Cautionary Tale - Importance of Travel Insurance

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Sep 16th, 2004, 11:53 AM
  #1
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Cautionary Tale - Importance of Travel Insurance

I thought it would be a good idea to remind everyone of the critical importance of travel insurance when planning a safari. Last summer my husband and I began planning a South African/Victoria Falls/Botswana safari with friends of ours. The trip was a splurge to celebrate my 40th birthday and we decided to stay at all the best lodges Singita/WaterClub/Mombo/Jao after beginning our trip in Capetown and the Winelands. Our travel agent explained that we it was critical to buy trip insurance in the rare event that something might happen. I remember at the time being kind of annoyed because it was expensive and we had never before in our years of traveling purchased insurance or needed it. Luckily we and our friends went ahead and purchased the package through TravelGaurd thinking that it was just another drop in the bucket to this already expensive trip. I was so excited to be going on this trip which was a lifelong dream, I was taking three weeks away from work and it was all I could think about for months. We left NY on April 13th for the long flight to CapeTown and arrived at our hotel (The Sheraton Arabella) on a balmy Weds evening. I started to feel somewhat unwell during the flight, but wrote it off to airplane food and nerves. The next morning I felt somewhat better and we met our friends for breakfast and set out to start our day in Capetown. We started our day at the Aquarium because it was raining heavily and then we walked around Bo Kap before heading to the Mount Nelson for afternoon tea. Halfway through the meal I started to feel violently unwell and my husband took me back to the hotel. I was convinced that I was suffering from appendicitus and we asked the hotel to send up a doctor. Within 20 minutes a very professional doctor arrived and agreed that I was probably suffering from acute appendicitus. He made arrangements for us to be received at a private hospital (Christian Bernard Memorial) by a surgeon. The hotel provided transportation and 10 minutes later I was admitted to the surgical ward. The surgeon doubted that it was my appendix and he sent me for an ultrasound. He was correct as it turned out that I had a large ovarian cyst that had ruptured. He then referred me to an ob/gyn surgeon who gave me the choice of having surgery to drain the cyst or take a wait and see approach. We consulted with our friends and decided not to rush into surgery in a foreign country, I spent the night in the hospital on pain killers waiting to see if I would be better the next day. Alas morning arrived, and I felt no better so we decided to move ahead with the surgery. At this point all I cared about was being well in time to start my safari in five days and the surgeon said I would be up and on my feet in time. This is when things went from bizarre to surreal or bad to worse. During the surgery it turned out that my cyst was acutally a malignant ovarian cancer tumor. They sent my slides out for emergency pathology and broke the news to us the next morning. Not only was I in the hospital thousands of miles from home after having emergency surgery on the first day of my dream vacation, but now I find out that I have ovarian cancer. To say that we were shell shocked and devastated would be an understatement. However,you do what you need to do and with the help of the wonderful South African doctors, nurses, hotel staff and our dear friends we made it through some dark days. The health care I received in CapeTown was top knotch and the compassion of the doctors was amazing. I was also pleasantly shocked at how affordable the healthcare is compared to the US. TravelGaurd Insurance was an amazing company to deal with and our travel agent worked hard to take care of everything to get us back to the States. We were treated like royalty by the staff at the Arabella Sheration while I recurperated prior to flying home. TravelGaurd arranged for first class airline accomodations as part of my medical evacuation on the way home, they also reimbursed us for the full cost of our trip. More importantly they also reimbursed the cost of our friends trip as they returned back to the States with us. It is now almost six months later, I have had major surgery here in NY and am finishing up my six cycle of chemotherapy. I am told that my prognosis is good and I anxiously look forward to my return visit to finish the trip that never was. So the moral of my story is regardless of how healthy you think you are never take the risk of going without travel insurance! Safe travels to all you Fodorites and I hope none of you ever wind up in a situation like mine.
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Sep 16th, 2004, 12:49 PM
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Chelsea
I'm so sorry to hear about your experiences but so glad to hear that a) you are on the road to recovery and b) that the South African health system and hotel staff treated you so well and c) that the travel insurance people were so helpful.
Especially in terms of allowing your friends to also cancel/ change their trip.
A friend recently came to the UK with her sister. She had travelled extensively but her sister never had. Unfortunately, sister's husband had heart attack and sister had to go home. Even though the sisters were travelling together the insurance would only cover a refund for the wife and costs to get her home because they said my friend wasn't related to the patient at home. So she was kind of stuck in the UK for most of the trip on her own. She changed her plans (at a financial loss) and stayed with us instead.
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Sep 16th, 2004, 01:27 PM
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Thank you for the information about insurance.... but most importantly, I wish you a very speedy recovery. I hope you'll take that safari soon!
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Sep 16th, 2004, 02:10 PM
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Chelsea2,

