Solo Traveler: Socialized Medicine

Solo Traveler: Socialized Medicine

An issue that every traveler must eventually contend with is medical care. Inevitably travelers get colds, bellyaches, injured, or worse. So if you’re in another country, far from home, what do you do?

Most American medical insurance companies will cover you in foreign lands with the caveat that you pay for the medical services and they’ll reimburse you. Travel medical insurance is available for a reasonable fee per year, or a not quite so reasonable fee per trip. Some policies have specific riders providing a helicopter or airplane to whisk you back to the United States.

A new type of tour company has cropped up in recent years. Escorted medical tours are for people who have some medical problem (real or imaginary), and don’t want to pay the rather large fees to get the same procedures in the U.S. There are a number of plastic surgeons and cosmetic dentists residing in the border cities of Mexico specifically to address these issues.

Other people, with more serious needs for surgery or cancer treatments can travel deeper into Mexico, to Guadalajara and Mexico City where there are world class hospitals that charge a fraction for the same care as US hospitals.

Sometimes medical care is free, even for tourists.

In January 2012, I went on a tour with the Mountaineer’s Club of Los Alamos. I had a cold before I arrived and it got worse with each passing day. We stayed in Chihuahua City for a couple days and then rode in a large van across the state, to our overnight stop, a lodge run by the Tarahumara people in the tiny village of Casuare.

My friends got quite concerned about my health. On the road I’d had a coughing fit so bad I had to ask the driver to pull over so I could fetch water, Kleenex and my inhaler. I could barely stop coughing.

The town had a tiny clinic to serve the local people for routine medical needs. The building was the size of a one-bedroom house. Light glowed through the window so we knocked.

The door opened. I could have sworn it was an angel that appeared, his shock of white hair formed a halo around his tanned face. The only thing missing were wings.

I could communicate with him in Spanish, but it was difficult to say anything between coughing jags. We stepped into a narrow room lined with shelves containing boxes of pills, crutches, and bandages. A doorway through the back wall led into a small kitchen and through another door I could see a bedroom.

Beyond the narrow room was a larger one with an examining table, desk, chairs and more shelves. Boxes were stacked everywhere. I sat beside the desk and he looked down my throat, took a blood pressure reading and then my temperature. He asked if I were allergic to any medicines.

He never once asked my name or family history. I never filled out a single form. He was a doctor treating a sick person and that was all that mattered. He confirmed there was a bad infection in my nose, throat and ears. He rummaged around in boxes on shelves and then dug through a large carton on the floor.

He showed me each medicine, carefully, one at a time. The first was one pill in the morning, another at night. He made two thick lines with a black magic marker, one on each side of the box, so I wouldn’t forget. Then he made three marks on the next box so I would take those pills at noon, too. The third box got four marks.

Clearly he was accustomed to treating illiterate people. He may have questioned my intelligence as well, after listening to my Spanish.

Finally done, I asked how much I owed. He said “Nada.” I pointed out that I wasn’t a Mexican citizen and he gave me an angelic smile. “Nada” he said again, “Es un servicio del gobierno.”

It was simply a service of the government.

Editor’s note: Sherry Hardage lives in Los Alamos and has been traveling solo in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe since she retired from Honeywell in 2009. She is a photographer, writer, and guide who organizes tours of Chiapas, Mexico through her website:

Follow the continuing adventures at Sherry’s blog:

LOS ALAMOS website support locally by OviNuppi Systems