Costa Rica Health Care Saved My Life

Written by Michael Simons on . Posted in Newsletters

 

So how’s the Costa Rica health care system?  Here’s my personal experience.  “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” was always my favorite Van Halen song, but last weekend, it had an entirely different meaning.  At 3:30 AM Saturday night / Sunday morning, I woke up suffocating, having absolutely NO ability to take a breath, and I was totally panicked.  My lungs were filled with liquid, and my throat was completely closed, my airway had shut down.  For what seemed like an eternity, I fought for a breath, trying to cough, trying to clear my throat and my lungs, but there was just no pressure to do it.

Millie was flipping out, barking intensely, and that roused the rest of the pack, and they chimed in too through the panes of my window, scratching and howling, trying to get in to help me.  I will save you the gory details but I forced my throat open and managed to get just enough air to clear my passage.  I probably had less than 10% capacity but I was breathing again.  I immediately picked up my cell phone and called my friend Dr. Pablo, “I can’t breathe” I managed to squeak out and he told me he would be RIGHT OVER.

Literally a couple minutes later, there is this screeching sound as he peels into my driveway and I jump in his car and off we go.  We were flying down the highway at about 150 kph, racing to the emergency room in Liberia.  One of the biggest selling points of living in this part of Costa Rica is that we have some incredible hospitals and they are very close by, Thank God. 

If I was living in a more remote area, like Arenal or Nosara, I probably would not be writing to you right now.  As we were playing NASCAR race driver, Pablo continued to keep me calm, assuring me everything would be ok.  I remember thinking, “Wow, this is a pretty cool car: Drives nice and smooth: I gotta get me one of these Audi Quattro’s”

Right about this second, my Mom has left her computer and picked up the phone and is dialing my number in Costa Rica.  “Why didn’t you tell me you were in the hospital and almost died????? !!!!!!”  If I told my mother about every time I came close to death in my life, she would be a physical, emotional and mental wreck.  Skydiving; Bungee Jumping; Boat Racing; Skiing off of cliffs; none of these are things Moms need to hear.  I surely wasn’t going to tell her every time I went 160 mph in one of my sports cars, or 130 mph on one of my motorcycles.  Hand feeding sharks and cave exploring, are just not good for your Mother’s blood pressure either.  I owned car stereo companies for 15 years and had a gun in my face 5 times.  NOT Sunday conversation with the family.

I have been face to face with death many times in my life, but this was the closest I ever came to actually checking out.  Besides, my Mom would have found out anyway the next day.  “Mrs. Simons, we have some bad news.  Your son died last night, suffocated in his sleep.  We are so sorry.  But heh!  Some good news.  You are now the proud owner of 7 dogs.  Please send us your address so we can deliver them to your door.  By the way, do you need a golf cart too?”

I always chuckle at some of the comments people make.  Nothing is more important than Money.  Someone else would say Family; God; Love; Your health; Exercise; Serenity; Sex; your Children.  Blah Blah Blah.  Well let me assure you, right here, right now and set the record straight; the singular most important thing in the world?  AIR !!!!  Everything else is Bullshit.  This whole ordeal started about a week earlier when I caught a bad cough from one of my clients.

You see Costa Rica is one of the healthiest places on earth. We actually have BLUE ZONES where people live to be over 100 years old consistently.  The problem is that gringos come here from the USA and Canada and bring all their germs and viruses with them.  We should just close the airport now and tell everyone, NO MORE.  Thanks.  You missed your chance.  One time, a client of mine told me she could never live in Costa Rica because we have Dengue Fever.  I almost spit in her face I laughed out loud so hard.  Dengue Fever is a tropical disease that exists EVERYWHERE in the world where it is warm.  It is in all of Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico and ALSO in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the Florida Keys, Miami, Orlando and Texas.  Yet this woman was panicked that she was going to come here and get it.

Personally, I have never had it and I have lived here ten years, but it is similar to getting a really bad case of the flu.  It is a miserable 5 or 6 days but it goes away and you recover.  It is NOT Malaria.  You don’t die from it, and only about 3 % of Costa Rica has been infected.  The odds are pretty good you won’t get it, especially in Guanacaste where it is so dry.  It is transmitted by a specific type of mosquito, not by someone coughing or sneezing or shaking your hand, like so many North American viruses.  I will take my chance any day with a miniscule bug over 300 people locked in an enclosed tin can called an airplane, or a sitting in a movie theatre or shopping in a mall, where most people get the flu every single year.