Thank you for sharing your story with us - a very strong message for anyone considering travelling without insurance. I am pleased that your travel insurance came up trumps.

I also wish you a speedy recovery and a heartfelt hope that you will be able to return to Africa in the very near future.

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Sep 17th, 2004, 05:12 AM
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sandi
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chelsea2 - glad to hear that you are recovering well, and pleased to hear that Travel Guard from whom you purchased your insurance came thru for you and got you home safely.

I'm a strong believer in travel insurance, especially when traveling outside ones own country. You can never know ahead of time if anything will go wrong with you or ones traveling companion/s - hopefully nothing? But things do happen, so the cost (though high in relation of other services) are to be considered and included in the cost of your holiday. And it's not surprising to hear that Travel Guard picked up the expenses for your friends traveling with you - something most all policies I've looked at do take care of.

You continue to take care, and I do hope you will be able to make the originally planned trip in the not too distant future. Stay well!
 
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Sep 17th, 2004, 05:18 AM
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Chelsea,

Sending you my love.

You got my back up with your comment "rushing into surgery in a foreign country". I could have understood this more if you had been in Bangla Desh or Mali - but you were in SA - the country where the first heart transplant was done.

You assumed that the care offered would be of a lesser standard than that in the USA.

Shame on you for even thinking it.

But your post shows that perhaps you have learned something about the outside world.

I too had an experience like yours - in hospital in Harare for a month recovering from an elephant attack.

You are absolutely right - travel insurance is a must.

From a cancer survivor.
Love
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Sep 17th, 2004, 07:06 AM
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chelsea2 - I'm so glad you're on the mend. I hope you get back to your interrupted trip very soon. I'm sure Africa will be good medicine as well. (mad props to TravelGuard!)
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Sep 17th, 2004, 09:27 PM
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Dear Chelsea 2,

I wish you a speedy recovery and hope that you will be able to have your dream trip.

We are going to Africa in April and had decided not to buy travel insurance. After reading your story, I am going to reconsider my decision. No one ever thinks that anything major will happen if you're in reasonably good health, but your story shows we can't ever be sure.

Good luck and thanks for the info.
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Sep 18th, 2004, 10:54 AM
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Chelsea, I'm so glad you are recovering, and I wish you the very best. I too have had good experiences with South African doctors, albeit for minor problems. I hope you'll soon be able to take up where you left off.
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Sep 18th, 2004, 11:32 PM
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Chelsea2, I think you'll never know how much good you've done by posting this. I am happy to hear you are recovering nicely and I know your safari will be all the sweeter.

Alice13! I have been wondering how you are doing after your ele accident. Please tell us more. Was it Danny or Bob? Glad you are here.
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Sep 20th, 2004, 07:25 PM
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Chelsea-Thanks for the post. You broke my heart with feeling for you. We traveled this past April and because of the high waters in Botswana, I fell crossing a muddy patch covered with branches.
My unexpected fall resulted in back surgery upon arriving home. I always carry travel insurance and although we have had marvelous experience with Travel Guard, I bought a different insurance this time. I'm just now filing my claim since I recently finished the physical therapy, and this company has been very helpful too. I found them on www.insuremytrip.com that is mentioned so often here by Sandi. Top notch site and I believe all of the companies there are good. I guess I won't ever travel to Africa in April again and definately wouldn't recommend anyone to venture that far without travel insurance.
Good luck and I understand your comments about being sick so far away from home. Its that loooooong plane ride home and different customs that can be scary when you are ill. My very best wishes go out to you. Liz
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