We have all felt this dread. “Should I let them go ziplining? Cave Diving? Cliff jumping?” “What happens if something goes wrong?” It would be a nightmare no matter where in the world an accident occurred, but especially so overseas, right? You would be correct in this fear. It is scary. These foreign ER fears often convince us to not take risks, to not live fully, something happening to ourselves or our children is the scariest thing about parenting. I am here to tell you that it is not the unnecessary risks that will land you in the ER- it is the daily tasks gone array.
In the summer of 2018, while backpacking Europe with my three small children, we had the joy (sarcasm) of experiencing four different Emergency Rooms in THREE different countries. Trust me, I know how it appears, like the world’s most overlooked CPS case, but all three incidences were bizarre and took place within whatever living situation we were in at the time.
The Greek ER: When Things Other Than Language Are The Issue
In June, we were eaten alive by mosquitos in Athens, Greece. This was not new to us as we seem to be magnets for them no matter the continent or weather. One afternoon we were walking back from the park in the sweltering heat and my oldest son started complaining about his hip hurting. He had had no recent falls or bruising that I was aware of so I didn’t think much of it. Later that evening he was still complaining about his hip and side hurting so I took a look. What I discovered sent me into a small panic attack; there in his right groin area, in the lymph node, were numerous bulging masses. . .
I immediately thought that he had a severe bowel hernia as it had been a few days since his last bowel movement and now suddenly it all made sense. I began doing extensive research for a children’s hospital that would take Tricare. There was one and that is how we came to find ourselves waiting in line in the Greek Pediatric Care Unit over an hour from our then apartment.
I made a decision that day that would set the stage for the coming injuries; go to a children’s hospital if you are able. Luckily that was my first instinct, but unluckily for me, children’s hospitals are not all that common in Greece. It took the kids and I the better part of the morning to get there between walking, then the bus, followed by the metro, then another bus, followed by more walking. We waited for about 2.5 hours to be seen that morning, and then we were seen by two pediatric physicians, followed by a specialist.
Language Wasn’t the Issue
Though language was a struggle, someone that spoke better English than the last was brought in to help translate. I know very basic Greek, but it’s conversational Greek not medical. When the young physician examined our then 5-year-old’s groin area, the concern was not the bulging lymph node, but the fact that I was presumed to be withholding medical history because my child was circumcised and that meant that something horrible had happened to this region of his body before to warrant such a procedure!
The conversation went something like this:
Greek Physician: What happened to warrant this surgery? Has he had an infection before?
Me: No, he is just circumcised per my husband’s decision.
Stunned Greek Physician: I have never heard of such a thing.
Hours later, they discovered that there was an infection in his groin due to an infected mosquito bite on his leg. Externally, the mosquito bite looked like any other partially healed bite, but when they lanced it… .well, let’s just say that I had to continue to lance it every 48 hours for three weeks while he took around the clock steroid antibiotics.
Our overall Greek hospital experience was perfectly fine. It was clean. The physicians seemed knowledgeable about everything except cosmetic circumcision. The pharmaceuticals are so cheap it is mind-blowing. I paid 8 Euros total for three specialist examinations, x-rays, and two 7-day rounds of antibiotics.
When The ER is Remote or Far Away
Just two hours after arriving via train to a tiny village in Tuscany our third son, then only 18 months old, fell a whopping 18 inches off of a stone wall and landed on his wrist thus fracturing it. In rural Italy, very little English is spoken. In fact, in Italy as a whole, very little English is spoken. English only became the national second language in the last generation. All of the generations prior had a second language of French. When our little guy fell there was ONE person working at the castle we were staying in that spoke English and Italian fluently. He was tasked with the job of driving me to the nearest hospital. This man was God sent, and would later become a dear friend and I would discover that he speaks eight languages.
Elvys drove us 30 minutes to the nearest hospital. They would not take us because they did not have an ER or any kind of Orthopedic specialist. We were sent another hour down the road to the outskirts of Florence to a small hospital there. No one spoke English except my new friend Elvys. He was not allowed past registration so I was on my own with a screaming child. Luckily, hand gestures go a long way if you are calm and coherent enough to understand them. One nurse, in particular, worked with me only using pointing and signs. She and I managed to get us through x-ray, to casting, back to x-ray, and through payment without anyone crying.
This hospital did not bill TRICARE, it was my only option, and I had to pay out of pocket within three weeks of the casting. My whole bill was $75… nothing compared to American health care. Are you noticing a pattern yet? My bill so far for ER visits in two different countries is now totaled at $83.
The Italian Hospital was significantly dingier, but ultimately got the job done just fine.
The Third Foreign ER Visit
The night we arrived in Rome, my oldest son pushed the middle son (then 4) off of the hotel room bed, shattering the top of his foot. Because this happened at 10 pm at night, now knowing that I would have to wait at least 3 hours, I opted to wait until morning. The next morning we spent almost 5 hours waiting in a Roman Children’s Hospital ER. They did an initial exam, then x-rays, followed by an open-toed cast and another set of x-rays as-well-as the canceling of 2 tours, the purchasing of a wheelchair and having to opt for the train to Germany because he was not allowed to fly. The cast they put on him would be temporary until we arrived in Germany for the removal of that cast and the creation of another one that he would be in for an additional month.
The Roman ER was very nice and new. I left there paying nothing. As a matter of fact, I asked the lady at the desk if I owed anything and she said “Money? Why would you owe anything? No! Please go enjoy the day!” This was not the hospital I was told to go to by Tricare, this is the one I went to based on local recommendation.
The Straight Lines of the German ER
When we arrived in Germany I found the TRICARE approved children’s hospital. A well run, efficient addition to the area like most other things German in design. We went through the Emergency Room to have his cast removed because they would not allow us to make an appointment since they did not put on the original cast. So we waited…again. The cast was taken off, more x-rays were done, then another (non-weight bearing) cast was put on for another month. We left without a price tag. Four weeks later we went back to the same hospital for the cast removal and another set of x-rays. We saw the bill just last week for $47, which Tricare covered. Our cost for the broken foot was the $150 I had to pay for a used wheelchair through a third party pharmacy in Rome.
Most of Germany speaks English fluently. The issues I found with the German medical system were small things that became frustrating later. For example, this particular hospital only does cast removals by appointment on Tuesdays. They only accept walk-in removals on Monday afternoons. Things of this nature were frustrating but understandable. The reason why the German infrastructure runs so smoothly is that everything has its time.
Putting Foreign ER Fears Aside
The scariest thing in the world is something happening to our children. The second scariest is the cost that might come with it. Rest assured that with TRICARE insurance you will be able to be seen at no cost. If you are somewhere with an out of network ER and they do not accept TRICARE, do not fret. The foreign medical system, especially in Europe, is incredibly affordable. You are not charged for seeing specialists and physicians you are charged for material (plaster, tape, x-rays) even these items are significantly cheaper than the American system. Live and let live out in the world with little fear of what could happen and more trust in the capabilities of the people’s whose country you visit.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on AirBnB Disasters: When Accommodations are Poor