Going to hospital in Buenos Aires

After a frustrating discussion with travel insurance as I wrote about in the previous blog, I went to a Buenos Aires’ hospital to get help for my increased myasthenia symptoms.

As you can imagine, going to a hospital in a country where you only speak ‘un pocito’ of the language was frightening. I don’t think I’ve ever had such rapid deterioration and I had no idea of how to explain this or even if they would know of the condition.

Luckily, we found a private hospital where they had staff who could speak English. We went to the emergency waiting room thinking we should follow the same process as at home, but we were quickly redirected to the neurology clinic. The receptionists, although baffled by our ‘Spanglish’, were quickly able to establish that I needed a translator. Because it was so late in the day after all the messing around with the travel insurance, the translator had left however one of the staff members spoke enough English to help us.

Less than an hour after arriving, I was sitting in front of an empathetic neurologist who was telling me to relax and that I was in safe hands. My condition was explored and my symptoms documented – then the normal tests of muscle strength were carried out for the whole body (holding legs up, pressing up with arms, scrunching up facial muscles etc etc). The checks were more thorough than any I’ve had at home.

Having established that the flare up was only affecting my vision in terms of muscle strength, I was taken for blood and urine tests. The final tests were from a lung doctor to test if my breathing had been impacted. That was an interesting experience and not one I have had before – blowing as hard as you can into a piece of equipment like a breathalyser is bloody difficult. It gave me a lot of sympathy for anyone with asthma as apparently they have to do these tests regularly.

Finally I was asked to go back to speak to the neurologist. She was able to tell me within two hours of doing them that I didn’t have an infection and then we worked out a plan for my treatment.

The doctor prescribed me to increase my steroids to 10mg a day and two mestinons a day. If this had been in Scotland, I would have been disappointed to be jumping back up on the steroids. But when I was handed the prescription, I felt such a relief that I could have cried. I probably would have if I wasn’t so exhausted – by this point I could hardly keep my eyes open. And that night, for the first time in almost a week, I slept right through and woke up feeling a hundred times better.

I returned to the hospital for check ups after this and was given the same level of excellent care and support. Not only that but when I left, I was told if I needed anything to get back in touch and given the names of neurologists in the next place I was going.

While I know I was lucky to be near a capital city like Buenos Aires when this happened, I was very impressed by both the standard of care and the cost of the treatments. It may have been my travel nightmare up until the hospital, but as soon as I was in that neurologist’s consultation room I felt in safe hands.

The picture for this blog was taken outside Manzana de las Luces in Buenos Aires where I did a tango class a few days after the increased meds kicked in. Since those few days at the hospital, it’s been back to having fun and trying new things!

Myasthenia and using travel insurance

As I mentioned in my last blog, I had a relapse of double vision when in Uruguay in February. Before jumping to the treatment I received in Argentina, I want to talk about the experience I had with the travel insurance provider.

Ever since being diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, I have been particularly careful when choosing a travel insurance policy. I felt it was inevitable that one day I would need to use it and that time finally came in Buenos Aires last week.

Before calling the insurance company, I used the online doctor service that was included. It was literally a video chat with a British doctor who confirmed I should go to a medical facility to see a neurology specialist ASAP. So I phoned my travel insurance with her recommendation to check if there were any facilities that they would recommend, stressing that it was important for me that they could cater for English-speaking patients.

I hoped that it would be a quick call to the travel insurance just to get a recommendation, but I spent the next three hours having an on and off conversation with one of their staff.

After a long initial conversation about my condition and what the doctor had recommended, the assistant went away and then emailed me over an hour later with a list of rheumatologists in the city although I had told him that the doctor had recommended a neurologist. In the email, he also said I needed to phone each of them to see if they had English-speaking doctors.

When I phoned him back to tell him no I needed an English speaking neurologist, he told me I should consider seeing a rheumatologist instead…as if he had had a brainwave about treating the whole condition. Only after I was quite firm with him, did he eventually agree to look at neurologists. He then again emailed a google search of neurologists without any information about whether they spoke English but also said I should think about his rheumatologist point. Never in my years of having the condition, have I ever had a rheumatologist recommended and, from a quick check on the MG Facebook support groups, it’s incredibly rare that someone would see this type of specialist if they only have MG.

All the time we were having this back and forth ‘discussion’, I was in my darkened hotel room feeling my energy levels – which were at this point already very low – dropping. But there was no sense of any concern whatsoever from the insurance company assistant.

When we were on the way to the hospital I had found with English speaking doctors and staff, he called again to say that unless I had declared the condition I wouldn’t get any treatment paid for. Hardly the right time to bring this detail up! Of course I had declared it and paid the excess, which earlier I assumed he had seen on my file rather than adding stress to an already unpleasant situation after three hours of terrible service.

All in all, it was an utterly frustrating experience that seemed to lack in any kind of empathy. I know most people will not be shocked by this, but I do wonder why we allow an industry that is meant to be providing us a specific service to be so inept when we are at our most vulnerable? There is definitely a business opportunity for a kinder travel insurance company, or even a customer service team who ask callers once how they are doing.

I have now submitted my claim, so I look forward to seeing how that goes but I’ll be doing a bit more research about other providers the next time I take a trip.