Top Things Found at a Colombian E.R.

I arrived at an emergency room, or sala de urgencia, in Armenia, Colombia, on Monday night at about 9:40, with a below-the-knee inflammation.  This was at San Juan de Dios (St. John of God) Hospital on Avenida Bolívar.

Here are the Top Ten Things I Found at the E.R.:

10.  After registering and paying upfront, I saw la doctora after less than ten minutes waiting time.

9.  The cost of the E.R. doctor visit in Colombian pesos equivalent:  $15 U.S.

8.  The entire section of the hospital was wonderfully air-conditioned on a warm night.

7.  The jefe of the E.R. greeted me speaking English and asked me a few questions.  When he realized I had a decent grasp of Spanish, he left me to the Spanish-speaking staff, saying that if I wanted any questions answered in English, he would be available.

6.  The doctor spent a full hour with me .. mostly questioning, also examining and diagnosing.

5.  The hospital guards aka vigilantes were extremely helpful in aiding me to navigate around the E.R. areas and the nearby 24-hour pharmacy.

4.  At the pharmacy, the cost of the prescribed medication -- regular aspirin -- was $1 U.S.  That bought me the prescribed 30 pills, although only one aspirin per day was prescribed.  I’m guessing that more medication will be prescribed after the testing is completed.  Meanwhile, the aspirin seems to be doing its job.

3.  The doctor gave me a preliminary, educated-guess diagnosis .. and prescribed sophisticated testing that I would undergo at a facility that offers it in the afternoon.

2.  At 10:15 p.m., when my doctor’s visit started, the 30-ish doctora was dressed in a purple 'Aéropostale 87 New York' sweatshirt, matching purple sports-watch, dark green pants .. and wearing a big blue-and-black fanny pack.

And the #1 thing I found at the San Juan hospital E.R....

1.  The admitting nurse was apparently shocked -- and obviously agitated -- when I declined the doctor’s plan to admit me for an overnight hospital stay .. for observación.

cccmedia, back at my hotel room in Armenia

Wow, that is amazing.  Apparently insurance is THE problem with healthcare in the US, not the solution.   It sounds like you had a much more positive experience in the ER than any I've ever had in the US !

Your above statement about insurance being THE problem with USA healthcare may be true, although my experience at the Colombia ER seems to have nothing to do with such a conclusion.

My home-country insurance here in Ecuador did not cover me for Colombia, and I had forgotten to take travel insurance before my leg swelled during week 2 of my trip.

I bought travel insurance at the World Nomads website for the rest of my trip.

The leg swelling went away on its own during that August trip within a couple of days and before I could get an afternoon test-appointment, and the problem did not come back. 

I agree I got excellent value for my out-of-pocket payment of $15 that night at the Colombia ER.

cccmedia in Quito, Ecuador

My experience with a Colombian ER was much different. I was drugged and robbed in Chapinero, Bogota. For those that know the story already, bear with me.

I woke up in an ER in Chapinero the morning after taking an ambulance ride as I was reportedly unconscious on a sidewalk after being dumped out of a cab onto my face.

The ER had not even undressed me or taken off my boots. My feet were hanging off the end of the gurney. I was extremely dehydrated (a side effect of scopolamine drugging) and they had not even given me an IV. The only thing they did was give me a catheter which burned like hell, and I'm sure that was just to keep me from soiling their bed.

I had no money or cards and couldn't pay. I tried to reason with them, but they insisted I pay them on the spot. So I said, "I'll come back and pay you." I tried to leave but couldn't. You know why there's a security guard that keeps the front door locked? It's not to keep people out. It's to keep you inside until you pay. And he wouldn't let me leave.

The police came to "interview me." They didn't care. I was just another dumb gringo that got robbed in Bogota. There are cameras all over the city and they didn't ask any pertinent questions or try to review any footage. They only showed up because the hospital called them.

I complained to the police that I was being held in the hospital against my will and wanted to leave. One of them smiled. They left and I didn't hear from them again.

I went to the US embassy the next day to try and get a new passport. I had a nasty black eye and roadrash on my cheek. The case officer said, "Oh, you must be the guy in Chapinero the hospital called us about. They wanted us to pay your hospital tab." I said, "I have NOTHING to my name right now and no way to get money and I told them this." She said, "Yeah, they do it all the time."

So, all the hospital wanted was money. They gave me no treatment; they didn't even hydrate me with an IV. And they had to know that I was scopolamined because they see it ALL THE TIME. And they know that severe dehydration results from being scopolamined.

