In Sickness and in Health: Welcome to Ecuador

View from our window

View from our window

We arrived in Manta, Ecuador the first week of September and spent the first couple of days settling into our new apartment on the 11th floor, stocking up the kitchen and looking at the Pacific view from our kitchen window (we’re in the lower rent unit which faces the city rather than the beach).  And then… one of us (let’s use the Spanish word for sick, “Enfermo”, for our patient) was down with fever, chills and a gut-wrenching, racking cough that was accompanied by a growing sense of fatigue, malaise and a slowly increasing shortness-of-breath. And, not just for a short period of time but for days…

City view from the living room

City view from the living room

When you’re traveling, health comes before everything else.  Exploring a new environment or meeting other people just isn’t practical or even doable when you don’t feel well.  Luckily, so far, when one of us has been down the other has been healthy and can run errands, track down a doctor or medication, heat up the chicken soup and generally act as a stand-in for mom, a cheerleader when the whining starts or an advocate when navigating a foreign medical system.

While we have a few health issues we’re generally fairly healthy but we’ve needed to find a doctor and /or dentist several times and in several countries in our two years of travel. When in need of medical care we’ve availed ourselves of our contacts to gain access to proficient heath care. We’ve asked the people from whom we were renting, reached into the expat community for advice and inquired through language schools or NGO’s where we were volunteering. It boils down to relying upon the knowledge of those who live in the community.Clinica Americana

Once it became clear that Enfermo was not going to become well using our emergency supply of medications we reached out to find assistance. The fastest response came from our apartment manager who found a doctor who specialized in respiratory diseases; a pulmonologist by training.  An appointment was set up for that afternoon and a taxi took us across town to the Clinica Americana, which, while only a block from the Malecon (the walkway along the beach), looked rather rundown on the outside and, while clean, old-fashioned looking on the inside.inside clinica Americana

Upon our arrival we were warmly greeted by the doctor who introduced us to his wife seated at the reception desk. The doctor spoke some English but called in his daughter, an outgoing second-year medical student, to join us and assist with the translation during the examination. We spent an hour in the doctor’s office during which he examined the patient and we all discussed Enfermo’s medical issues.  We also engaged in conversations about the Doctor’s travels in the US to attend medical conferences and our travels in Central America. Before leaving, the doctor provided us with a prescription for medications we would need to pick up at the farmacia (most are available for the asking without a prescription). He most generously gave us samples of medications which we would need or were currently using.  With a follow-up appointment in hand we willingly paid the nominal $40 consultation fee and departed.the doctor and daughter

The following week found us back for the scheduled appointment with the daughter again in attendance to assist with any translation difficulties. Poor Enfermo’s cough had improved but the feeling of fatigue and shortness of breath had become worse.  A breathing treatment with a nebulizer was administered and the doctor doled out more samples of different antibiotics used in a combination one-two punch against the offender, bronchitis.  He also graciously loaned us a nebulizer to continue a few more breathing treatments at home.  Enfermo left the office a half hour later with new prescriptions, a third appointment date in another week and a more positive outlook about the prospects of a future recovery.  We, again, gladly ponied up the nominal fee.inside Fybeca

our favorite pharmacy!

our favorite pharmacy!

There is an old saying that, “When you have your health you have everything” and at no time in our lives has that saying been more true than when we’ve been traveling.  Being of the baby boomer generation we are much more aware of our health than, say, a traveler in the twenty to thirty year-old range.  Realistically, we know that this is the best our health will ever be, right here and now.  Additionally, we travel as partners sharing the fun and also the not-so-fun times that come with traveling as a lifestyle.  We’re fully cognizant that pursuing our travel dream could come to a standstill if one of us becomes seriously ill.

Recuperating in our new  home

Recuperating in our new home

Enfermo is much improved and, after being holed up in our apartment for an interminable period, we’re now looking forward to exploring Manta and Ecuador and sharing it with our readers.

