This New Yorker’s experience of health care in Costa Rica

I know you have probably read many times over how good the medical care in Costa Rica is! Well I am here today to confirm this because of the great treatment I received a while back while living here.  If you do not mind, I would like to tell you my first hand experience.

One late evening I was sitting in the office helping a client sell a beautiful ocean view three bedroom, two bath fully furnished luxury condo, high on the hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I just sent the final draft of the offer to the seller for their acceptance and just hung up the phone with them. While waiting for them to sign the offer and scan back to me, the buyer called me, who got my contact info from the offer. After 20 minutes of listing to the buyer screaming at me and threatening to cancel the offer if the seller did not accept, I Finally told the buyer that I did not like the accusations, statements and the way they were talking to me. Personally I believe Costa Rica was not the right choice for them. It was a bit of a selfish comment as I did not want this ass living near me.

Just as I hung up the phone I felt this pressure in my chest on the left side just above my breast. At first I did not think much of it but as I was driving home I started to feel it again and this time it was moving towards my shoulder. As I walked in the door of my house, I started to feel even worse. Now this is for everyone to remember, these are classic signs of a heart attack, so please pay attention to your body when it tells you.

At that moment, I thought this was a heart attack and I immediately popped to aspirin in my mouth and had my wife take me to the CIMA private hospital, just eight miles from my home. Now some would say why this jerk didn’t call 911. Well, yes there is 911 is available in Costa Rica, but I wanted to live and sometimes it can take up to 30 minutes for them to arrive. Knowing the hospital was so close I knew I could get there quicker than any ambulance.

CIMA GTE

As I walked in the emergency room, I said to the first nurse that approached me (and it was as soon as I walked in) that I thought I was having a heart attack. Well, holy crap, this little Tica, and mean she was small at best five feet tall and all of a hundred pounds, grabbed me and practically carried me to a gurney all the while screaming something in Spanish that I did not fully understand. Before I knew what was going on there were 4 people by my side, one putting a oxygen  tube in my nose, another cutting my shirt off, another saying to me  “Sir can you hear me? Did you take any drugs”? I responded that I had taken two full strength aspirins and she immediately said “open your mouth take these now” she handed me a cup of water and down they went.

CIMA Emergency Room GTE

The nurse that cut off my shirt was now putting electrodes on my chest and some contraptions on my fingers, while another was working to take blood samples and another was taking my blood pressure.

It was incredible how fast and accurate these people were working on me, at least, that’s the way it looked to me. What do I know? I am a retired chef and now a real estate broker.

Within a few minutes a doctor walked up (I found out later he was the on staff emergency room doctor that night) and he asked me if I still felt any pain in my chest. I felt totally safe and in good hands, this doctors English was perfect, I responded and said the pain had subsided. He asked me a bunch more questions and turned and looked at a machine that was printing out a long strip a paper, I later found out it was a EKG they had done immediately. I also found out the drugs they stuffed into me that night were nitro glycerin and a blood thinner.

He looked at the results and said to me. “Sir, you are going to need heart surgery” At that point I thought hell if the event doesn’t kill me that statement is surely scaring the life out of me.

He continued to tell me that I had a blockage in one of the arteries and needed emergency angioplasty and possibly stents installed, depending on what the surgeon determines.  I asked him straight forward, “ so I had a heart attack” he looked at me a smiled and said “actually no you did not – close but did not because you did the right thing by taking the aspirin and getting here ASAP we were able to stop it before it happened”. He called it some medical term that was like talking Chinese to me, but who cares. That was some relief, so I said ok let’s do the procedure and when will it be. The doctor then said that they do not do that at this hospital however we can air transport you to San Jose and our main hospital and they will do the procedure tomorrow some time.  I looked at him with a bit of a curious eye and said how do you know, tomorrow, he responded and said he was already on the phone with the main hospital and the cardiologist on duty had advised that I get there ASAP and if agreed would see to it that it took place in the morning. Go for it I said.

Within thirty five minutes nurses were moving me to a portable gurney and shifted all the tubes and wires to the post on that bed, getting me ready for transport. Then within another fifteen minutes, they were rolling me out the back door and there was an ambulance there waiting for me with two technicians and the drive. Once loaded into the ambulance the doctor jumped in the ambulance with me and said “I just want to make sure all is ok once we get you on the plane”. Really, Ok whatever?