Just out of curiosity I Googled all the diseases that have existed in North America in the last 5 years.  The list was as long as my arm, there were dozens of them: Everything from Parasitic and Bacterial skin infections to Chagas, Hepatitis and AIDS, and even Asian Bird Flu and Mad Cow Disease.

On top of that, the USA and Canada have had a pretty tough run on Natural Disasters too.  Fires, flooding, and ice storms are a daily reports on the Weather Channel.  Tornadoes, Earthquakes and Hurricanes have also blasted our Northern friends and let’s not forget about mud slides, sink holes, avalanches, buildings falling down and bridges collapsing.  There are public shootings and bombings almost every week on CNN and the leadership in Washington is enough to make anyone sick to their stomach.  But STOP THE TRAIN!  Costa Rica has Dengue.  Bring it on Mr.Mosquito, bring it on!

As you would expect, I didn’t rest and take time off, like you should when you get a bad cough and it turned into Bronchitis. I worked and played and went to the rain forest, and continued about my way, and it flat out just caught up with me.  I always used to say, “I will rest when I am dead” but I was just kidding man, just kidding. 

We arrived at one of the three private hospitals here in the area, and rushed into the emergency room.  I was about to find out firsthand what health care in Costa Rica is like. I could have gone a few more blocks to the State hospital, where it wouldn’t have cost me a penny, since I am a Permanent Resident and entitled to the free Costa Rica medical care. But when seconds count, you don’t worry about the bill.

I have only been to the hospital one other time in the decade I have lived here, and I was completely blown away at the quality of the health care in this country.  I had broken my pinky finger in three places during a freak fall, and had to have it put back together with a pin.  The Orthopedic surgeon who operated on me, used to be the Hand Surgeon for the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA basketball team, having done his residency at the Cleveland Clinic. Seriously.  No kidding.  He spoke perfect English, as did the Anesthesiologist, the surgeon’s assistant and the head nurse.  The room was a state-of-the-art facility, and the doctor even wore a camera on his head so I could watch the surgery on the TV mounted to the wall.  Hi-Def by the way.  Pretty cool man.  I spent the night in the hospital; meals included, and checked out the next day in the morning.  Total bar tab?  $1,300 and my private medical insurance covered it all.  Aspirin is more than $1,300 in a US hospital.

You see, the Costa Rican health care system is among the best in the Western Hemisphere, and it costs only a fraction of what it would back home.  Malpractice lawsuits are what really drives up the cost in the USA, and none of that exists here.  All Costa Ricans and Permanent Residents enjoy FREE health care, and private medical insurance is also available at about 20% of what you would pay for Blue Cross Blue Shield in America. Medical Tourism is one of the biggest businesses going as tens of thousands of people each year come here for everything from cosmetic surgery to hip and knee replacement.  Dental care is also first class at a fraction of the price back home.  But what you really notice the most, is how incredibly friendly, caring and attentive the PEOPLE are.

I have been in hospitals in the USA unfortunately, where you have to hold the buzzer for 20 minutes just to get the nurse to check on you.  When you go to the Doctors office, you are lucky if you even see the guy for more than 2 or 3 minutes as his schedule is so overloaded, and they will bill your insurance hundreds of dollars just for the visit.  Gotta get to that tee time. 

Not that long ago I went to see a skin doctor here in the area to have a small mole removed.  As I entered her office she told me to take off all my clothes and have a seat on her table.  She proceeded to do a full body inspection of my skin, lecturing me of course on being in the sun too much, and then finally after 30 minutes, removed the mole.  She charged me $80.

A couple years ago my good friend Jack passed away from Leukemia (see Newsletter #6).  He spent the final 3 months of his life in a hospital before he finally gave up the will to battle.  I remember him telling me that he had never in his life beenCosta Rica health care nurse surrounded by such loving and wonderful people, and one of the last things he said to me was “don’t worry about me Mike, they are taking excellent care of me.”  I love you Jack and I miss you.

Thanks to my friend and his super fast car, we were at the hospital in a matter of a few minutes.  Dr. Pablo Valenciano is our local General Practitioner / Internal Medicine, like the town Doctor back in the good old days.  EVERYONE goes to Pablo and he is absolutely amazing and a pretty cool guy too.  Anyone who wears a ponytail is ok in my book.  I can not even begin to tell you how many times he has made house visits to hotel rooms or condos for clients of mine who had gotten sick, or had minor injuries while on vacation, and he takes care of all the local gringos, performing everything from minor surgeries to delivering babies.  Know that when you move here, you are going to be in really good hands.

