My doctor in Hao who provided great medical care.

Medical Care in French Polynesia

Please note that this blog on medical care has some “graphic” photos at the end.  I included non-icky photos in the body of the blog, but the ones at the end are a bit graphic and gross and you may want to skip.   Just know, that medical care in the U.S. is messed up and I received compassionate, good care in French Polynesia for free.

Matt and I no longer have health insurance.  Considering we are not technically living in the U.S. anymore it did not make sense to carry a U.S. health policy.  Once a year, I make an annual trip back to the States to visit my oncologist.  Luckily, most doctors offer a 50% cash discount when not using insurance. My Prolia shot is gratis because I receive a grant from the pharmaceutical company.  The rest of my medicine was purchased in Bonaire, Costa Rica, and Columbia at a significantly reduced price.  With all that said, Matt and I do carry D.A.N. (Diver’s Assisted Network) which will get us immediate emergency medical care anywhere in the world and will transport us back to the States if need be.

In Need of a Doctor

For the past 30+ months, we had not needed any type of medical assistance.  We were lucky.  However, while we were in the Gambiers, I was either stung or bitten by something on the front side of my left ankle.  I did not think anything of it as there are always mosquito and wasps in the islands.  I know better than to scratch a bite so I left it alone and continued on living my life.  Enjoying the beautiful waters, snorkeling, showering, hiking, etc…  I circled it with a pen to see if the swelling and redness spread.

Strangely enough, a few of our friends also had wounds that were not healing.  Josh was struck by a fish’s sharp tail (cut through his wet suit and put a deep gash in his leg).  Andrew’s feet were torn up from raspberry bushes, John had a mysterious rash on his thigh, and Wilky had cuts on his hands.  And nothing was healing on anyone.

It started forming a volcano, raised, with a hole in the middle and red all around it.  Then it became more raised, warm to the touch, and pretty painful.

Initial bite, starting to get infected

Initial bite, starting to get infected

We all stopped going in the water thinking that was not helping and decided, individually, to consider antibiotics.  Shortly thereafter, Matt and I had to leave to begin our passage to Hao.  While underway, on day 2, my volcano continued to get worse, raised, hot, swollen, and irritated.   My foot and toes were so swollen I did not recognize it as my own.

See below for photo of swollen foot at its worse

My leg was kept elevated to reduce the swelling, but when I lowered it to step on it a horrible burning sensation ran up my leg.  It only lasted a minute or two, but it was painful enough to make me cry a few times.  It was a radiating, intense pain that started at my toes and shot up to my knee. Very unpleasant.  Then a white, hard substance formed in the center.

Photo below shows photo of weird white center

Since we were at sea at the beginning of a 5-day passage, I decided to self medicate.  I had started amoxicillin (500mg) twice a day and after 4 days it was not getting better.  It was clear I needed to seek medical care.

Healthcare in French Polynesia

We easily found the hospital and were quickly escorted into a patient room.  Maggie, our medical professional spoke English!  We are not sure if she was a nurse or a doctor as she did not wear a name tag and introduced herself as “Maggie” no pretense or titles.

Hospital in Hao

Hospital in Hao

The doctor assessed my leg and stated that I had a staff infection. She told me that I was not taking enough antibiotics and prescribed 3x the dose (1mg three times per day for 10 days).  Then she also lanced my little volcano, cleaned it, treated it, and bandaged it up.  She told us she had to call the chemist to order the medicine and that it would be flown in the next day.

Medical Supplies Given to Us for my Leg

Medical Supplies Given to Us for my Leg

We returned the next day to have my leg examined again.  The wound was cleaned and re-wrapped.  The following day we saw Maggie again who was not too pleased with the progress.  She gave me the remainder of my antibiotic, a cleaning liquid and an antibiotic liquid to apply.  She asked me to come back on Monday for another follow up.

Lanced and wrapped up

Lanced and wrapped up

Costs for Medical Care

We were not charged for any of our visits, the treatment or medicine given at the hospital.  We were not charged for the two bottles of cleaning agents or the pain medicine.  The only thing we were charged for was 8 days of antibiotics at $28 (the other two days of antibiotics were free).

Five days after my initial visit to the FP hospital, my volcano had significantly decreased in size, swelling was gone, and pain was greatly reduced.  My foot no longer hurt each time the blood rushed to it and I was able to walk with barely a limp.  Cleaning it was no fun and pretty gross, but eventually it healed.  On day 7 of treatment, the center white, hard thing came out when I took the bandage off.  Did not feel pleasant at all.  But I am thinking this is a good thing and now my volcano will close up and heal.

