Health & Medical

Medical Issues While Overseas

Does it make you nervous to think about having a medical issue while overseas? Do you wonder about one or more of the following:

  • What will you do when someone has to go to the hospital?
  • How will you know what the hospital staff are saying?
  • Will you understand what needs to be done to help you or your loved one?
  • Will the medical assistance be hygienic, safe or affordable?
  • Will your insurance cover you while traveling?


Let’s see if we can work on some of these questions together. We’ll do this by telling four real world experiences we had while traveling the world. Not every situation will be the same and while there are guidelines to help in a medical situation anywhere in the world sometimes stories help put the guidelines into real world understanding.


Wisdom Teeth in Atlanta and Davao

Three weeks before leaving for the Philippines, I got 2 wisdom teeth removed.  We figured I had time to recover and then finish final prep for the trip….how wrong we were!!!  My tooth extraction site continued to be very painful.  The pain meds from the surgery made me sick to my stomach and after many calls and a visit to our local dentist we were told that I had a dry socket.  My dentist packed the hole with a special paste that helps protect the exposed nerve and said it would be 4-5 days until the pain subsided.  We followed doctor’s instructions and I muscled through the pain waiting for the time to pass.  The pain never went away.  We planned to drive from Michigan to Georgia to visit family before flying out of Atlanta headed for Davao, Philippines.   The pain continued through the entire road trip.  Once we arrived, I visited another dental clinic and they packed the hole again.  The pack came out again the next day so I returned and they packed the hole a third time and then stitched it closed.  So now I had nerve pain and a swollen jaw from the stitches.  I was taking 6-8 ibuprofen about every 3-4 hours just in order to survive.    Everyone had cautioned us that a dry socket combined with cabin pressure on a airplane may be extremely painful but thankfully I never experienced EXTRA pain from the cabin pressure.  Shortly after arrival in Davao, I started to notice that it would ooze when I pushed in my jaw near the extraction site.  I was pretty sure it was infected so I started on the antibiotics that the Atlanta dental clinic had given me after the stitches.  At this point I had been in moderate to severe pain (depending on how long it had been since I took ibuprofen) for 5 weeks.  After I finished the antibiotics, my jaw was looking much better but was still quite painful.  Paul found our closest pharmacy and purchased some painkillers.  They didn’t do much.  He tried again telling them the first ones didn’t help.  The second ones they gave him were the ticket and helped with my pain until it seemed to fade slowly away about 2 weeks after the antibiotics.


Moving to a new culture is hard.  Learning language, where to shop, how to cook differently, making friends with neighbors, acclimating to a new climate and even getting over jet lag makes the transition even more difficult.  However, doing all this while in extreme pain was monumentally hard.  A ‘perfect storm’ I never want to have to weather again!

Kazakhstan Parasite

We were teaching at a International School in Almaty, Kazakhstan when I started having stabbing abdominal pains and overwhelming fatigue.  The staff at the school helped us find a English speaking doctor (father of some of the students) who examined me and after making sure I wasn’t pregnant, gave me strong meds for parasites.  I spent 2 weeks on bed rest until the parasite was killed and I could regain my strength to walk across the street to the school again.  Yikes!


Chiang Mai Surgery

When we were living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, our 6 year old son’s medical condition (a hydrocele) worsened unexpectedly and was beginning to cause him discomfort.  We had planned to leave it be as long as it didn’t bother him but it was time to act.  We looked online at the hospitals in the area and made our choice.  We used the criteria of proximity to our house, cost of surgery, available translators, and patient reviews.  After we chose the hospital, we called and made an appointment with the doctor (which was scheduled for 3 days later) who would be doing the surgery.  At the appointment, he examined our son, Josiah, and talked with us about the surgery and also answered all of our questions.  We felt comfortable with proceeding and we scheduled the surgery for only 2 days later!


We were most nervous about not being allowed to be with Josiah or not understanding what was happening surrounding his care.  We learned in the meeting with the doctor that we would be allowed to stay with him in his room the whole time.


Once we arrived for surgery, we were taken to his room (we had chosen a single room).  Wow!  It was HUGE and decorated so cute for kids!  There was even a double size mattress for me to sleep on.  Unexpected blessing!  We asked for a translator and they sent one to us.  It was nice to get all our questions answered again before surgery.


After surgery was over, they let me go into recovery and be with him after he had woken up.  He spent 3 days at the hospital total and had a very uneventful recovery!


Our biggest frustration was that most of the nurses did not speak English.  We expected this but we also expected to have a translator available to us and we found that they were only available to us 8am-6pm.  The evening and overnights were tough as there were medicine changes and IV adjustments that I struggled to know what has happening and for what purpose.  They were great about trying to explain but I think that in the end they felt as though their job was to give him this new medication and whether or not I understood, they needed to do their job.


All in all the level of care was very high quality.  The hospital staff was wonderful.  The gentleness and kindness of the doctors and nurses toward Josiah were very good.  The facilities were very clean.  Josiah’s wound healed perfectly without any issues and the scar is barely noticeable.  The doctor did a great job!  We really couldn’t be happier with the outcome!  Also surprising was that from our initial phone call to the doctor to the post-op check up was a total of only 15 days!  That’s crazy fast compared with what we were used to in the US!!


The whole hospital package, including surgery, doctors appointments (pre-surgery and follow-up), medications, single room cost, food, etc. was approx $ 2,289 USD.  This without any insurance paying part or discounts for anything.  Clearly, a VERY reasonable price compared with the same in the US.


Bali Stitches

While we were in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, our 4 year old had wet feet and slipped on smooth flooring splitting his chin open on a coffee table edge.  I wrapped his head with an bandage wrap to keep the chin flap closed and we rushed him to the local clinic…by motor scooter of course! At the clinic, they stitched him up very well. They were much more efficient and he experienced significantly less discomfort than his US chin stitching experience (yes, it was his second chin split…he’s THAT kid).  We were in and out in approx 20 minutes and the total cost including the stitching/doctor bill, local numbing injections, and all the supplies we would need to clean and re-dress the wound for a week cost a grand total of $112 USD.


After these experiences, we feel confident that no matter where we are and what happens to us, we can navigate medical experiences that we encounter.  Sure not all of them may turn out as positively as these two did but our travels and experiences have given us a confidence to be able to handle whatever comes our way.



We were doubly covered.  We have been members of a medical cost sharing co-op ever since we were pregnant with our first child.  When outside of our home country we also add traveler’s insurance so even these low cost procedures were taken care of.  We wrote more about insurance (medical and travel) in this article.

The NomadTogether forum has a section for medical issues.  Members of the site ask medically related questions and help each other be more confident when medical situations occur. Sign up today to start getting advice for your location independent family.

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