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Holiday Nightmare With A AUD$40,000 Hospital Bill

01. February 2015

Capretta, 25, a network engineer from Melbourne, said the accident happened on his first day in Koh Pangan island, on Christmas Day. He had gone out with a group of people from a nearby hostel, and when they stopped at a beach he decided to go for a run, as he did every morning.

“A lot of rain suddenly came down, Thailand-style, so as I’m running for shelter I tripped on something and fell over on the street,” he told news.com.au.

“I’m not really sure what it was I fell into — probably scrap metal on the street. I had a lot of small cuts on my leg, along with a much larger cut — about five centimetres long.

It didn’t look huge to me, it wasn’t bleeding a lot, and no ligaments were damaged, but it did need stitches.” He went to a local hospital and then a clinic where the cut was cleaned and stitched up, and he was released.

No worries, he’d be right ... or so he thought.

“It wasn’t a big thing and I thought I’d be fine in a few days.”

However, a serious infection then turned the cut into a horrific, gaping wound.

“Two days later, my foot got really swollen,” he said. “I thought it was normal, until someone suggested I should go to the hospital. So they took me to another hospital on the island — the First Western — and I spent two weeks there receiving treatment.

“The doctors knew straight away that it was infected. They didn’t know how, but one of the doctors said that bacteria in Thailand is just really strong.”

The infection refused to subside despite John undergoing several excruciating treatments, including a series of debridements, where they cut out the infected tissue from his foot.

“The scariest part was when the doctor checked the wound one day and he hadn’t expected there to be an infection, but it was still there. And I was thinking ‘Why is there still an infection? How far is this going to go? Am I going to lose my leg or something?’

“But you have to stay positive. Part of that is my personality, and part of it was just being around people ... there were lots of good patients I could hang out with. Having them keep me company stopped me thinking about my own problems.”

He’s thankful he had travel insurance, as his bills skyrocketed to $42,500. A nurse was flown in from Australia to Thailand to help bring him home, as he was unable to walk.

But even once he’d landed back in Melbourne on January 11, the nightmare wasn’t over.

“I went back into hospital so the doctors could have a look (at the injury). As I’d come from Thailand, and had to take a bit of trip to get (home), they wanted to confirm that everything was OK.

“Unfortunately, even after surgery in Thailand, it was still infected. So they had to do two more surgeries at St Vincents Hospital in Melbourne. I was there for a week and a half.”

Now, almost two months since the accident, it still hasn’t healed and John still gets around on crutches. But he’s optimistic about his recovery and says the experience won’t stop him travelling again.

“I’m going back to (Thailand) as soon as possible! As soon as I have the money sorted out, I’m going,” he said.

Small injuries turning into massive problems

So how common is it for something that initially seemed so minor to become a major health emergency? John’s case is just one of several unexpected accidents that Travel Insurance have assisted with over recent years.

Lisa Fryar from TID says while these situations are relatively rare, it’s something that all travellers need to be aware of — and prepared for.

“It’s not common for a minor injury to become anything more serious, however we always err on the side of caution just in case,” Ms Fryar said. “In the tropics, an open wound left untreated can become more serious and for this reason we always suggest you call your emergency assistance team who have the medical expertise to review your situation.

“Mostly this will be a one-off phone call for peace of mind so that you can get back to enjoying your holiday without worrying.”

She said there have been some very rare cases of wounds becoming more serious and sadly one case that resulted in a death of a young man.

“Something as small as a mosquito bite can become quite nasty and may result in cellulitis, which is a painful bacterial skin infection that may first appear red, swollen, hot and very tender to touch. We monitor these cases quite closely, especially in the tropics because this condition can escalate quite quickly.”

However, it’s important to remember that in places such as Thailand, the real holiday dangers are vehicle accidents, especially motorbikes.

Safety Tips In Thailand

  • Be careful: The rules you learnt in school still apply — don’t run inside or in wet weather. Be careful in the street and around your accommodation where rusting rubbish or debris may be exposed.

  • Cats and dogs: Resist the urge to pat your new furry friends. Small scratches or bites can easily become infected, or result in rabies injections.

  • Assess severity: Just because you nick yourself shaving doesn’t mean you’ll need to be admitted to hospital. If you do cut yourself, clean the cut with antiseptic immediately and keep the cut bandaged. If the cut becomes red and aggravated, seek treatment at your local clinic or hospital.

  • Get treatment: If you do seriously cut yourself, don’t decide to just deal with it when you get home. Head to your local clinic and have the injury assessed.

Buy travel insurance - Don’t leave home without a travel insurance policy and make a point of reading the PDS to understand what you’re covered for and what to do if you need assistance.

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