How a Scorpion Restored my Faith in Panama’s Healthcare System

We’ve all got some concerns about healthcare as we age…

Perhaps you’ve read elsewhere about how good access to solid healthcare in this country is. And it’s true, though it’s not necessarily the same level of care you may find in the U.S. or Canada. Expats in Panama are fortunate to enjoy access to physicians and pharmaceuticals here that they may not be able to find in many other Latin countries. Good healthcare is one of the many reasons so many expats move or retire to Panama.

We’ve lived in Panama now for more than five years. And, we’ve had our ups and downs with the access to the healthcare that exists here. Generally, it’s been more positive than negative. There are a number of good private hospitals in Panama. Doctor and dentist visits are about half of what they might cost in the States. Related tests like X-rays are considerably less expensive – consider $25-50 for one, versus $300-400 you might be charged in any U.S. city. (Read Chapter 7 in my book – The Gringo Guide to Panama for more details on the cost of living in Panama.)

The Lowdown on Meds

Prescriptions are pretty easy to get here, though it depends on what drug you are taking. Some medications cannot be prescribed by a Panamanian doctor unless you are admitted to a hospital. Others, however, can be purchased without a prescription for cash at any pharmacy. (If you are considering moving to Panama, you should check into this FIRST to find out if the meds you take are available or not, so that you know what will be necessary to get them once you live here.)

Pharmacies can be found in most every town and city in the country, though they may look a bit less sophisticated than your average Walgreens up North. Many of them do not maintain consistent inventories of certain medications, so this sometimes leads to a visit to two or three pharmacies to get everything you need.

But here’s the point of all this. My faith in access to Panama’s healthcare has been recently renewed! Why? I got stung by a scorpion.

What Happened?

First, let me clarify that scorpions are not overly common in Panama, except during the summer months of December through May, when the climate is somewhat drier and much hotter. In fact, I’ve only seen four total in the past five years.

However, on this particular Saturday morning, I encountered the fourth one in a not so very pleasant way. I moved a box, which he (or she) was living in, and he backed into my hand about the same time I saw him. He struck and I screamed. Yes, it HURTS when you get stung. It hurts BAD.

You can imagine the things that ran through my head. I’d heard as a child the things that happened to your body when you got stung by a scorpion. (Likely these images in my head were helped along by a Western movie or two from the 60s and 70s, though I’m not quite sure of that.)

At any rate, our weekend home is ten minutes to the closest urgent care clinic.

Quick Service

When we arrived at the clinic, it was 10 AM on Saturday morning. There was no one even waiting in the waiting room. We walked straight in and I announced to the front desk what had happened. The guy sitting there spoke perfect English to us. He took us back to see the doctor immediately.

Within moments, one nurse was taking my blood pressure and the attending doc came to the room. He asked a few questions, while my husband filled out the forms for our local insurance with the front desk guy.

Within five minutes of our arrival, my blood was being taken (to test if the venom was poisonous or not) by another nurse. I was then moved to another area for an IV to administer an anti-venom, anti-allergen medicine concoction.

A Positive Experience

All in all, the whole thing took an hour top to bottom. This included a thorough review of my blood test results with the doctor before I left, as well as receiving a copy of them for my records. He also wrote a prescription in case I had any lingering after effects in the next day or two. (Happily, the blood test came back for a non-venomous sting, which was a huge relief.)

I was also hugely relieved that the initial swelling was reduced to almost nothing within the hour I had the IV. And, the pain med started working during that time too.

And the total bill? Zero. I paid absolutely nothing out of pocket. As it was an accident (obviously!), my insurance paid everything from the get go. And, other than some significant pain for a few hours after the sting, I had a great experience.

I Believe!

So, there you have it. A scorpion reminded me of how good our healthcare system is here in Panama. I’m a big believer – again. And, you can be too. I’m a living example of the easy access to a very professional, clean, efficient medical clinic close to where I live. On-call doctors. Nurses who knew what they were doing.  A fast diagnosis.  Local insurance that worked with no  hassle.  A zero-cost bill. And, most of all, they knew exactly what to do for my ailment. I have to tell you – I feel VERY reassured.

Meanwhile, I’ve already called the exterminator to come and spray the house for my little scorpion friends. That was the doctor’s final recommendation, and I took it.

About Elizabeth Vance

Having lived in Central America for the past six years, and traveled extensively around the world for the past 36 years, Elizabeth Vance considers herself a world citizen. She's been fortunate enough to gain a global viewpoint through her experiences, while cultivating a love for the human condition and her fellow people. Author of The Gringo Guide to Panama - What to Know Before You Go and The Gringo Guide to Panama II: More to Know Before You Go, Elizabeth loves to share and connect with people moving to Panama and the Panama expat community.

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