Sick, and 5,000 miles from the NHS. What now?

20160224_201202‘Hey guys, how are YOU doing today,’ asked a beaming Renee at her brocante-style store in Main Street, El Dorado.

El Dorado, California
El Dorado, California

I toyed with telling her I felt like I was in the early stages of labour, but decided she’d worry for either a) my sanity or b) her beautifully polished oak floor.

‘We’re great thanks,’ I beamed back.

My smile masked acute irritation. Illness was taking the sparkle off our stroll through one of California’s ‘gold-rush’ towns. In more than two years of travelling round the world and back again, this was the first time that either of us had needed medical help.

So.….when did the trouble start? And what do you do when you’re 5,000 miles from home and paracetamol isn’t going to fix you?

We’d only just landed, really. We’d booked a great AirBnB for our arrival. Sometime that night….hello, back pain and other symptoms, which I’ll spare you the details of.

This was only the start of our ten-day, independent Californian road-trip in a motorhome. We’d sketched out a route; but pretty soon it was going to be taking us up into the mountains–away from cities, civilisation and doctors’ surgeries. Two days on, with my symptoms seemingly getting more acute, we decided it was time for some professional advice.

So….do you dial 911? Google a doctor? Or what?

Presuming you have travel insurance (and why would you go anywhere without it?) you can’t just start racking up medical expenses without letting your insurers know what’s going on first. Consultations and prescriptions, and the treatment that might follow, can run into hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds.

My cover’s provided through my bank account; and I had their 24 hour UK call centre number with me.

I explained the situation and gave them details of my location. Within 15 minutes, they’d called back with the names of two recommended medical centres we could reach easily. I called one. Forget sympathy…or even any details of your symptoms. They just want to know you can pay. We checked the map and headed over.

Where do you go…and who do you see?

This was an ‘urgent care’ centre – the kind you can walk into and see a physician – as long as you have your US insurance card, or documentation from the UK or, as in my case, a guarantee that you’ll pay up front that day, and claim the cash back from your insurer back on home soil. The waiting room was empty. The service was efficient and as fast as a dash to first base (I’m talking baseball here!). From receptionist, to triage assistant, to the physician for tests, to an administrator. Showing us out, he handed me my paperwork, told me which pharmacy had my drugs, and that he loved my accent.

So far it had cost $100 to be seen, $23 for a test, with a further $120 for a week’s course of antibiotics to fix my kidney infection, with a promise to call me if further tests suggested a kidney stone. Not something you want to take 10,000 feet up into the Yosemite Mountains.

A couple of days later, I was on the mend…and grateful. Grateful for feeling almost well enough to visit Renee’s store in El Dorado, grateful for the efficiency of the clinic I visited. And above all…..hugely grateful for the NHS back home.










2 thoughts on “Sick, and 5,000 miles from the NHS. What now?

  1. Oh goodness Jane! I hope it hasn’t marred the rest of your trip and that you’re well enough to sample a snifter or two of the local wines? Or is Nige making up for the pair of you?! As long as you have insurance the US is marvellous- I can vouch for that after my July escapade with the eye hospital in Austin, Texas! Enjoy the rest of the trip, looking forward to catching all the footage on or offline x


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