More images below

Maggie is incredibly professional and compassionate.  She went above and beyond her job to assist us and I will be eternally grateful.  You see we had a difficult time arranging for the medicine.  Typically, she would give us a paper with the medicine written on it, then we contact the chemist to get the cost and place the order.  Next we go to the post office to make payment, and pick up the medicine at the airport the following day.  However, the post office was not taking payments that day.

So we ended up paying Maggie for the medicine.  She called the chemist got the amount, went online and submitted the payment to the post office.  We could not pay online as they wanted a bank transfer and bank transfers from the U.S. take 2-3 business days.  Maggie paid and then went to the airport to pick it up and brought it to us the next day.  Talk about customer service.

My doctor in Hao who provided great medical care.

My doctor in Hao who provided great medical care.

Twelve days later, the antibiotics finished and a coagulant put on the mini volcano and I am almost back to normal.  See last photo

Photos from Above that are not to pleasant to see:

Initial bite, starting to get infected

Initial bite, starting to get infected

Infection is spreading and circle keeps getting bigger

Infection is spreading and circle keeps getting bigger

Now that’s a canckle!

Infection spreading up my leg

Infection spreading up my leg

My body is trying so hard to fight the infection

My body is trying so hard to fight the infection

The bottom shows what came out of the hole on the top

The bottom shows what came out of the hole on the top

Sorry for the sprigs of hair, but it was hard to shave around it and I was not allowed to get local water (shower) on or near it.

After 7-days of treatment

After 7-days of treatment

Hao

The Beauty of Hao

Hao, or Haorangi is a beautiful little island in the southern end of the Tuamotus.  It reminded me of Rikitea in that there is one main road where almost all the “important” things can be found.  Including three markets or “magasins” (pronounced magazines), the Gendarmerie (police), Mairie (Mayor’s office), post office, two churches, and an events center.  The street is meticulously maintained and each house has beautiful plants blooming in their front yard.  There are fruit trees all over the place including papayas, passion fruit, oranges, coconuts, and bananas.  The anchorage in the lagoon (inside the atoll) showcases a variety of hues of blues and was clear enough to see our anchor chain and floats.

The Beauty of Hao

The Beauty of Hao

Hao’s History

Hao was previously the site of a large French Navy base which supported the nuclear testing activities in the southern atolls. In 2002 or 2003, the large base was shut down, but the Navy still maintains a small presence on Hao.  If you can believe this…193 nuclear tests were performed between 1966-1996!  Several thousand military personnel and dependents lived here.  The old base feels like a ghost town and this atmosphere even pervades adjacent Otepa, the main village of Hao.  Though the base closure has had predictable economic and social impacts on the community the residents with whom we spoke were happy to have the military gone and the nuclear testing ended.

We walked around the base and all that is left are abandoned buildings and a monument.

Military monument at Hao Navy Base

Military monument at Hao Navy Base

Lazy Days in Hao

I had a slight medical issue, which I will explain in the next blog.  It was not too serious, but it prevented me from getting in the water and walking a lot.  Kind of puts a damper on our explorations of this beautiful island. Luckily, it was not a large island and we could visit the entire village and see the rest of the island by dinghy.

When we arrived a trimaran, named “Triple Shot” was anchored by the main dock.  We had met and assisted them with the entrance into the Gambiers.  They were extremely helpful and gave us some information on where to go to find the hospital, where to find internet and provisions.  Unfortunately, they left the day after we arrived, but I am sure we will see them again.  This is a shot of the main dock during the day and night – breathtaking!

Main dock at Hao

Main dock at Hao

We also knew a few of the boats that were located in the old marina.  Atanga was anchored next to us for several weeks in Mangareva and Sailmore was anchored near us in several of the Gambiers islands.  Nikki from Sailmore became a great resource and sundowner friend.  She is British, but lives in Switzerland and speaks Swiss German, French and English.  She regaled us with many funny stories!

Abandoned Marina at Hao

Abandoned Marina at Hao

Exploring Hao on Shore

There are only two places to get access to the internet on Hao.  The Mairie offers free, albeit slow, internet between 1600-2300 and on the weekends.  Then, there is a hostel which offers a rather decent speed of internet down the road.  The only thing they ask is that you buy beverages from them.  Sometimes they have the drinks (juice, water, coffee) and sometimes they go next door to the market, buy them and resell them to you.  Either way, they were lovely and did not mind us sitting there for hours each day.  Being able to get some internetting done was a huge bonus as we had very little access for the past several months.  We were able to catch up on blog posts, orders and emails.

This photo shows one of the roads on the Pacific side of the island.  We are on the lagoon side.

