Getting sick abroad can be incredibly uncomfortable and far more dangerous than getting sick in your home country. I’ve been lucky enough to get sick every time I leave The States… and not just a cold, I get terribly ill.
During my time in Spain, I was the lucky winner of coming down with Bronchitis once, heatstroke twice, and multiple infections lasting a five-month span. Lucky for me, my Spanish host-father was the newly retired Chief Surgeon of the local hospital. I never had to wait the 8+ hours that my fellow foreigners did to be seen, and I always got treatment free of charge. I don’t think I really can judge how I felt about the care I received because I was getting special treatment. But I can say that my friends waited over 10 hours to be seen, not just once, but multiple times. Even at the private hospital, I waited with a friend 5 hours to get seen by a doctor and another 2 for her test results.
In Serbia, however, I haven’t been lucky enough to have the same connections. When I was here last summer I made a trip to the hospital after being sick for 10 consecutive days. Rewinding to 11 days prior, I saw my best friend the night before I left for my visit. Unfortunately, her husband was at home with the stomach flu. Thinking nothing of it, I went to sleep, woke up the next morning and got on my flight to go across the world. My first flight was 14 hours and about halfway through it I started feeling very ill. I’ll spare you the details but I ended up throwing up 4 times on that flight. After, I had a 2-hour layover, another 3-hour flight and then a 6-hour drive to Novi Sad. It was a terribly long 29 hours.
Upon arriving, I was obviously very sick, very weak, and absolutely exhausted. I spent the next week and a half not being able to hold anything down, having cold sweats, and basically being completely bedridden. It got so bad that we took a trip to a private hospital, where I was seen almost immediately. The doctor treating me spoke English almost perfectly and made me feel very comfortable, although I was clearly out of my element. They put me on an IV shortly after and after 2 liters of fluids, I had some color back to my complexion.
Both feeling and looking better, Nenad and I were checked out and headed out to the reception area to pay the bill. I wasn’t too worried because I knew that it wasn’t going to be anywhere near as expensive as getting care in an American hospital, but I wasn’t sure what I was in for, especially since we went to a private treatment center. She gave me the bill and I look down to see that it said 1,200 RSD. I thought to myself, “No way. That just can’t be.” I turned to Nenad and said, “$12?”… yup. It was only 12 bucks to get all that care. I was completely shocked.
Receiving foreign care is something that my family and friends always asked me about leading up to my departure. One of the most common questions was simply, “What if you get sick,” to which I replied, “then I’ll go to the doctors.” Although the doubts from those around me never scared me, it still makes you think about getting sick away from home. But I’m not claiming that the health services in Spain and Serbia are up to par. as far as American standards. If I was to get a rare bone disease I’d much rather get treatment at the UC Davis Medical Center than a private practice in Novi Sad. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t doctors, nurses, etc who aren’t able to deliver the same level of intensive care that I’d receive at home for most illnesses and/or injuries.
It’s hard to judge a countries health care by the service you received that ONE time or by the story you heard from that ONE person. That’s something that I’ve been very conscious of and why I base my opinions on my own experiences. Although different from what I’m used to, I have had no issues with getting ill in Spain or Serbia that would have been handled better in the USA.