I’ve been to clinics a couple of times on this trip: for my broken ribs in Ecuador and my split scalp in Brazil to name a few. The experiences there were more or less typical to the American experience and nothing out of the ordinary. My experience in Zimbabwe ended up being a little bit different (to read more about why I ended up in said hospital for a knee issue, read my previous post about riverboarding on the Zambezi).
The following are the notable variances in procedure:
Visiting a Zimbabwean Hospital
● I was met by the ambulance after being dragged out of the canyon. To my surprise, “ambulance” is a term up for interpretation in Zimbabwe. My ambulance was a pickup truck with a dilapidated cab and two attendants. While I originally imagined I’d cram into the tiny cab with them, I was unpleasantly surprised to find out since I was wet, I would take a ride to the hospital in the back of the pickup truck so I could “lay flat and rest my knee”. It was pouring rain. It was a long ride.
● I arrived to the hospital in my wetsuit, soaking wet with teeth chattering to find it was more of a converted rowhouse than hospital. At least one side was solely dedicated to emergencies. Unfortunately, there was one nurse and solely one nurse to be found. Nobody seemed to know where the emergency doctor was and when he would return. I thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t bleeding out in that emergency room.
● When the nurse noticed I was shivering from being soaking wet in the highly air conditioned emergency room, she stripped me naked right then and there. In front of two guides and my instructor from the rafting company. Apparently nudity in Africa just isn’t that big of a deal. I wanted to blame this on a language barrier, but it turned out later she speaks fluent English.
● When the doctor finally arrived, he was great and very attentive. With no other patients to care for, there was none of the waiting around like there is in US hospitals. I got the superstar treatment.
● My nurse turned out to be highly phobic of needles and had to stand in the corner facing the wall when the doctor gave me a shot.
● My bill, when all was said and done, was $186 USD. This included an exam, three X-rays, two pain shots, an antibiotic shot, knee brace and a couple hours in the recovery room. I think I once read my US clinic bill and the bandaid cost $75 USD alone, so this was a steal.
At Least My Knee Wasn’t Fractured
In the end, after multiple X-rays, the doctor determined the knee cap wasn’t fractured but the surrounding ligaments were damaged and I would have to wear a brace for a number of weeks. It wasn’t the most attractive garment I’d ever owned but it helped with the pain.
This was also my my very first experience with handling an insurance claim while I was abroad. My bill in Ecuador had been under $30 USD and not really worth the hassle of claiming and my kayaking company had paid for my head injury. I was lucky enough that the hospital in Zimbabwe was excellent and extremely capable of walking me through the procedure of what I would need to file a claim. I had assumed I would just send in receipts, but they let me know (and were definitely correct) that I would also need a letter from the hospital on official letterhead detailing the exact nature of my injury, treatment and prospective recovery.
They also arranged for the rafting company to bring over an incident report with my name and their version of how my injury happened on official letterhead. This was the more unexpected of the two, but makes sense from an insurance standpoint: they’re not going to pay if the accident was a result of my negligence or something out of bounds with what is expected of the sport.
I lucked out and was covered for extreme sports under my World Nomads policy and had no real problems getting them to pay. Unfortunately, actually getting paid was another issue as they won’t do electronic transfer and only send paper checks to your home address on file. A little bit difficult to collect when you’re on the road indefinitely.
When I finally returned to camp all kitted out in my attractive new knee brace, I learned that my friend had suffered a concussion after she continued her riverboarding experience. She didn’t hit a rock like I had; the water hitting her in the face gave her a severe concussion. So there’s that: riverboarding will break everyone, not just fragile little me.
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