In the past few months, I’ve had a couple of episodes with my gallbladder – not hugely painful, but definitely uncomfortable. Some anti-inflammatories and anti-spasmodic meds calmed it down each time, but it was obvious this was going to be a recurring problem, so the gallbladder had to go!
After getting blood work and an ultrasound, as well as a chest x-ray and EKG to make sure I was fit to undergo surgery, I met with an internal medicine doctor (Dr. Diaz) to go over the results and write up a pre-op report to give to the surgeon. She spent an hour with me, carefully looking over the results and writing up a four-page report.
When I told Dr. Diaz the name of my surgeon, she assured me that he was very good at laparoscopic surgeries. She had even sent her own husband to him, and her glowing recommendation definitely put me at ease.
After all the paperwork and tests were completed, it was time to schedule the surgery. I had planned to go to the public hospital because it costs very little, but the surgeon (Dr. Isaacs) told me there would be a 3-4 month wait, since it wasn’t an emergency. If I had it done at the private hospital, it would cost about $5000 and could be scheduled right away. Since I didn’t want to have any more episodes and didn’t want to wait until it WAS an emergency, I opted for the private hospital.
I actually had insurance, but since my deductible was $5000, it wouldn’t have done me much good, so I bit the bullet and paid the cash price. I should mention that medical care is considered to be very good in Panama, and much less expensive than in the US. The same surgery in the US could easily be $40,000 or more, from what I’ve read. Many people here self-insure – that is, they don’t purchase insurance and pay for medical care out-of-pocket instead, since the cost is so reasonable.
I checked in to the hospital at 8 a.m. The surgery was at 10:30, I was back in my room by 2 p.m., and was released about 2 p.m. the next afternoon. To reduce the cost, I chose to have a semi-private room, but it was almost like I had a private room. There was another person in the room when I checked in, but by the time I got out of surgery, they were gone, and I didn’t have a roommate the entire rest of the time, until about an hour before I checked out. Good timing!
One thing that I found to be quite different from hospitalization in the US – here, they don’t use a urinary catheter after surgery. Instead, they have you wear an adult-size diaper, and you pee in the diaper instead. That took a minute to get used to, but I suppose it’s more cost-effective than a catheter.
During my stay, I think Dr. Isaacs checked in on me at least a couple of times each day. One time, he brought me some “souvenirs” – the gallstones he had removed! All I could say was, “Wow!” when I saw the size and number of them.
My surgery was about three weeks ago. Recovery was much quicker with the laparoscopic approach, and after the first couple of days, I was able to get up from a chair or out of bed with relative ease. And now, I feel pretty much back to normal. Aside from one incision where I had a drain for a few days, which is still healing, you wouldn’t know I’d had surgery at all.
All in all, it was as pleasant an experience as possible (if any surgery can be called “pleasant”). I agree with the reports of the excellent healthcare in Panama!