Al was having troubles with many facets of his health. He was extremely overweight, had diabetes and high blood pressure, and was tired and constantly falling asleep, whether in the car or on the sofa. His doctor recommended a LAPBAND, and Al thought that sounded fine… until he realized the cost: US$14,000 outpatient, US$17,000 inpatient, and none of it covered by health insurance.
A woman in Al’s office suggested a “medical vacation,” something Al had never heard of. So he started doing research and contacted several groups in the US that assist people in medical travel. He also found some LAPBAND discussion groups on Yahoo in which people who’ve had the surgery tell their stories and post their pictures. “I saw some interesting before-and-after pictures on there,” Al says. The more Al studied the LAPBAND option, the more right it seemed for him. “I didn’t want any of the other bariatric options; I felt the LAPBAND was the least intrusive,” he explains.
Al had a number of concerns about having the procedure done abroad. For one thing, he needed to know who would fill his LAPBAND back home. He felt sure no US doctor would touch him after he’d seen a doctor out of the country. But the medical travel company he selected reassured him on that point. They took the worry out of travel in several others ways, too. The agency took care of transportation and hotel arrangements. With Monterrey as his destination, he didn’t need to be concerned about the Mexican border towns that made him uncomfortable.
“So they sent me information on the doctor so I could evaluate him, and on the hospital, too,” says Al. “It was an American-owned hospital, with American standards. The doctor, I looked him up, does this procedure in Mexico and Texas, so both sides of the border, which was reassuring. So I signed up with them. The whole thing ended up costing me $7,000 for travel and surgery in the hospital.”
Al was a no-nonsense medical traveler. He wasn’t interested in sightseeing: he just wanted to get the procedure done and go home to his wife. “They took me to the hotel, and said they’d pick me up early the next morning to do the pre-op blood work and everything,” he explains. “They were there on time, took me to the hospital, I had the blood work, they took me back, and they picked me up again at 4:00 p.m. from the hotel and took me to the doctor’s office. I met the doctor, and he told me everything that was going to happen.
“They picked me up the next morning, around 5:30 a.m., and took me to the hospital and got me all checked in. The hospital is a beautiful, clean hospital. The room looked like an embassy suite, with a living area and what-not. Another girl at the hospital was pretty much with me all the time after that. Both girls work at the hospital, so I saw both of them over the next few days. The anesthesiologist spoke good English and took me through the whole procedure. They rolled me in and did the procedure, and a couple hours later I was out and back in my room.
“I went in on Tuesday, they did the pre-op. Thursday they did the operation, then I was back in the hotel on Friday, and Saturday they took me to the airport and I was back home.”
In spite of his prior misgivings about foreign travel, Al was impressed. “It was so professional, and it was so centered on me, that I felt like I was being well taken care of at all times, and well looked after, better than I think I would feel in an American hospital. I mean, they treat you like you are someone very important who’s having this done, and they’re pleased to have your business,” he says.
And the results were spectacular. “I’ve lost 72 pounds so far. I’m feeling a world of difference. I can bend over and tie my shoes... I mean, not having to get down on one knee to tie my shoe and not breathing hard to do it. As a result of this surgery, I’ve eliminated all my diabetes medicine, and I’ve cut my blood pressure medicine in half, and I’m not even sure I need it, or even sure I need the Lipitor that I take. I took Prevacid for reflux for 15 years, and I don’t take that anymore either. I am 65 and I feel like I’m 50.”
He’s feeling, in fact, like a different person. “The side effect that I was having with the diabetes medicine was sporadic diarrhea, so every place I went I had to check for the bathroom, and it was a real drag. So it’s like a whole different life. I couldn’t watch TV before without falling asleep. Now I have to take something at night to go to sleep, because of my energy level! And there’s been no pain in my recovery.”
Last updated on 9 March 2013
Before Leaving the Hospital: Get All the Paperwork
Impatient to be gone, and often suffering the woozy side effects of surgery and post-operative pharmaceuticals, patients too often find themselves back at home later, missing important documents that could have more easily been obtained on site. So before you hightail it out of your hospital or clinic, be sure that you have all of your important documents.
Generally, larger hospitals provide complete medical documentation as part of the standard exit procedure. However, some smaller clinics may rely more on verbal instructions, and they are less likely to build and maintain a dossier on your case.