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
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
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
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
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.
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
Infection is spreading and circle keeps getting bigger
Now that’s a canckle!
Infection spreading up my leg
My body is trying so hard to fight the infection
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