few things. Fortunately, our home at Grand Baymen Belize is five minutes from the local airstrip. Tropic Air was very accommodating. They boarded me onto the 1 PM plane first and gave me the most accessible seat. A wheelchair was waiting in both San Pedro and Belize City. The Tropic Air staff helped me on and off the plane.
A Quick Flight to Belize City and Belize Healthcare Partners
Within 20 minutes, we landed at Belize Municipal Airport. I was put in a wheelchair and we quickly found a comfortable taxi van and headed to the hospital.
It took about fifteen minutes to get through the sign in process, since I am not a patient of this hospital. But, by 2 PM, we were sitting in Dr. Sosa's office. He quickly sent me off for an x-ray, to confirm the prognosis. Within two hours, we returned to Dr. Sosa's office with the x-rays in hand.
Your Femur's Broken - Shall We Operate?
The x-ray results were obvious. The options limited. After Dr. Sosa explained the pros and cons of multiple approaches, I concurred that surgery was the best way to pin me back together. The sooner the better. It would possibly get much worse if we delayed.
It was possible, but problematic to travel elsewhere. And, I felt comfortable with Dr. Sosa. Several Belizean friends had confirmed that he is a very reputable osteopath. He seemed very competent and serious... He had performed this surgery many times before. My gut said it was ok to proceed.
That night I went through a battery of blood tests and another x-ray. We checked into our hospital room. Yes, "we" checked in. In Belize, Mexico, and most of Central America they allow spouses and family to stay overnight in the hospital. Let me rephrase... They "encourage" family to stay with the patient. This assists in their recovery. This is alien to us North Americans. Our hospitals tend to boot out our loved ones before 9 PM. I find the Latin American approach more enlightened...
Granted, the recliner Mike slept in wasn't exactly comfortable. But, he wanted to be nearby during the sensitive stages of my surgery and recovery. And it gave me great comfort to have him nearby. He found it tolerable, since he was also allowed to bring in rum and coke, and whatever food he preferred. No reason for him to suffer more than necessary!
My surgery was scheduled for the next morning at 10 AM. The nurses inserted an intravenous drip on Monday night. Everything went according to plan.
The surgery was a success. I was awake and back in my room by late afternoon. At regular intervals, nurses and orderlies checked in on me. Doctors also dropped in to ask if I needed something, or to bring me drugs or change my dressing. Good natured, all, it was hard to keep track of my many caretakers.
On the Road to Recovery - with Rutendo, Rufaro, and Lullie!
Four days is an eternity in any hospital. My room was small and clean. The nurses were professional and kind. It helped immensely that my husband could stay with me each night. But, it was boring... And I felt like a human pincushion after a while. My veins did not take well to so many injections into the IV port.
Given the number of injections, drugs and sponge baths, I got to know the nurses on a first name basis. It was a pleasant diversion to learn more about their lives and origins. Belize is such a melting pot of a country. The mix of nurses in this hospital is a mini-reflection of the unusual racial/cultural mix we find here.
I assumed that most nurses would be Belizean. But, that was not the case. My favorite nurses were actually born in Zimbabwe and Jamaica. Rutendo was the first nurse who really impressed me. Young, sweet, and shy, she was very gentle. I asked the origin of her name. Her family had emigrated from Zimbabwe seven years before.
Rutendo, such an unusual name, means Faith in the Zimbabwe language. Rutendo further explained that she has two sisters, Rufaro and Ruvimbo. Rufaro means Joy. Ruvimbo means hope. I thought this a very thoughtful way to name one's daughters.
Rutendo seemed so young. I wondered, if she was truly a nurse. But, whenever I asked her a technical question about drugs or symptoms, she gave me a no-nonsense, logical answer, using medical terminology.
The next day two different nurses were on staff to assist me. One reminded me of Rutendo, but seemed more outgoing. Was it her? Possibly the drug mix was impacting my perceptions... When I asked her name, she said "Rufaro". She said that her name means Joy. But of course, she was Rutendo's sister. They both work at the same hospital. And their sister, Ruvimbo, is also a nurse, although she works in a different hospital.
Rufaro and Lullie worked as a team. Lullie, a tall Jamaican nurse of great humor, is more similar in age to me. Lullie constantly teased Rufaro, cracking jokes as they efficiently moved me around, changing the sheets underneath me, asÃ¯Â¿Â½I lay in bed. Lullie's good humor always lightened my mood. I looked forward to visits from her and Rufaro...
I must say that the care was very attentive, and the nurses respectful. Only one nurse lacked a pleasant bedside manner. Even the anesthesiologist and surgeon checked in on me at least once a day.
I left the hospital and headed for home on Friday, May 14. I will be off my left leg for at least six weeks. So, this is definitely a story in progress. I can't say exactly how it will all turn out. But, I do feel that I received efficient, competent and compassionate care.
Total cost for tests, surgery, anesthesiology, drugs, and four nights in the hospital - about $4500 US. I checked on line and found a comparable price on the http://www.healthcarebluebook.com/ website. They suggested a price of $14,500, as a basis for negotiating. But this did not appear to include preliminary tests and ongoing drugs. Their low end cost in the USA is 300% of what I paid!
I'm on the long road to recovery, but am doing as well as can be expected. I'm not concerned that my care was substandard to that in North America. The room may have been smaller than a traditional North American hospital. But, I was very impressed by the quality and quantity of attention I received from the nurses and doctors in this Belizean hospital. The turnaround time for medical tests and for the bill was truly impressive.
Below are a few general observations I can make, after having undergone this major surgery in Belize:
- Although they did not have the latest test equipment in San Pedro for x-rays, I was able to quickly get to a hospital in Belize City where they did have the necessary equipment. If necessary, we could have taken a helicopter out the night before. It was our choice to wait.
- We were able to meet with a local doctor first thing on Monday. No delays. Her advice was sound and she set up our appointment with a reputable osteopath immediately.
- We were able to meet with a reputable osteopath as quickly as we could get to Belize City.
- X-rays and tests were turned around within a few hours.
- We were required to pay for 75% of the projected expenses before proceeding to surgery. Our credit card was accepted.
- Hospital staff worked with us to send the necessary documentation to BUPA, our insurance company, the day we arrived. The cost of the surgery was less than my $5000 deductible.
- The osteopath was very professional, and clearly laid out our options, in English.
- There were two anesthesiologists in attendance during the surgery. I had no problems associated with anesthesiology after the surgery.
- The nurses were attentive, professional, and of good humor.
- My husband stayed with me in the hospital most nights, at no extra cost.
- On the day we checked out our detailed bill arrived. We reviewed it and paid it with a credit card. There were no un-expected add-ons and the bill was detailed and clear.
It's been over three weeks since my surgery. A physical therapist comes to my home in San Pedro twice per week. He is working me hard, so that I can walk again in time for our 10th anniversary in early July. We plan to spend it on the Riviera Maya and in New Orleans. So far, he's been amazed by my progress and has given me an A+ for progress. Hopefully, by the time I send out the July Newsletter, I'll be walking on both legs once again.
Footnote: April of 2011. Â I fully recovered from my hip surgery. Â Within six weeks of the surgery Mike and I proceeded with our vacation in Mexico and New Orleans, although I was hobbling on crutches. Â The physical therapy in our San Pedro Club pool was a big help. Â I'm back to all of my normal athletic activities, including dancing, biking, swimming, walking/running, and am about to start scuba diving again.