My medical moments


A warning: This all sounds pretty horrible and much of it actually was, but I’m feeling fine now and I think I’ve learned where to be careful in the future. I’m hopeful that I am on the mend for a long while and would like to note that my circumstances were a little extreme and I’ve learned a great deal about how to care for myself during travel.

So as many who would read this blog will know, I have been plagued by miscellaneous illness over the last few months. Thus, I have now experienced medical care in five different countries and on three continents. 

I thought maybe people might be interested where and how I received care, especially those who are interested in travel and worried about health care. So here it goes:

In Mali I was blessed with fever blisters, which turned into infections and then abscesses. Mali (Bamako) has a few different medical options but I choose a local clinic. After spending about $20 and an hour or so I got to see a doctor who after a very brief interview gave me antibiotics for my feet.  There was not much more than that; keep them clean and wrapped. The medications were less than $20.

After a while we had to get to Senegal a little faster than usual, but my foot problems continued. We were fortunate enough to have met a doctor who came out to our house free of charge. He wrote me a prescription for another antibiotic and gave me instructions to air my wounds, which was a major factor in them healing.

However, it turns out that for some reason I was just prone to infection, so in Morocco I formed another abscess, which was quite a bit more painful and impactful. This time we visited a clinic and saw a doctor who again prescribed another antibiotic. I also received an ultrasound. The visit was $25 and another $10 for the antibiotics. I was also scheduled for a blood test to check for possible diabetes due to my multiple infections. We went to a military hospital for the test and were sped through multiple lines to be seen by the head doctor. Another $25.  I saw him again later in the day to get my results, then saw the first doctor again to have a final look at my abscess which was quite a bit better. All told, I received a doctor visit, ultrasound, blood work, two more visits, and antibiotics for $60 with no insurance. They even solved my problem :) .

All was well for awhile until I worked one too many days in the cold and rain in France. I got a pretty nasty chest cold. Fortunately, we received healthcare for working in France and our employer picked up the tab. The doctor visit was about $30. He basically just said rest and prescribed some special cough syrup and mistakenly gave me some kind of stomach medicine, all of which cost me less than $20.

Unfortunately, just as I came back to the States the chest cold came back with a fury. I was so congested that I got a horrible earache and had to go to the ER. We don’t have the bill yet (which I’m sure will be multiple hundreds) but the 5.5 hours it took to see a doctor was pretty crappy. They actually fixed me up pretty well once I finally got in. The antibiotic was somehow free. We are fairly confident that because of our zero income a lot of the medical bill will be written off.

So, in summery…medical care gets more expensive the more Western the country and is not necessarily any better for usual problems. Drugs are definitely cheaper overseas. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that there are social programs all over the world that help people in general cover medical costs (or their costs are made quite reasonable), but it only seemed like the States had income requirements specifically for poorer people. In general, we felt like people went out of their way to help us in Africa as we were clearly foreigners. I would imagine a Western hospital to be a horrible experience for someone from Morocco or Senegal. I also was asked to have by far the most complicated procedures in the States where those procedures are far and away the most expensive.

I am fortunate enough to be relatively healthy, and I’m sure should I end up with some horrible condition I would appreciate American healthcare, but I would also spend the rest of my life paying for it.

Eeew don’t let this happen to your feet!

About the Author : JonJon was a social worker, now he is a vagabond. The pay is the same.View all posts by Jon


  1. Kira
    KiraMay 25,13

    Jon- I’m sorry that you’ve been under the weather for much of the trip. Traveling while being sick is the worst. My main comment for this post is that the terms “expensive” and “cheap” or even “affordable” are relative terms which relate to how much money one has and one’s financial frame of reference. Therefore a straight comparison of dollar costs for health care across 5 countries is not comparing apples to apples. Calculating the costs you mention here in comparison with each country’s average per capita income is fairly eye opening (ie your doctor’s visit in Mali = the average Malian’s income of a month or more). Additionally, the most costly services you received in the USA could have been greatly reduced with a visit to an urgent care center rather than the ER (which may have made the US visit one of the smallest expenditures when calculated as a % of average per capita income). Here is a post about a report from WHO that is fairly short, interesting, and sheds some light on health care access and relative costs of essential medicines in developing countries: Health care access and provision in the US and developing countries is something I have some experience with, and while I am no expert, I can’t help but comment. It’s a complicated topic with complex issues (much of health care in developing countries is supported by UN initiatives, foreign governments, and INGOs; also there are issues of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, inconsistent medical education, government corruption, the list goes on and on…..). This is just some food for thought as you continue to travel, hopefully without further medical complications!

  2. Jon
    JonMay 25,13

    Kira brings up some really good points here about the world of medicine, which I know extremely little about and would not pretend to understand.
    I would say that this blog post is about MY experience with medicine in different countries, being a relatively well off citizen of the US with a decent ability to care for myself financially. In general, the medical cost of the care I received was drastically cheaper overseas, to me. Urgent care (walk-in clinic, not the ER which I ended up going to) had in minimum charge in Florida of $130, which would have been much cheaper for me in West Africa or Europe. There are many complicated issues in global medicine; these are just my experiences.

  3. douglas dahl
    douglas dahlMay 25,13

    I am not surprised by the much higher cost of medical care in the US compared with France due to government subsidy but am surprised by the quality and cost of medical care in what we usually refer to 3rd World countries like Senegal. But I am also happy that the low cost and care in those countries is easily accessible in clinics. I have talked with older people here in Oakhurst who went to Mexico for major surgery issues for teeth and their bodies because the care was as good as in the US and 1/2 the price. The medical and pharmaceutical businesses have had their way in the US for decades at the cost to the consumer and US government insistence on protecting the public has made new drugs and procedures almost impossible to get approved, partly due to the US public fascination with lawsuits at the drop of a hat. Almost every week I read or hear about the US final approval of a new drug or procedure that was already being used in Europe for some time. And the lawyers don’t help the situation getting rich with drug lawsuits. Enough of my ranting for today. I am glad you and Jess are well Jon.

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