CR Medical air transport

So off to the Liberia international airport we went, lights flashing and siren screaming and driving like hell, The drive pulled right onto the runway and pulled up to a small plane. This was totally out of this world for me; these folks were right on it and really took away any fear that one would have.

Once loaded on the plane the emergency room doctor grabbed my hand and said “sir, you are going to be alright, have no fears you are in great hands”. Then he introduced me to another doctor that was on the plane already waiting for me. This doctor actually flew up from San Jose on the transport plane so there would be a doctor with me on the way back to San Jose. This is incredible, I could not believe it. In the back of my head I was thinking, “Cha Ching $$$$$” you know the sound a cash register makes; boy is this going to cost a boat load I thought. I will get to that later.

The doctor on the plane monitored all my vitals during the 40 minute flight asking every five minutes or so “sir are you feeling any pain or discomfort” he was a great. Upon arriving at the airport on San Jose there was already an ambulance waiting there with lights flashing. I was starting to think, “holy crap, am I going to make it?” I don’t care what that other doctor said.

Once in the emergency room in CIMA’s main hospital, which only took about 15 minutes from the airport, the cardiologist on staff walked in and introduced herself. Again this doctor spoke perfect English and started another EKG. After reading the results she looked at me and said,” Joseph, you were pretty smart getting to the hospital in time, I am going to move you to the front of the list for cardiac procedures in the morning and have no fear, we will take great care of you. She said “the Plumber is the best in all of Costa Rica”. The plumber! What the heck was she talking about? So I asked and she laughed, and said “Oh sorry, that’s what we call the cardiac surgeon that does angioplasty and stents, he cleans out people pipes and puts in supports if needed”.  It was nice to see that this doctor was actually human and had a bit of a sense of humor.

CIMA San Jose

At five am a team of four nurses came in and started prepping me for surgery, they gave me a shot of something and a good part of the rest was a blur. The last thing I remember was being rolled into the operating room and meeting the “Plumber”, he said to me don’t worry I do this every day. I later found out he was the top in his field in all of the Costa Rica as the other cardiologist had said. I remember him telling me, we have two options to do this, one through the vein in your thigh, or the other through the vein in your wrist. That was the last thing I remember. Turns out they went thru the vein in my wrist.

Well I guess the surgery went well because here it is almost 2 years later and I am still here and feel great. The next thing I remembered was being rolled down some hallway and someone was talking to me. I looked over and thought “holy crap, I did not make it this is my attorney standing next to me saying something”. Actually I have to say this; how many attorneys do you know that actually would take the time out of his day to go over to a hospital to visit a client that is not worth millions of dollars. I could not believe that he cared enough to actually find out how I was doing first hand. I have to say he is more than an attorney but a good friend. He told me if I need anything at all have a nurse call him and he would make sure I was taken care of no matter what, and slid his card into my hand and said “just hold on to this if you need it”.

Later that day the first cardiologist I met the night before came in and proceeded to tell me that I was going to be alright and the surgery was a complete success. She said I had to stay here in the hospital for a few more days of observation as she wanted to make sure I was totally ok before she released me. She informed me that the surgery was perfectly done and that the Plumber found four blockages and put stents in all of them after cleaning them out. Little did I know I was actually in intensive care for the first three days. I guess it was true this was serious crap!!

CIMA Hospital Room

I have to tell you the care I received was unbelievable, there were nurses and other doctors checking on me every few hours, and if I needed anything they were there in seconds.  A dietician came in to talk to me about eating habits for the future to make sure this does not happen again. Then the day before they discharged me, a physical therapist came in and said get out of bed because your new exercise program starts now. She was great showing me exercises I had to do at first and where I needed to be over time to make sure my heart gets back to where it should be.

The day my cardiologist discharged me, she spent almost 2 hours with me going over the entire process that happened and what was done to me and what I needed to make sure I did in the future so she did not have to see me again in the hospital. Actually she was the one that ordered all the others to come in and visit and teach me new habits.

Every four to five months I go back for a checkup and am happy to say the care is still as good as the day it happened.

Here is the real kicker as I mentioned earlier in this article. The cost! The entire thing, emergency room, the air transport, the surgery, the hospital stay and follow up was $56,000.00 USD. Now I know that’s a lot of money in anybody’s book, unless you happen to be filthy rich which I am not.  I did some checking and if this had happened in the US, the cost would have been easily TEN TIMES more and higher. However I did have private health care insurance that I purchased in Costa Rica and that is a whole other subject I will write about next time.

