Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Buenos Aires with Bronchitis

In the late 1970s, when I was a youthful backpacker in South America, I felt indestructible, not even taking the dangers of the region’s dictatorships very seriously despite some uncomfortable moments that I have recalled elsewhere. On a one-way ticket, pinching my pesos to travel for the longest possible period, I could hardly conceive that I might become ill, injured or even killed. The National Lampoon, in the days when it was a cutting-edge humor magazine, regularly quoted “bus plunge” fillers from Bolivia and Peru from The New York Times in its pages, and it seemed funny at the time.

Fortunately, I never suffered any serious misfortune but, in my maturity, I take more precautions about my health and security, even though southernmost South America is a far safer place to travel than it was then. One of those precautions is a travel insurance policy, a topic my Moon colleague Laura Martone addressed in her own recent blog post.

The wisdom of such a policy became apparent to me this last weekend when, unfortunately, a severe case of bronchitis caused me to miss a family wedding for which I had traveled to Buenos Aires. I’ve had bronchitis before, but this one hit so heavily that my wife and I wondered whether it might be something more serious, like pneumonia.
Clearly, this called for a medical consultation, and I could have gone to the nearby Hospital Fernández, a public hospital just a few blocks from our Palermo apartment. It’s a decent facility, and I would have received treatment at little cost except for prescribed medications, but it’s often crowded with patients who need low-cost services more than I do. Instead, we went to the urgent care department of the Sanatorio Mater Dei, a private hospital that was a short cab ride away in the exclusive residential area of Palermo Chico.

The waiting room seemed crowded but, as it happened, many of those waiting were family members rather than patients. It took less than 15 minutes to see a doctor who tentatively confirmed the bronchitis but, as a precaution, also sent me to radiology department for chest x-rays. After the x-rays proved negative for anything more serious, she prescribed me a combination of antibiotics and decongestants that have accelerated my recovery, though I still have an uncomfortable cough.

The cost for all these services at an elite private hospital? The initial urgent care consultation was 335.17 pesos, augmented by 267.41 pesos for the radiology and 101.39 pesos for my prescriptions, for a total of 703.97 pesos – about US$164 at current exchange rates. At any US hospital, of course, the bill would have been several times that for a walk-in patient.

Shortly before beginning my trip, I purchased a one-year travel insurance policy, which also covers travel delays, loss of property and medical evacuation, among other features, from Allianz Travel Insurance, successor to the Access America company that I formerly used. The cost of this policy was US$249, which is already looking like a pretty good investment.
A note on Argentine pharmaceuticals: many items that are prescription-only in the United States and elsewhere may be purchased over the counter here. One example is Ketoconazol shampoo, which I purchase more cheaply at our neighborhood Farmacia Varela than I can through my own health-care provider in California.

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