Medical Tourism…Not Just for Tourists

limping along in Lagos

A “Bengala Amiga”, or a friend with a cane. I share “bengala” kisses at the bus stop, gently touching canes with my bengala amigas.

The cost of surgery in the U.S.A. has become quite insane. More Americans are hopping on jets bound for hospitals around the world, even if they have insurance.   Google “hip replacement” and discover thousands of places waiting, eager to provide excellent medical care.  Just grab your cane and passport, they will do the rest.

Clinics offer complete packages; it’s like some kind of hip replacement resort.  Consider a hip replacement brochure and choose from tickets to the Opera, rounds of golf or any leisure activity your traveling companion may desire, round trip airfare, accommodations in multi-star hotels.  Experience tours of museums and historical landmarks, a limo for transportation to and from the hospital and it’s all taken care of by the concierge.  You don’t have to lift a finger except to sign for room service.

More importantly, the hospitals; really more a hybrid hospital, a home and hotel.  Every patient has cable TV, Internet and great food.  The hospitals really are comfortable and artfully decorated with a high staff-to-patient ratio.  The surgeons are highly trained in their specialties, and each smiling, really nice person working there speaks fluent English.  After you are recovered (never rushed out because “they need the bed”) you fly back to your home with a new hip and no second mortgage.  Bonus! Your companion (between hospital visits) has had a great vacation in luxury doing whatever they love to do.

An article published August 13th, 2013 in the New York Times told of American photographer and avid snowboarder Michael Shopenn.  The pain from his arthritic hip was so bad he could not do the simplest tasks of daily life.  A total replacement, even with insurance would cost over $100,000 in the States. After doing some research, a private hospital in Brussels successfully replaced his hip and he is now back on the slopes.  Total cost:  $13,500, without insurance.

My constant companion, the can

Ready for a (very slow stroll) to the market.

The southern coast of Portugal has warm sun and breathtaking beaches; world-class golf, historic castles and fortress, amazing food and wine.  Relaxing and mellow, it is a wonderful place to visit, get, and recover from a hip replacement.  The HPP Hospital São Gonçalo de Lagos is one of these excellent fully accredited hospitals, it also happens to be located 20 minutes away from my home.  Ten minutes hobbling on the cane to the bus stop next to my building and ten minutes’ ride to the hospital. Seems all those New Year’s ritualistic blessings of  raisins and salt have done the trick, and very soon I too will be joining the ranks of this year’s six million estimated medical tourists in Europe. I will be traveling with my local Lagos bus pass in hand from my apartment rather than a limo.

The Portugal Health System sent me there for an X-Ray because, well, I really can’t walk very well any more.  I fell deeply in love with Hospital São Gonçalo’s  X-Ray machine .  It is the Cristiano Ronaldo of X-Ray machines, so handsome and with such amazing tricks. Everyone in this hospital was so nice!  My  visual meditation each morning has since included a “The Miracle of The New Hip from São Gonçalo,” scenario,  the little cynic on my shoulder whispered, “never gonna happen”.  Suddenly, I was given a little piece of paper, if this piece of paper is put into the right hands, I will be granted the miracle of the new hip from São Gonçalo.  I am guarding this golden ticket of mobility very carefully until the time comes to present it to my medical Willy Wonka.

The domain name “Adventures On A Cane” is up for grabs, not going to need it. With just this piece of paper and a little bit of hope, I’m hobbling a bit lighter. I’m hobbling to adventures I have only been able to imagine…until now. 

Update June 15, 2017

Had a hip replacement at Hospital São Gonçalo, Lagos.  Within a month I was having severe swelling, chills and pain.  The surgeon kept saying it was normal until October 24th in their Emergency Room my hip opened up and a liter of pus spilled out.  They sent me to the public hospital in Portimao.  After 8 months, six surgeries over the past three years I am alive, but without a hip.  DO NOT GO TO  SÃO GONÇALO, LAGOS., they will kill you.

20 Responses to Medical Tourism…Not Just for Tourists

  1. Thanks for finally writing about > Medical Tourism

  2. Doing the research for this story, I was amazed by the number of people who leave the security of their home and travel to be able to afford surgery they desperately need, but can’t afford in the States. Many still travel for cosmetic plastic surgery…coming back home looking “rested”, but having a femur sawed off and replaced with new parts Bulgaria…there has to be a hell of a good reason. There are many. In the U.S.A. it seems the business of making money is more important than making healthy citizens.

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    • Thanks Clive, The golden sands of the beaches in the Algarve on the southern coast of Portugal have certainly make me feel like I’ve won the expat lottery. Lagos is a fascinating city, not your average beach resort, I love my new home and love writing about it. Travel Well! Constance

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