So when you read on many web sites about the quality of health care in Costa Rica. Believe it, it is top quality and I am happy to say it is true. Contact me if you would like more information and references, as I would be happy to supply them.

Christmas Season in Costa Rica

This year will be my eight year celebrating Christmas in Costa Rica. I have to be 100% honest with you, I am so totally happy that I am here and not back in the Big Apple or the US. Let me give you some of my top reasons, kind of like a David Letterman top 10 list, but a bit shorter. They may be warped, but they are still my reasons.

8) I am so happy I do not have to shovel snow and dig a trench out to the mailbox just to get Christmas cards.  They are nice to receive and send but really what do you do with them after the Christmas season is over? If you happen to be like me you may just through them away and what a waste of good lumber.

Shoveling Snow

7) Costa Ricans are generally happier at Christmas.  I remember living in the states with all the bright lights and ads on TV and newsprint screaming at you need to buy this and buy that so you have a great Christmas. Hog wash, all this does is cause a lot of people undue stress in their lives. I am sure, if you have been here or have been reading about Costa Rica, the term “PURA VIDA” Pure Life comes up. Yes it has a lot of different connotations however you really get the feeling of what it means around the Christmas season.

Christmas Stress

6) Tamales!! Sure you can get them all year long and the types that are made here in Costa Ria are different than the Mexican variety. Tamales are a traditional Costa Rica treat for Christmas, made with care and love. Trust me it is not an easy process, usually the whole family gets involved which brings the family together to share good talk drinks and fun.  I look forward to this time of year to indulge in some, with a cold beer and some” Lizano” salsa and hot sauce!! Yum, but I digress sorry.

Tamales

5) The Beaches.  Yep Christmas week, seems like most of the San Jose and the Central valley leave for the beaches of Guanacaste and Puntarenas. I love it, families having a great time at the beach enjoying the surf and sand, a pickup game of sand soccer for anyone to join, not like the crazy days of Jones beach in New York where I grew up, at least here I can still find a place to lay a blanket and not have the guy next to me practically sitting on me. Beside have you ever tried to go to the beach in December in New York, don’t think I could wear my swim suit, unless I was part of the Polar Club, NOT!!!

Crowded CR Beach

4) When it is Christmas time in Costa Rica the local folks like to decorate their houses with beautiful tropical flowers and some with traditional Christmas lights as well.  A model of the nativity scene, called the Pasito or Portal, is the center of the display.  What best of all NO ONE IS OFFENDED by the nativity scene. I get a bit crazy when I hear people from up north say, well that offends me and you should not have a nativity scene or a Manohar for Hanukkah in your yard. I guess they must be related to scrooge.

nativity scene

3) The true gratitude of people. I have to say I have been blessed in this life with a good job, great parents and the opportunity to make something for myself.  However there are people that are not as fortunate as I am here in Costa Rica and I love giving back not just at Christmas time but all year long. This year there was a Christmas campaign like Toys for Tots, in the playa Hermosa area and I was more than happy to help out with lots toys for underprivileged boys and girls in the area. There is nothing better than seeing the smiling face of a small child getting a toy when they never had one. It really warms the heart and makes me grateful for what I have.

Smiling child

2) Parades, festivals, rodeo and topes. Guanacaste, being originally a farming and cattle producing area of Costa Rica and still is, horses play an important part of people lives.  Hence the rodeos and topes, a tope is a horse parade like you never seen before. If you have never been to one you need to get on a plane and come down and experience it. Tons of people and vendors line the streets and it is a wild party atmosphere with live traditional bands all anticipating the arrival of the horse parade. Some topes are as large as 5000 riders with the rider all decked out in cowboy ware and the horse groomed to perfection, it is a blast!

Tope

1) My number one reason for loving Christmas time in Costa Rica is being able to freely say “ FELIZ NAVIDAD”  — “ MERRY CHRISTMAS” to anybody and 99% of the time you are greeted back with the same salutation!! In eight years I have had only one “A*****e” say to me and reprimanded me that I offended him with my greeting. So I ended up giving him whats called a “New York Bronx Cheer” , can’t tell you what it really is but you may get the idea. I am so sick and tired of all the political correctness of North America that at least I have the freedom here to say almost whatever I want without the fear of some pansy crying foul play.

political correctness

Christmas in Costa Rica is a wonderful time of year. Happy people great weather as the rains on the Pacific side of the country is at an end and just a great overall feeling of joy and happiness. Join me won’t you?