Main road and Pacific Ocean Shore in Hao

Main road and Pacific Ocean Shore in Hao

We explored a few places on the Pacific side of the island, they were full of broken coral, rocks and a bit of debris.  But still pretty

Pacific Ocean Shore Side

Pacific Ocean Shore Side

Matt went up the mast to repair our wifi antennae and captured some beautiful photos. In addition, he took a shot of the boat.

Matt goes up the mast to take these photos at Hao

Matt goes up the mast to take these photos at Hao

We spent most of our time relaxing, reading, working on blog posts and preparing for large orders of stuff for me to bring back from the states.

Because we liked it so much – check out these other great links on Hao:

Beautiful Sunset behind the dock at Hao

A Putt Putt Passage to Hao

It’s like tearing a band right off – do it quickly so it stings less. After a leisure morning of boat yoga, we said “see ya again” to our friends and began our passage toward Hao.  It is only about 450 nm and should technically only take us 3.5 days if the winds were favorable.  However, the weather was predicted to be very light winds which would extend our passage another 1-1.5 days.

It started out as a really beautiful day, 7-8 knots of wind filling our full main and jib.  We don’t often fly with full sails so when we do it is a truly appreciated.  We put out the fishing rods and settled in at an easy 5 knots of boat speed.

However, we completely lost our wind the next day.  We had glass seas so calm we could see our reflection.  It was a true mirror image.  The photo below was taken while we were under way even though it looks like we are at anchor!

Passage to Hao - Calm Seas

Passage to Hao – Calm Seas

We enjoyed several beautiful sunsets and a full moon each night.  It was so fabulous to wake up for the night shift to a bright and beautiful sky.  You could still see all the stars, but Mr. Moon lit our way.

The next day the wind came back enough for us to raise a sail and shut down the engine for several hours.  Saving a little diesel.  Sweet.  But our last day we ended up motoring the entire day and night.  We did slow down on our last night to time our arrival at sunrise and at slack tide (will explain “slack” tide below).

Hao in the Tuamotus

The image below shows the entire atoll of Hao.  The green circle indicates the pass and the arrow indicates the village.  As you can see, the island is long and skinny with the airport being on the northern end.

The atoll of Hao in the Tuamotus

The atoll of Hao in the Tuamotus

Pass to Hao

The Tuamotus are famous for their “tricky” passes into the atolls and the many bombies (coral heads). All of the islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago are “atolls” and the atolls each have a pass to enter into their lagoons.  An atoll is a ring shaped reef with a lagoon in the middle. The pass to Hao is well marked and fairly wide.  However, you have to enter at slack tide.

“Slack” tide occurs when the ocean is the same level as the lagoon inside the atoll.  That can occur between 1-4 hours before or after high or low tide.  Each pass at each atoll is different. If you enter at the wrong time you can have up to a 20kt current pushing out the wrong way.  If you time it right it will either be 0 or it will be a gentle 3kts pushing you in the direction you want to go.  We thought slack tide was between high and low tide (we had no internet to look it up).  We were lucky though.  When we entered at sunrise, there was only a 3kt current against us.

This is a photo of outgoing tide against a 4 meter marker.  This was probably a 3kt current.

Marker at the Hao Pass with a "slight" current

Marker at the Hao Pass with a “slight” current

With both engines running at 1800 RPM we were traveling about 4.5 kts as we approached the entrance.  When we hit the current, we dropped down to 1 kt of forward motion.  Most boats can only travel between 5-7 kts (on average) so if your current going against you is stronger than that, you will never make the entrance.  We got lucky.  There was a smaller monohulls that had to wait 3 days to get into the lagoon as she could not go faster than the tide.

Entering the Hao Passage at Sunrise

Entering the Hao Passage at Sunrise

The Anchorage at Hao

There is an abandoned marina (previously used by the French Navy) that is often used as a free mooring for cruisers.  When we arrived, three monohulls were tied up to the concrete wall.  We decided the concrete wouldn’t do us any favors so we anchored out in the lagoon (all by ourselves).  The top photo shows the main doc and the bottom image is the abandoned marina.

Dock and Marina at Hao

Dock and Marina at Hao

We’ve enjoyed some gorgeous sunsets in our private lagoon.  The top photo is from land looking out of the lagoon and the bottom is a sunset photo taken from Sugar Shack.

Sunsets at Hao

Sunsets at Hao

Passage Details

Departed Taravai in the Gambiers Archipelago Saturday, 18 May at 1030am

Arrived Hao in the Tuamotus Archipelago on Wednesday, 22 May at 0530am

Miles Traveled 460nm

Max speed 8.7

Average speed 5.0

We had two days of no wind and had to motor, but then we had two days of light wind and were actually able to pull up full sails.