By Anita and Richard     September 2014

 

 

 

 

36 comments

  • It’s so scary to become ill while you’re visiting a developing country. I learned that when I became super sick in Tanzania. I’m glad you were able to get help and well so you could enjoy your time in Ecuador

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    • Becoming ill in a foreign country could have been a frightening experience but we learned right away that we had people we could rely on for answers; we had 3 different people respond to our question about finding a doctor and a few people followed up and inquired regularly about Enfermo’s health. That’s as good as it gets!

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  • Well gosh – not a very nice welcome, but glad “Enfermo” is feeling better. Bienvenido a Ecuador! Let me know when you head UP here to Cuenca.

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  • Such a timely post for us – fellow baby boomers – one of us is looking at his insurance coverage back home, having turned 65 and needing to wade through supplemental Medicare paperwork while the other of us is researching Yellow Fever and trying to decide whether a shot is necessary before an upcoming trip or not. . .so goes the life of boomer travelers!

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    • Decisions, decisions! We’re carrying the world-wide insurance for our travels but will probably not renew it and choose to “self-insure” paying as we go. Health care has proven to be so reasonable, compared to the US, and competent that we feel comfortable with this decision, at least until we take off our traveling shoes and find a place to call home again in the, hopefully, distant future.

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  • My best wishes for a complete recovery with the goodness and sunshine of panama to keep you going. Wonderful story of your creativity and initiatives on foreign soil.

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    • Thanks Maida! Richard is feeling much better and we’ve started to explore Manta and the little towns around it. Luckily, we’re here for a couple more months so we’ll be able to see many of the places we had planned on. One of the best parts of traveling slow is that it allows for some downtime when needed.

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  • Feeling sick far from the familiar (notice I avoided the use of the word ‘home’!) is awful –
    But at least you had a nice looking apartment to hole up in!
    Hopefully feeling back to your old (no pun intended LOL) self now 😉

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    • If one of us has to be sick it’s so much better to be in an apartment than a dark hotel room! It was wonderful to be able to make soup, one of our comfort food standbys and pick different rooms to rest and recuperate in. One of the great things about travel is that we really appreciate the luxuries of space, quiet and privacy when we have them!

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  • Glad to hear Dick is better.

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  • I’m glad to hear “Enfermo” is feeling better – I recently had to make an emergency trip to the dentist here in Mexico so can relate to the challenges of finding good assistance in a foreign country. Your advice is right on.

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  • So sorry to hear about your experience but it sounds like you handled it well and were very lucky to find a pulmonologist. Getting sick away from home is a scary experience.

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    • Since slow travel has become our lifestyle we know that illness will occur at various points along the road despite all our precautions. We are much more aware of our health than we were at home and make sure we have our first aid kit stocked, some basic antibiotics, eat as healthy as we can, get enough sleep, etc. Health is everything!

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  • Excellent advice on how to find the best medical assistance in an emergency. I’m glad Enfermo is doing better!

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    • Thanks, Marilyn. We’ve found that our first priority in any new city is find our “go-to” man or woman who usually happens to be the people we’re renting from or staying with. Having someone who can point you in the right direction, give you some tips on places to see and eat or refer you to someone else is a huge help!

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  • Glad to hear that “Enfermo” is recovering. We have been lucky with our health while traveling too, and the few times we have had to seek medical help in foreign lands it has always gone well.

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    • It’s been an eye-opener and very reassuring to know that good quality, professional health care has been available when we’ve needed it. The doctors have much more time to listen to us (as we stumble through our Spanglish) and it’s been terrific to find our that good medical care needn’t cost a fortune!

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  • Within 24 hours of finishing a full summer of travel my husband had a retinal tear and 10 days later a full retinal detachment. That’s when I thank our lucky stars that we were in a big city with a half dozen retinologists and not out in the boonies, days away from help. Health really is everything and you don’t give it a second thought till it’s gone. Glad to hear you had such reasonably priced and excellent care.

