Italy emergency hospital visit — an update

By Philip Wagenaar
This item appears on page 53 of the December 2016 issue.

Many readers might recall my article about staying in an emergency hospital in Naples, Italy, after a medical condition I had got worse while I was on a Holland America Line cruise in April 2016 (Sept. ’16, pg. 51)

Upon my return to Seattle, it was inspiring to receive emails from several ITN subscribers, including Joyce Perry, Judy Serie Nagy, Diane Robbins and Jane B. Holt, all of whom inquired about my health and wished me good luck. 

As far as my health is concerned, I have good and bad days. After I receive treatment for my severe anemia, my hemoglobin goes up and I feel a lot better. Unfortunately, after a few weeks, my hemoglobin drops once more and I get short of breath and feel under the weather until it’s time for another treatment.

Several of the subscribers also asked a number of questions about my hospital experience, and I am answering those here.

In addition, Ms. Robbins has the following general information request for ITN subscribers: “I would like to hear of the experiences of other travelers who, after having purchased travel insurance, had to cut short their vacations because of medical issues. Did each receive assistance, whether by telephone or in person, from a representative of the insurance company or from the cruise line or tour company? Also, from whom did they purchase their insurance?”

If you have a recent experience to share with Ms. Robbins, send them directly to ITN. Email or write to Insurance Company Follow-through, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. (The editor says I should remind you to include the address at which you receive the magazine.) Responses may be printed in the magazine.

Here, now, are some of the above subscribers’ comments and questions followed by my responses:

From Diane Robbins —

Comment: Regarding your stay at the hospital in Naples, I was distressed to read that no representative of the cruise line or the insurance company was available to follow up on your treatment, either while you were in Italy or after you returned home.

Response: Indeed, it was bizarre that neither the cruise line nor the insurance company checked on my treatment or progress.

Question: Did you write to Holland America Line about its lack of assistance, and, if so, did you receive any reply?

Answer: I did not write to the cruise line.

From Judy Serie Nagy —

Comment: I wanted to share an experience that my husband had in France a year ago, one that had many similarities to yours but many more positives. Much of the reason that his experience was positive was because we both had emergency-medical-evacuation coverage with MedjetAssist. (See Ms. Nagy’s account on page 25. — Editor)

Response: I have been a member of Divers Alert Network, or DAN (800/446-2671, www.diversalert
), for many years. Membership perks include emergency-medical-evacuation (EME) coverage overseas as well as domestically (the latter when you travel on a trip of 50 miles or more from your place of residence). 

Once you’re a member, you can call DAN with a medical or travel-related question (e.g., ‘I have had a heart attack. What is the best hospital to go to if I have another attack while visiting in Kathmandu, Nepal?’)

For this particular trip, I also had purchased Holland America Line’s Platinum travel insurance, which assured me adequate coverage for all other occurrences.

However, it is the insurance company that decides whether you should be evacuated, and, in my case, I only needed a blood transfusion to raise my hemoglobin level so that I could travel by plane. (With my low hemoglobin level, the plane’s cabin would not have been pressurized high enough at cruising altitude for me to fly safely.) There was no need to ask for evacuation.

In addition, as it was, I was too sick to get in touch with DAN, myself, and my daughter was not aware of my DAN coverage.

Nevertheless, I feel that a representative of Holland America Line or the line’s insurance firm should have seen to it that I was properly taken care of in the hospital and also had been provided with someone who spoke English.

From Joyce Perry —

Question: Why, upon seeing the dreadful conditions in the public hospital, didn’t you go to a private hospital? Even if you were “out of it,” your daughter could have made this arrangement.

Answer: In Italy, private hospitals do not admit or treat people for emergencies. Emergency services are all handled by public hospitals. Public hospitals in Italy do offer gratis emergency services for foreigners.

Comment: English is widely spoken in Europe. Surely there was a doctor or someone on staff who could translate.

Response: There was no doctor or other official in the Naples hospital who spoke English. Of course, I feel it is up to the traveler to have a minimal understanding of the local language.

Joyce Perry also asked for information on how to be better prepared for an overseas hospital stay, and I will provide plenty of details about that in next month’s column.

Dr. Wagenaar welcomes questions but may not be able to answer them individually. Write to him at 116 Fairview Ave. North #1028, Seattle, WA 98109, or email pwagenaar