So, that may just be the one place. But I wasn't impressed. I can't imagine any ER in the USA just putting you on a gurney with your boots hanging off the edge and forgetting about you.

So, I'm of course not discounting your good experience. As usual, I'm just not a very lucky guy. :/

I understand healthcare is incredibly inexpensive and good here. Many of the doctors know English or have been trained in the states. When you talk about open heart surgery.. It's 10k here and $150,000.00 in the states with no insurance. People could come here from the states and save a load. Dentistry, you name it! Prescription drugs are easily 30 times less than USA!! And you don't need to see a doctor first!

The lesson here seems to be there are good and bad, but that might well also depend on the individual expat's attitude to things.

Fred :

The lesson here seems to be there are good and bad, but that might well also depend on the individual expat's attitude to things.

If I had been conscious, I perhaps would have had a much better attitude when I arrived at the ER. Maybe then they would have given me an IV or some treatment.

If I had had any money or credit cards after being robbed, I also could have paid, which means they wouldn't have held me against my will for over 2 hours. And as such, I may have had a better attitude.

So, I see what you mean. We all can get a bit p1ssy at times with our attitudes. Being drugged and robbed and sent to the ER with a busted face wasn't enough. The hospital then kidnapped me for 2 hours after doing nothing to help me. So I feel certain you're right. My attitude was pretty sh1tty at the time.

Fred :

The lesson here seems to be there are good and bad, but that might well also depend on the individual expat's attitude to things.

Fred, please go ahead and delete my previous post.  I wasn't even thinking about my comment being political in nature in any way whatsoever.  I was thinking of healthcare in the US from the perspective of the 1980's before insurance companies covered regular doctor office visits and prescriptions.  At that time, a doctor's visit was about $30 and prescription medication was all affordable, most less than $10 easily.  It seems that when we got prescription medication coverage and office visit coverage that's when costs skyrocketed because insurance paid.  Fast forward, this in turn led to DRG's, or Diagnostic Related Groups, then HMO's, and Managed Care.  I was only referencing "Insurance" in a very broad scope, not the present state per se.  If this post is not appropriate then please delete as well.   I only wanted to clarify what I meant.  Thank you.

Hi everyone,

@ BirdmanB, only moderators and administrators can delete your post and that upon request of the poster himself (in this case you). You have clarified your point by giving out the necessary information, everything's fine, could we move on to the initial topic please ?

"Top Things Found at a Colombian E.R."

If you want your post removed, please send me a private message or report your own post, we will do the necessary.

Thank you for sharing,

Ginger0 :

Prescription drugs are easily 30 times less than USA!! And you don't need to see a doctor first!

Wrong -- on both counts, in my recent experience here in Juan Valdez Coffee Country.

1. Medicine 30 times cheaper than in the USA -- a gross exaggeration.

2.  Some medicines -- for instance, mind-benders, including benzos -- typically require a prescription from a doctor at the general practitioner level or higher.  Many meds do not require a script.

cccmedia in La Zona Cafetera

I went back to the San Juan Hospital E.R. in Quindío this week, this time for an inflammation on the jaw.

I visited the E.R. first at night, and met with two doctors in a medical office.

They ordered three tests, the first two being administered immediately, the third a few days later...

1.  radiografía imaging of the body (frontal)

2.  blood testing  with a report listing dozens of results

3.  ecografía of the neck, with a typed full-page report of findings

Total cost of the consultations and all testing and reports:  $98 U.S.

I have travel insurance but the charges were way below the deductible.

  -- cccmedia down the street from San Juan Hospital

My experience here in Rionegro has been excellant.  I have hypothyroid and high blood pressure.  I am currently in a cardio program which i have to visit a doctor every three months.  With insurance, i don't have to pay anything and my three medications that i take costs only $1.00 per month.

Last year i developed problems with my shoulder.  I had an MRI done which cost me $100.00 but was still cheaper than what i paid back in the states.  I visited several doctors, but each time they referred me to another specialist.  Each visit costing me about $10.00.  Finally, the doctor in Medillin wanted an MRI with contrast.  At this time, my shoulder started feeling better and i elected not to have further testing.

On a different subject...Since living in Colombia for almost two years my blood work results for the first time are within the normal ranges.  And it great to have a nurse come to your home to draw the blood and surprising to see the results before the end of the day

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