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    • You’re right about the importance of health in our day-to-day lives but it moves to the number one spot on the list for travelers who must navigate their way through foreign cities and foreign medical practices. How fortunate you were that you were in a city that had so many resources when your husband experienced the retinal detachment! It’s a frightening thought (and one we’ll put to the backs of our minds!) to realize that accidents and illness can happen at any time…

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  • That an interesting story. Thanks for sharing! I was very sick once in Quebec, Canada, and the hotel front desk was fantastic with a dr. recommendation who came to my room and got me up and running again with a day. My meds were also delivered to my room from the pharmacy!

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    • Even though I worked as a hospital pharmacist for many years and should be more positive about health care in the US, my experience as a patient seeking care made me feel that our system has devolved to an assembly line, impersonal experience. This is contrasted to the prompt and professional care that we’ve received with many health care professionals in Latin America at very low costs. Definitely an eye-opener… Anita

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  • All the best! I hope the enfermo is well again…
    We have found so far that health care in Latin America in general is cheap and good. Don’t judge a book by its cover – not all facilities look as modern and clean as we might be used to (this doesn’t necessarily apply to us Australians – our local hospital is infested with Asbestos and no money to rectify), but the knowledge and particularly effort provided by local doctors is quite surprising. Often we wondered why we had travel health insurance, as the small invoices were hardly worth a claim.

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    • We’ve been paying-out-of-pocket as we travel even though we each bought hefty travel insurance policies for catastrophic illness or accident at the beginning of our nomadic life. Richard dropped his coverage for the 3rd yearly renewal cycle and I won’t renew mine either. Paying as we go has been much cheaper than we expected and paying premiums is, in our opinion, a huge waste of money AS LONG AS WE’RE OUT OF THE US. It’s also nice to know that the health care is good and we’re not helping to redecorate the doctor’s office! Anita

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  • You’re so right that if we’re generally healthy a bout with something as “mundane” as bronchitis – glad it wasn’t anything more serious – can knock us back considerably. Isn’t it amazing the quality and accessibility of health care for such reasonable prices. We recently purchased new bifocals here in Fiji for less than half of the cost back in Minnesota when we last had our prescriptions filled. Glad everything worked out and you’re enjoying your new location. 🙂

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    • Being sick makes us so much more grateful for the gift of (fairly) good health and is one of the reasons that we decided to retire early and pursue our dream of travel now rather than be haunted later by the question of “What If?” We’ve heard so many stories of friends and others who’s sentences start with “If only.” Definitely helps with any procrastination problems!

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  • Oh yes!!!!! I was scared reading this in the beginning, but I am so happy you’re better. Be careful my sweet friends. Chris

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    • Dick’s almost back to normal, Chris, and it’s making us really appreciate what a gift our “fairly good” (ha-ha!) health can be. Luckily, finding our way around the health care systems in various countries has shown us that the health professionals from country to country have been well-trained, caring and competent at a fraction of US costs.

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  • Oh my! So glad to hear that Richard is better. Yes! When sick in a foreign country, always ask the locals. They can direct you to the best doctors. It’s still kind of scary, though. But, now that he’s on the mend, I am looking forward to seeing more of Manta. We spent a day in Manta when we flew out of Manta to Quito. Funny, how it smelled like tuna fish as soon as we entered the city limits. There are big tuna processing plants there. I wish we would have had more time to explore, but I’ll rely on you to be my ears and eyes. Enjoy your stay!

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    • Now that we’re both on our feet again we’re having a great time exploring Manta including the huge fish market on the beach with an enormous tuna processing plant across the street. We’ve been there in the early morning and the fish smell is more “whiffs of the ocean” since they’re all fresh caught but I imagine the smell could get overwhelming later in the day!

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  • Glad to know Dick is doing much better. Your apartment looks very nice and very comfortable. Enjoy Ecuador and keep posting. We love your posts.

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    • We’re enjoying the apartment immensely. After all the travel in August and staying hither and yon with various relatives (all of whom we love and miss!) it’s great to have our own space again for a few months. And, if one of us had to be sick, a sunny apartment is much more preferable than a dark hotel room!

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  • Stay well…both of you! Loved this weeks post 😊

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