After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Medical Concerns of The Expat Life

Do you dream of being an expat somewhere? Do you imagine retiring to some exotic locale way, way south of the border? Do you fantasize living the rest of your life in the Mecca of Tango where you can dance 24/7?

It's a fabulous idea and an incredible experience if you can pull it off. Who doesn't want to "follow their bliss?"

As someone who's been there, my advice is to just please use common sense and a dose of reality when you are making your plans. And remember, everything is easier when you are young. If you are a retiree or over 55, I'm sorry to say it's tougher--everything is more difficult as the years add up, especially physical concerns--but it's not impossible.

One very important thing to consider before pulling up stakes for parts unknown, is your health history. If you have chronic health problems or have suffered a catastrophic illness, you might want to reconsider starting over in a strange land, especially in the Third World. My attitude at the time was that I had survived cancer, it was all behind me, what the hell, I'm going for a new life.

But when I had a complication from radiation treatments received in Los Angeles after I returned to Mexico in 2003, the doctors there had very little experience with radiation as most Mexican BC patients have radical mastectomies and no radiation. I found a good oncologist in a small town in the middle of nowhere who figured it out, but that's what he told me.

Medical care in a foreign country is not the same as you are used to. And if you are not a native speaker of your new country's language, when you are weak, nervous and sick you may misunderstand the medical instructions in any language. Even if the doctor also speaks English, there can be miscommunication due to inexact language usage.

If there is free public health care available to you, are you sure you would want that instead of a top-of-the-line medical team? Can you afford to pay a top team and private hospital? A friend of mine on a tango vacation once needed emergency surgery and the hospital required a payment of $10,000 usd before proceeding; she had to wait for two days until the money arrived from Sweden. Thankfully, she is just fine now, several years later.

Some people say in an emergency or in the face of a serious illness, they would fly home for treatment. Money must be available for that option, as well as a health plan in the home country.

And when you are sick and used to running to the drugstore for your favorite OTC treatment, it can be a shock to realize that many are not available world-wide. Sure, there are local medicines, but you need to find out what you need and how it suits you before you desperately need it! I really miss Pepto Bismol, Nyquil, and many others (and thankfully have friends from abroad who keep me supplied).

My purpose is not to scare anyone from taking a chance on a new life in a new country, but just to bring awareness that it, like most things, can be more complicated than you think, and probably will be.


Notes From ABroad said...

One of the first things we did upon arrival in Buenos Aires, the first week here, was buy health insurance.
I can pay for a doctor or pharmacy bills but as anywhere, you don't want to have to worry if you have to go to a hospital.
Ours is Aleman and we are very happy with them.

I too, have friends who bring me things like that :)

Janice MacLeod said...

Note to self. Thanks for the info... especially since death isn't preferred when visiting another country.