Posted by: stacylynn12 | May 29, 2011

Excuse me, could we get an Evacuation? My son has a bellyache.

If you recall from my last post, one of the items on my “to do” list was to “research emergency evacuation insurance”.


Medjet Assist has an expatriate membership – required for travel lasting more than 90 days. For about $1,000 our family could have worldwide evacuation and repatriation coverage. This means they will get you out of where you are and get you home. For $579, Global Rescue will do seemingly even more. (I did not read the fine print). Turns out though, much to my amazement, our health care plan includes emergency evacuation coverage as well. I did a test run.

I called the number provided to me by Aetna – the one to call if you are in trouble. I told the woman on the phone “ok, let’s pretend this is the situation – we are in the middle of the Himalayas, 10 days walk from the nearest medical facility. My son falls and breaks his leg. He clearly cannot walk for 10 days and needs medical attention”.

“No problem. We’ll get you out.”

I made this call several times, playing out different situations and testing whether or not I would get consistent answers.

I did.


Here where it gets tricky though.

Imagine this call…

Me: “Hi, we need an emergency evacuation from the wilds of country _______ (fill in the blank).”
Them: “What seems to be the problem?”
Me: “My son has a bellyache.”
Them: “Fever?”
Me: “Not much of one, it’s about 100F.”
Them: “Eating and drinking normally?”
Me: “Yes.”
Them: “Peeing and Pooping?”
Me: “Yes.”
Them: “Vomiting?
Me: “No”
Them: “Pain?”
Me: “A little bit, it comes and goes though”.

I have to admit if I were taking this call, it would be hard to justify sending a helicopter to evacuate a family with a child who had a “bellyache” and not many other impressive symptoms.

Why you might wonder am I babbling on about bellyaches and evacuations?

Last week, the above scenario played out, more or less the way I’ve (albeit briefly) described it, minus the wilds of country x,y or z.

Joshua, our wee little 3 year old started complaining of a bellyache early in the week. Nothing to get worked up about. He continued his regular activities and didn’t really seem sick. We were packing up for a 5 day backpacking trip on the Washington Olympic Coast and saw no real reason to cancel.

Thursday he had a low grade fever and we decided to call his pediatrician who thought it might be a good idea to see him. She took some blood but after examining him thought it was probably just a little stomach bug. “Wait for the blood workup results but keep packing for your trip.”

Blood test showed slightly elevated WBC (white blood cell) count. “Maybe you should hold off on departing for a day just to make sure his fever doesn’t spike or his pain intensify.”


Later that night, after many more conversations with our pediatrician and after hemming and hawing about what to do we decided to go to the ER. Joshua’s pain had seemingly become more intense, though it was still coming and going. We finally thought, why not go? A world class hospital devoted entirely to children is less than 5 miles from our house. It would cost us $150 (our ER copay). There was really no reason not to go.

And then Josh fell asleep. We decided we’d let him sleep and if he woke up in pain, we’d go.

At 10:30pm, he woke up in pain. Grandma had already been called in, just in case, and was sleeping with Bodhi in his room.

We quietly crept out the door with a sad Joshua.

We spent a very long night in the ER and to make a long story a little less long, at 1pm the following day, Joshua had an “exploratory surgery” that would hopefully address 1 of 3 possible problems: a perforated appendix, an inflamed Meckel’s diverticulum, (’s_diverticulum), or a problem called intussusception.

The surgeon came out almost exactly 1 hour later and said “And the winner is… appendicitis!”

6 rough days later, Josh is home from the hospital good as new.

Over the course of our 6 days in the hospital I kept playing that conversation with the emergency evacuation folks over and over in my head. What would have happened to Joshua if we had indeed been in some remote, rural village?

Not one doctor – not our pediatrician or the resident and attending ER docs or the surgeons thought there was anything really wrong with Joshua. In fact, they wanted to send us home. It was only after Randy, ever the advocate for his family, pushed and got an ultrasound ordered that there was some suspicion. But even that test was unconvincing.

What does one do when surgeons, X-rays, ultrasounds and other advance diagnostic tests are unavailable?

Sometimes, they die. That’s what happens.

One only has to take a quick glance at the World Health Organization’s Data and Statistics page ( to see the dramatically shocking inequality that exists globally when it comes to access to healthcare, mortality rates and life expectancy.

If this had happened 6 months from now when we are to be god knows where, there is still a pretty good chance that Joshua would have survived, though it would have been a lot more terrifying for all of us. We can pick up the phone and get the hell out of wherever we are if we need to and get transported to a facility with a reasonably high standard of care.

Most people don’t have that choice. They just get to watch their children die.

Will this experience change our plans?

Yes, and no. It is still true that one of the most dangerous things we do every day is get in our car and drive. And we do this without thinking about the risks and statistics. If we chose play it safe we’d never leave our house let alone go travel the world for a year. So we will go.

In my former life, working in the outdoor industry, I was the chair of my organization’s risk management committee. I’m not an expert but I have some experience working with risk analysis. We will take risks for sure but we will try not to be stupid. We might choose to stay a little closer to advanced medical care (our kids aren’t really old enough just yet to be a 10 day walk from the nearest medical facility anyway) and we’ll be a little more conservative than perhaps we have been in the past with regard to safety.

But as it goes in the quote shared with me by my good ol friend Sarah…

“A ship in the harbor is safe but that is not what ships are made for.”



  1. Watching my three year old run and play hard just a few days after surgery makes my heart flutter a bit. If only the parents could be as resilient as the little one. Ahhh – the gifts of youth.

  2. I love it!! You are a great writer!!

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