Medical problems can occur anywhere and at any time. Margaret M. describes the horror of having a medical emergency overseas.
"My husband and I booked a trip to Spain in February 2007. While we were in Andalucia, my husband had a heart attack. An ambulance took him to the hospital. The vouchers we received from the vacation provider gave us four emergency numbers to contact in case of emergency. Not one of the numbers answered the phone. One had been disconnected. The hospital tried all night and my kids in the U.S. tried also.
"The hospital decided my husband was so ill he needed an angiogram to determine the problem. I was told I would have to transfer €25,000 into the hospital account before he could have the procedure. As I had no option, I did so. This took a big chunk of our life savings. The test showed he had three blockages and would need a triple bypass. He could not be flown home or even moved. For the triple bypass, the hospital needed another €50,000. We contacted the American Embassy, who called the hospital and confirmed this. The embassy does not offer any financial help, no matter the situation. They actually did nothing for us.
"My husband had excellent medical attention and survived the surgery. We had to stay an extra month before he could travel, and my two daughters came over at different times to assist me, each for two weeks. For all this I have received $5,000 from the travel insurance, $2,000 from MasterCard for the fares home, and $2,300 from the vacation provider."
What to do
A heart attack is scary enough when you're at home and covered by your health insurance. It's even scarier abroad where you have to pay out of pocket for services provided. Margaret was smart and took out travel insurance with medical coverage, but it did not come close to covering the entire cost of her husband's hospital bills.
When you travel overseas, it's smart to purchase travel insurance with medical coverage just in case something happens to you. You should pay careful attention to how much of your medical bills will be covered, and always take the insurance provider's international phone number. If you believe you're more at risk for injury or illness, you may want to take out extra medical insurance in addition to what's offered under your trip cancellation insurance. Just remember that many policies won't cover pre-existing conditions. Also, it never hurts to check with your U.S. healthcare provider to see if it will cover any emergency medical treatment overseas.
The horror never ends
Travel can be fraught with peril, but mostly it yields rewarding and energizing experiences. To prevent scary incidents from happening to you, prepare yourself as much as possible before you leave home. If you encounter a difficult situation, keep your wits about you and be as resourceful as you can. Hopefully, these reader stories will scare you into being a better-educated traveler, and in the future, you won't be so spooked by the vagaries of travel providers around the world.
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel.com is published by Smarter Travel Media LLC, a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns CruiseCritic.com.)