Confessions of a Nomadic Hypochondriac

Discovering the world, one hospital and one doctor at a time.

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My hospital history

During the four and a half years I lived in Buenos Aires, I splurged on private insurance and a primary-care physician, Dr. Kaip. For my 15 years in New York City, two different employers had me covered. Though I still mostly managed to stay out of hospitals in both BA and NYC, the universe gave me a preview of things to come when sudden bizarre symptoms — cold and clammy hands, disorientation, heartbeat accelerating — sent me to the ER twice in a 24-hour period less than a week before my September 2006 departure from the U.S.

Can’t fight this sinking feeling

Thankfully, I was able to get both Klonopin and Atenolol without a prescription at a pharmacy around the corner from my apartment in Palermo Hollywood, making life with anxiety and borderline blood pressure so much simpler. By the time I left Buenos Aires in 2011, my blood pressure was normal enough for Dr. Kaip to take me off Atenolol permanently.

Every twitch, every ache, and every pain would be potentially life-threatening and worth checking out immediately — if I could procure walk-in treatment, which, outside of Bangkok and Cape Town, I’ve rarely been able to do abroad.

Why the constant fear? That’s as much a mystery to me as the anxiety. I’ve never had a serious illness, nor have I stayed in any hospital for more than a few hours since I was eight years old and spent a week being examined by a neurologist in Kissimmee, Florida, for the vicious and constant headaches that continue to plague me 41 years later.

Do you speak my language?

While I’ve been able to communicate using English with doctors in Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America, words have sometimes gotten in the way when I’ve sought medical care during my last 14 and a half months in Europe. I have run up against insurmountable language barriers and couldn’t get past reception at public hospitals in Berlin and Bucharest, and at private ones in Odessa, Ukraine, and Iași, Romania.

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Sunday afternoon in the ER

Caught in a mind riot

Not being under the full-time care of any one physician and traveling around countries with different languages, alphabets, and laws regulating prescription drugs has been challenging in other ways.

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A post-colonoscopy selfie

Struggling down under

Interestingly, I had my most-negative medical experience during my two and a half years living and working in Sydney, despite my treatment there being exclusively in English and having private insurance coverage. One doctor dismissed my chest-pain complaints with bad jokes before diagnosing me with something called costochondritis, a condition that was more annoying than deadly.

The ambulance took more than a half hour to arrive after my brother Alexi passed out mid-sentence during lunch at Cookie, my favorite restaurant in Melbourne.

His Canadian insurance (he lives in Toronto) no doubt footed more of the bill than Bupa would have had I been the one to lose consciousness for no discernible reason. (The case of Alexi’s mysterious fainting spell would go unsolved.) I happily would have traded the easy communication I enjoyed in Australia for the considerably lower cost I’ve paid pretty much everywhere else outside of the U.S.. And aside from the Polish doctor in Kraków, if they laughed, they waited until I was gone.

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”

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