Brian Major | September 02, 2015 12:30 PM ET
Travel Insurance Saves The Day For A Guy Who Should Know Better
I’ve been a travel writer for nearly 30 years, and taken hundreds of airline flights. I’ve flown first class on TWA and from Paris-to-New York on Air France back when smoking was permitted on airplanes (it was a smoky flight and I helped). I’ve even flown twice aboard the Concorde. As I like to say, I flew back when it was still a classy thing to do.
But my most recent flight was unlike any other: aboard a Lear jet, flat on my back, strapped to a stretcher. I was leaving Panama City for Miami and South Miami Baptist Hospital, where I would soon undergo treatment of a collapsed lung.
I have Allianz Travel Insurance to thank for this particular flight and believe me I’m quite thankful. It took a real medical emergency for me to realize how foolish I’d been to have traveled for so long without travel insurance. Allianz truly saved the day for me, providing emergency medical benefits when I needed them most.
Long story short, I suffered a collapsed lung after landing at Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport on Aug. 17. I was on my way to join a media group hosted by InterContinental Hotels Group, Kreps DeMaria Public Relations and the Panama Tourist Board. After landing and clearing immigration and customs, I coughed a few times while walking through the terminal.
Suddenly it felt as if a balloon had exploded in my chest. When I spotted the driver hired to take me to the InterContinental Miramar Hotel, I asked him to take me to the nearest hospital instead.
He did, and via an x-ray at nearby Punta Pacifica hospital, it was discovered I’d suffered a collapsed right lung. The technical term for what happened to me is spontaneous pneumothorax, described as a partial collapse of the lung in a person with no known lung problems.
As anyone can imagine I was pretty nervous. “Collapsed lung” does not sound good any way you spin it. I worried about the nature of my condition, and how - even if – I might recover from this serious medical situation. I was also pretty far from home, in another country, where I had only a rough ability to speak and understand the language.
Ultimately I was fortunate in a few regards. For one, it turned out Punta Pacifica hospital is a first-rate facility, the equal of any top U.S. hospital I’ve encountered in terms of facilities, care and professionalism. My treatment was directed by Dr. Ricardo Jaramillo, who worked through his rusty English (and my worse Spanish) to explain in detail what had happened to me, along with the medical options.
He stabilized my condition in part by inserting a tube into my side to release air trapped in my chest cavity (using local anesthesia, as I watched). Over the next two days he carefully monitored my condition, ultimately telling me I’d need a minimally invasive surgery to repair my lung.
I wasn’t fully comfortable with the prospect of undergoing surgery in a foreign country, so far from home. While I was confident Dr. Jaramillo could perform the surgery, I worried that I’d have to remain in Panama for perhaps weeks afterward, unable to immediately fly home as I convalesced. I believed a return to the U.S. for surgery would be the best option.
Which brings us to the second fortunate aspect of this story: only two or three weeks prior to the trip, I purchased a one-year “professional traveler” policy from Allianz for $258. It turned out to be the best money I’ve spent in a long time. My Allianz policy not only covered emergency medical treatment (at $10,000) but also paid up to $20,000 for emergency medical transportation.
I’d never before purchased third-party insurance or thought much of the prospect. I only bought the policy this time because of a conversation I had earlier with Dan Durazo, an Allianz official. I had mentioned I’d be traveling to Panama soon and half-jokingly, Dan asked about my insurance for the trip. I said I didn’t have any insurance.
Extremely puzzled, Dan suggested I take out the professional traveler policy. The one-year, very basic policy covers trip interruption and cancellation, plus emergency medical treatment and transportation. Meanwhile Dan was wondering how someone who has traveled internationally up to 10 or more times each year for nearly three decades had never purchased travel insurance.
I suppose I had similar thoughts back in mid-August, when this all began, with Dan asking if I had travel insurance. I know for sure that at the time I was thinking, “Why not? It can’t hurt.” How right I turned out to be.
Back in Panama, I was lucky to have my wife Karen fly in to be with me. The sense of relief I felt when she walked into my hospital room is hard to describe. While I was hopeful all would work out I had already endured some of the loneliness and sense of misfortune over my plight.
My hospital room overlooked the Pacific Ocean, and at times I stared out at the water, lamenting that I’d been unable to join the press trip and wondering when I might go home again.
In addition to Karen’s arrival, the response of the Allianz officials I spoke with as the situation unfolded helped ease my worries. I spoke with Allianz by cell phone shortly after I was admitted to the hospital. Company officials immediately confirmed my policy information and over the next few hours conferred with the hospital’s doctors to monitor my condition. They provided the emergency benefits to pay for my hospitalization, and they were available to me at all times whenever I had any concerns.
Their professionalism and friendly assistance was a crucial comfort at this difficult time. Within a few days, they approved my medical evacuation to a hospital in Florida.
It’s important that I point out something Dan told me: not every traveler in the situation I faced is medically evacuated via Lear jet. If there is appropriate treatment available locally, if moving the person at all is problematic, or for other reasons, the best option may be to have the traveler treated locally.
Still, in my case I firmly desired medical transportation back to the U.S. Fortunately Dr. Jaramillo, and the Allianz officials and medical professionals, agreed with me. Around 11 p.m. on Aug. 20 I departed Panama City aboard a medical flight provided by REVA Air Ambulance.
I arranged to fly to Miami and enter South Miami Baptist Hospital, where the surgery would be performed. On the morning on Aug. 21 I was admitted to that facility and the surgery was successfully performed the next day by Dr. Ghassan Haddad.
The flight was extremely smooth and the air ambulance crew assigned to transport me was friendly and very professional. Things went very smoothly and as I saw us land trough the plane’s small porthole window I felt an immense wave of relief.
We went directly to the hospital, and I went into surgery a few hours later. The procedure was successful and I remained in Florida through Aug. 24, after which I was discharged. I’m feeling good and am expected to fully recover.
After spending two evenings in a Miami hotel, Karen and I arrived at New York’s Penn Station on Aug. 27 aboard Amtrak’s Silver Meteor from Miami. I had Allianz to thank for bringing me successfully through a serious medical condition so far from home. Soon we were walking through our front gate in Brooklyn.
My last-minute decision to buy travel insurance turned out to be a life saver. I will never leave home again without it, and I recommend that anyone who travels do the same.
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