There are some people who don’t quite understand why I’m getting ready to leave Panama, a country and its people what I truly love, and repatriate to the United States. I’ve stated that I have developed health issues, severe COPD, and Medicare doesn’t cover you once you step foot outside the borders of the U.S.
Health care here is, generally, excellent. IF you can pay for it up front. But just try getting health insurance if you’re a 74-year-old man with COPD and three arterial stents. Ain’t happening. I have been enrolled in Hospital Chiriqui’s “Insurance” program which really isn’t insurance at all. It is, rather, a program that will reimburse you for up to 75% of covered costs up to something like $30K. The alternative, if you can’t cough up $3 or $4K to get into Hospital Chiriqui or Mae Lewis, is to go to Regional.
Don Ray Williams, who writes a blog called “Chiriqui Chatter” which I have followed for years, is the U.S. Embassy Warden for this area. He acts as a liaison and first contact between U.S. expats and the Embassy. Today he had a great post that goes a long way to explain what I’d be facing if something horrible happened to me requiring hospitalization here…
“I had one person that was in the hospital because he was hit by a car crossing a street in David. The social worker called me one morning asking if I could come to the hospital and tell the patient that he needed to leave because the hospital needed the bed.
“I went to the hospital and the patient could barely talk. He was still in pain. I had the Embassy talk to the social worker and she was asked what their plan was. The social worker told the Embassy that if he didn’t leave, they might be forced to put him by the side of the road. The Embassy staff person asked if that was the same thing that would happen to a Panamanian. I didn’t hear the answer.
“I left thinking he was going to be transferred to Mae Lewis, a private hospital. He had the funds to pay for private care, but was taken to the Regional, because most accidents are taken there. I got a call at 6PM by his landlord saying he had been brought home and he couldn’t talk. Lilliam and I went to his house and called 911. He died while the 911 attendants were trying to stabilize him to return to the hospital.
“In my mind, he died because of the doctor that instructed the social worker to have him released and the social worker following her instructions. I am confident he would not have died in Mae Lewis.
“There were two more patients I met in the Regional Hospital who had been transferred from Hospital Chiriquí after they had run up bills of $40,000 and had run out of funds. Both died after a couple weeks stay in the Regional Hospital.
Another person I met had been transferred from the Interior of Panama to the Regional Hospital after falling. He didn’t have insurance and this was the only trauma hospital that could take him, even though it would have been closer to Panama City’s Santo Tomás. He also didn’t leave the hospital alive.
“I believe the Regional Hospital does the best they can with what they have and there is a tremendous amount of construction going on at the Regional Hospital to serve more people. There are a lot of good people working there, but the staff is stretched to its limit, from what I have seen. I will still say that I would want to go to a private hospital as my first choice.
“I feel fairly confident that Marion, my friend that was shot and left for dead in Potrerillos, would not have survived had she not been fortunate enough to be admitted into Mae Lewis.
“On another occasion, there was a U.S. citizen that was in need of surgery and his son came to Panama to see him. The Embassy asked if I could assist, as the son did not speak Spanish. After being here a few days the son needed to return to the U.S. and I took him to the hospital to say goodbye.
“When we got to the hospital, I was told he could not be seen. I said it was important for the son to talk to him because he was returning to the U.S. and it might be his last time t see him.
“The nurses started making calls, because they are usually helpful when I hand the, my Embassy introduction letter. They finally came out and gave the son and me masks, gowns and gloves to put on.
“We visited the father and after I left, I learned that the ward had a bacterial resistant virus and it was not safe to be there. Sometimes my not willing to take “no” for an answer puts me in places I shouldn’t be. It was good that he got to see his father because he only lived a few days after having surgery.
“Because of volunteering for the Embassy, I have had the occasion to meet a doctor in one of the local clinics that always complains about freeloading and indigent U.S. Citizens that expect free healthcare from Panama. He always says he can’t understand why the Panama government allows these type of people to come here. He always says this in Spanish assuming I don’t understand.
“Now this is not a criticism of the healthcare system, but it is a criticism of this particular doctor. In both cases he implied that he would treat the patient if they made an appointment at Hospital Chiriquí (I assume this is preferable because he wanted more pay).
“Still, I agree with him in that no U.S. citizen should plan on coming here and taking advantage of a public healthcare that is intended for caring for the people of Panama. None the less, his attitude was not one of a doctor I would want in control of my life.”
So there it is. The possibility scares me, especially when I realize that I felt fine right up to the instant I started having my heart attack several years ago. Or when I was walking down the sidewalk outside of Bethesda Naval Hospital and a car got forced off the road and hit me while it was doing almost 30 mph. SHIT HAPPENS. I JUST HATE IT WHEN IT HAPPENS TO ME!!!