Health Care in Nicaragua: A Hypochondriac’s Story

Nasty ant bites, swollen foot

Last September, I was hauling brush away from the beach, when I felt a strange tingling sensation. It started at my toes, and like a super charged lightning bolt, the sensation passed through my body to the top of my head. I began to itch like crazy, then my upper lip swelled and became numb, as if I had just received a shot of Novocaine.

Living on a tropical island, we have learned to take charge of our own health care. There is a hospital in Moyogalpa, the port town; however, I have been there with Marina, and I don’t want to return. EVER! Our workers, propped my foot on two cement blocks, and gave me a little cap full of…I think it was Benadryl…because I fell asleep upright on the only piece of furniture we had in our house at the time. (a purple plastic chair)

My foot swelled to the size of a small papaya and I was unable to put any weight on it for a week. I’m not one that likes to be incapacitated, so I began to research ant bites and allergic reactions. The locals know the insects, plants, and animals intimately. They all agreed that I had a horrible allergic reaction to ant bites.

Thank God for the internet! Once I determined the cause of my swelling and the treatment, I hobbled to the closest pharmacy armed with an array of new Spanish words..swollen foot, allergic reaction, numb upper lip, cortisone cream. Prescriptions are unheard of in Nicaragua. One only needs to discuss the symptoms with the pharmacist and the pharmacist will dispense one pill, or as many as one needs or can afford to buy.

Six years ago, Ron thought he had parasites. We went to a little shack…literally…where they had the only centrifuge in town. A man handed Ron a little plastic cup and said, “I need poo poo.” Then he directed him to the outhouse. As the centrifuge whirled the poo poo around and around, we waited patiently on the front porch, watching a long string of leaf cutter ants hauling their loot to their nests to make a fungus for the queen.

“Poo poo white,” he announced. “No parasites.” So, because of the white poo poo, he sent us to the pharmacy with a little scrap of paper that told the pharmacist what we needed to buy. All for the cost of one dollar.

Health care is cheap in Nicaragua. Even at the best hospital, Vivian Pellas Metropolitano, in Managua, expect to pay much, much less for all procedures. For example, a hip replacement in the USA is approximately $53,000. At Vivian Pellas, a hip replacement will cost $8,700… hidden costs. And, that price is without purchasing their insurance plan. With the Silver Insurance plan, take an extra 40% off the total cost of the hip replacement. I know you are wondering how much the insurance costs for Vivian Pellas….$26 a month!!!!

When we retired and moved to Nicaragua, we could have continued on our group health insurance, Cigna. However, the monthly cost of $500 would have been taken out of my tiny teaching pension check. Too young for Medicare ( which isn’t accepted in Nicaragua), and too poor to have $500 deducted from my pension, we really didn’t have any options. Before Vivian Pellas started to cater to expats, we had to take charge of our own health and care for our own aging bodies. Plus, we were at a disadvantage because of living on an island…with a one hour ferry ride to the mainland.

After my allergic reaction to the ant bites, I became a hypochondriac. Every sneeze, every ache, every insect bite, everything kind of out of the ordinary…I researched. Most of the little health issues were just due to an aging body. Yet, due to the fact that we are growing our own food, walking and swimming everyday, and always active, we are healthier than we have ever been before.

A retired RN lives close to us, now. I have become friends with a homeopathic doctor, who has a clinic in Moyogalpa. We found a great chiropractor in San Juan Del Sur, and an acupuncturist in Moyogalpa. Soon, we will have an airport a quarter of a mile away from our house. Should a medical emergency arise, we can hop on a flight to Managua for less than $50. Vivian Pellas hospital is getting better all the time, with international awards, U.S. trained doctors, and medical tourism programs.

Now, the only thing we have to worry about is health coverage in the states. Fortunately, we don’t return to the states often. But, when we do, the only health coverage we can get is on our car (stored in our garage back in the states). We upped the medical coverage for accidents in our car. So, if I break my leg, or anything else that requires immediate medical care, I have to do it in the car to be covered. What a shame! Health care in the USA is a mess. But, that’s another story for another day. A story I have no control over.

Here in Nicaragua, I have control over my own health, and a wonderful group of professional friends, and locals who can help us identify and treat the minor problems. If we need immediate medical attention, Vivian Pellas is only an hour’s flight away. What more could we want?