Insurance is very important to me because I like to travel as much as I can, and in most places, international health costs can be ridiculously high. I never understood this clearly until I was studying abroad in Costa Rica two summers ago. It was an amazing time; however within our program we had two of our classmates, and now my very good friends, go to the hospital.
The first was only a week and a half into our four week program. A girl in our program was on a motorcycle and got hit by a car with a drunk driver pulling out of a parking spot. Luckily she had a helmet on because she landed head first onto the road. She was very fortunate because her only injuries were a broken foot and some minor road burn. However, she did not have any of her insurance cards or information, so she was forced to pay out of pocket for her medical expenses. She did not have the money to pay for all of it so she had to call home to get money transferred to her and luckily she was able to get enough to pay for the expenses.
The second incident happened the following week when we had a free, long weekend. We all split off into groups and went to different areas of Costa Rica that we were interested in exploring. We decided to go to Manuel Antonio, a national park/beach that was known for being one of the most beautiful in the country. It definitely lived up to its reputation. On our second day there we decided to hike to a waterfall nearby. The hike took about five hours, but we were rewarded by the incredible views and the wonderful water once we got there. Around the same time we got there, a group on a guided tour got there as well. There was a lower point of the waterfall that was cleared and safe to jump off of, however a couple of guys from our group wanted to jump from the top. The tour guide from the group warned them that it was dangerous to jump from the top but they did not listen. The first guy jumped and was fine, so then the second guy jumped. I am not sure if it was how he landed in the water or what, but he could not move after his jump. The first guy that jumped that was still in the water had to swim him back to the rocks because he could not swim on his own. No one in the group had brought their phones so we asked the tour guide if we could use his. He declined our request because he had told the guys not to jump from there. Finally, a couple who had witnessed what had happened offered us their phone to call an ambulance. The guy had to wait nearly six hours, on rocks until medical attention arrived, because of our remote location. Once they got him to the hospital, he had to wait another four hours, on a wooden stretcher, outside (because the emergency room was overflowing and there was not room for him), until he could see a doctor. Luckily two of the people with us from the program were very proficient in Spanish, while the rest of us were still learning. They went with him to the hospital so that they could help translate with the doctors, who only spoke Spanish. When he hit the water, he had broken two of his vertebras. He had to wear a back brace until they heeled but luckily it was not permanent damage. He did have his insurance information, so he did not have to pay out of pocket for his accident. If he had not had his insurance card and had to pay out of pocket, it would have been even more expensive than the girl who had her accident on a motorcycle because he had the ambulance ride while she did not.
What I learned from these experiences is that anything can happen anywhere. No one plans to break their foot or their back on their study abroad trip but it can happen. No matter where you are, 5 minutes from your house, across the country, or abroad it is important to be insured and to carry your information with you at all times in case of emergency. It is never planned when you have an accident, which is why it is called an accident. Everyone always thinks if they do something risky, or even something non-risky like riding in a car, that they will be ok but things can go wrong in a blink of an eye and it is important to be prepared for whenever that happens. I am thankful that nothing of this sort has ever happened to me, but it is one of my biggest fears. As I like to travel as much as I can, I am always afraid that an accident will happen and that I will be somewhere where I do not understand the language or where the medical care is poor, but one thing I do not worry about is the cost of it, as I know I am covered with my health insurance and my travel insurance.
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