Thursday, July 30, 2009

Is Travel Medical Insurance Necessary? Conclusion - Disaster in Provence

“Is broke!” Debbie and I, sitting in the waiting room next door, heard the radiografia technician exclaim. The tech must have been so amazed to see Mary's unusual spiral fracture that she forgot to lower her voice.

Still, the diagnosis was no surprise. Mary's foot and leg had doubled in size overnight. That morning, Mary was no longer insisting that the leg might heal on its own. Debbie and I ousted the manager from his office chair again to wheel her downstairs, and Debbie braved the old city streets to get the car as close to the hotel entrance as possible. Somehow we managed to avoid the busy market area and follow the map, getting lost only once, to the Joan of Arc Clinic.

Mary gave her name to the attendant and filled out a few forms with her home address and phone number. No one asked for insurance information. Thirty minutes later we were ushered into an examination room. Dr. Vladimir Pop walked in and Mary said, “Do. You. Speak. English?”

Dr. Pop said, “No, not a single word.” He laughed and Mary smiled for the first time since the accident.

After he had the x-ray results, Dr. Pop placed the leg in a temporary cast of sorts. He insisted it was too swollen to do anything else. Mary was given a prescription for pain pills and one for a wheelchair. She was told to return in a week for a permanent cast.

When she paid her bill, the total charge for lab and doctor services, in this country where medical care is reasonable for all, was 70 Euros. Before Debbie left to join her husband at the gite in the country, she and I drove to the medical supply store where we rented a wheelchair for 16 Euros.

Unfortunately, the wheelchair didn't help Mary much on the ancient streets of Arles. She used it to reach the hotel's first floor for breakfast and to wheel to the Bar Americain next door for dinner, but, with few curb cut-outs, most of the city was inaccessible to her. (I later saw a boy in a wheelchair, early one morning, being pushed down the middle of the street by his mother. Obviously, that approach is only practical when there's little traffic.) Still miserable and craving the assistance of her own doctor in Michigan, Mary changed her flight and made plans to leave on Wednesday.

Since she had to take the train from Arles to Marseille, she and I had to deal with another problem—the Arles train station. In smaller towns all over Europe, the train terminal consists of a series of staircases to reach the appropriate tracks. Mary would have no problem in Marseille where thirty or so tracks were all housed in one huge terminal, but, here in Arles, she'd have to navigate two flights down and two flights up to reach her train.

Luckily, the transportation system in France is prepared to deal with special needs visitors. The staff told me that an attendant would literally take her across the tracks to the correct platform so she could avoid the four flights of stairs. And, at 5:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, that's exactly what they did.

I waved her off knowing she would still have some difficulty navigating the taxi or bus from the train station to the Marseille airport, but confident that intrepid Mary could handle whatever lay ahead. And she did. After six weeks in a cast, Mary was busy planning her next trip.

Practicalities -

If you do not have insurance that is applicable anywhere in the world, or if you have chronic health issues, you may want to consider travel insurance. These companies are highly recommended in Travel Forums.

For information about public transportation help for special needs visitors, see

Are you wondering why Debbie leased a car with a manual, instead of an automatic, transmission? She wanted to save money. Gas is considerably more expensive in Europe than the United States, and stick shifts use less gas than automatics. Therefore automatic transmissions are rare in Europe and add a couple hundred dollars to the lease cost.

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