His phone number is 8630-4087 and his email is drpablovalenciano@gmail.com and he is located just a minute or two from downtown Coco.

When we arrived at the Emergency room I was immediately visited by TWO staff Doctors and a smoking hot nurse.  They rushed me into the examining room and immediately ordered a chest X-ray.  I can laugh about it now, but they were drilling me on the basic questions about my age, and whether I had any allergies to medicine, while taking my pulse and listening to my chest, and then they asked me if I smoked.  The next day was my 21st anniversary of quitting smoking (I was 3 packs a day Camels) and here I was in the hospital suffocating to death because some tourist sneezed on me a couple weeks earlier.  How ironic huh?  They put me in an oxygen ventilator mask and pumped me full of enough drugs to make Keith Richards jealous, and then did their magic on me for 4 or 5 hours before they finally let me go.

You won’t believe me when I tell you, but the entire charge for this Emergency room care: $288.00.  Are you kidding me I thought?  It cost me more money a couple days earlier for the 25,000 kilometer service on my pick up truck.  Considering my body easily has 25 MILLION kilometers, HARD kilometers, I would say it was a pretty good deal.Costa Rica health care professionals  I would have needed to take out a home equity loan if that had happened back in the good ole USA.  Oh wait; there is no equity in our homes.

I spent the rest of Sunday relaxing, following Doctor Pablo’s advice, but come Monday morning I was back at the office.  Everyone told me I was crazy, that I should take more time off, but you need to understand something.  I had a client scheduled that day and as sure as the sun will cross the sky, I wasn’t going to let her down.  I have never missed a day of work in my life due to illness; “From the wreckage I will arise” and this day was going to be no different.

For most of my clients, this is one of the biggest financial and personal decisions they will ever make, and I am their only link to paradise.  Most of the time, I am writing to these people for months in advance, and I surely wasn’t going to have them show up and pawn them off on another agent.  So there I was; a cup of coffee in hand; a bag of Halls in my pocket; ready to go.  Oh by the way; I sold her a condo.  You just knew I would.

Welcome to paradise!!!!!

Pura Vida Michael

I want to personally thank all the Doctors and Nurses at the San Rafael Arcángel Medical Center Hospital for their tremendous and professional care and especially to Dr. Pablo Valenciano.  I will always be indebted to you.  THANKS.  You guys saved my life!

LIST OF LOCAL HOSPITALS and CLINICS:

  • CIMA Hospital | Next to Do it Center | 2690-8500 | 2690-8520
  • Clinica Biblica Private Clinic and Pharmacy | Do it Center | 2667-0891
  • Hospital and Clinic San Rafael Arcangel | Private Hospital and Doctor Offices |  Downtown Liberia | 2666-1717
  • Dr. Pablo Valenciano Clinic | Playas del Coco | 2670-1717 | 8830-4087
  • Coco Medical and Dental Center Ambulance Service 24 Hours – Dr. Hansel | Playas del Coco | 2670-1235 | 8308-9986
  • EBAIS Clinic | Playas del Coco | 2670-0987
  • Liberia Public Hospital | Downtown Liberia | 2666-1016 | 2666-0011
  • EBAIS Clinic | Sardinal | 2697-0142
  • Public Ambulance Service | Red Cross of Costa Rica | 2697-1141 | 911
  • Public Clinic | Filadelfia | 2688-8276

 

LINK TO ALL PRIOR NEWSLETTERS

If you have had a great experience with my office and Costa Rica, I want to hear about it. Please send us a video of yourself telling us WHY and I will post it to my website for everyone to see. Or send me an email and I will put it in my Testimonials. I appreciate your business and that you have decided to read this Newsletter more than I could ever tell you. THANK YOU. Please take a little more time and check out the entire site. We have added a lot of information lately that I am sure you will find helpful. Also, please forward this to any friends you think might be interested in learning more about Costa Rica. Is there a story behind Tank Tops and Flip Flops you ask? Of course, but you have to stay tuned for another Newsletter. I hope all is well. Stay healthy. God Bless you and your families. Stop procrastinating and hurry back! 

Link to Frequently Asked Questions About Costa Rica

Newsletter Edition no. 21

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