Experiencing Australia healthcare

We had been out most of the day trying to celebrate my birthday. For a variety of reasons, it really hadn’t gone all that well. I did have a good birthday lunch, but that was about the nicest thing I could say about “my special day.” I try to be positive, so I focused on the lunch and the time spent with my son. Now we were at home. I was seated by the fireplace messing around on Facebook and enjoying an adult beverage when it happened. Who knew I’d be experiencing Australia healthcare firsthand as the grand finale to my birthday.

Australia healthcare, birthday lunch

A sudden run of fluid from my nose let me know I was having a spontaneous nosebleed. Not a big surprise. We’ve been in a lot of dry heat lately since we were in Australia during their winter. My nose had felt pretty dry. In fact I had even told myself that I should pick up some saline nasal spray. Which I hadn’t done yet.Little did I know this wasn’t going to be any simple nosebleed, and I would soon get to explore a side of travel no one hopes for.

The stupid bleed went on for a while and finally stopped. I took a couple of small sniff tests, and it was all clear. PHEW! I was so relieved. Minutes later, though, a stream of blood poured out of my nose. I grabbed ice and rubbed it around my cheeks and over the bridge of my nose since that often helps. I tried laying down to take pressure off. A total rookie move. A former trauma nurse knows better! But I was so tired of sitting up pinching my nose.

After coughing rather violently, I sat up and leaned forward for a while. Like you’re supposed to. I grabbed my Kindle Fire and googled to see if I was forgetting any other trick. It just wasn’t stopping, so I googled directions to the hospital to refresh my memory where it was in the next town just in case.

Australia healthcare, Geelong pier

Finally, it felt like it stopped. I continued with the pressure and did another ice down. Things seemed to stop. I gingerly released my grip on my nose. Within a few seconds, a larger stream gushed out of my nose. It was big enough that I actually heard it splash against the Kindle and the blanket as it poured out.

“I need to go to the hospital,” I told Tigger quickly. This bleed had been going on for about 1-1/2 hours already. Two gushers equaled not going to stop any time soon.

I arrived at the ER, my hands covered in my own blood, the pile of Kleenex held to my nose rapidly saturating with the continued flow. I kept adding more tissues to the stack to keep it from flowing down my arm.

Like with most hospitals in developed countries, not much gets done until paperwork has been done. Since I’m not an Australian resident, I have to pay up front. “That will be $240 (AUD)” the bored blonde clerk told me. I added another wad of tissue to my current collection as I dug my wallet out of my pocket and handed over my card.

When I returned to triage, she saw the amount of additional blood that had gathered and quickly ushered me into the back.

After about 4 hours’ total time of bleeding, they decided it was necessary to pack my nose. If you’ve never had the pleasure of having a device known as a Rapid Rhino Rocket shoved up your nose and rapidly inflated with air so that it appears like one of those balloons clowns use to shape into animals is protruding from your proboscis, I hope you get to remain ignorant.

“We’ll leave them in for an hour and reassess.”

An hour. Wonderful.

I watched the large wall clock as the hands crept every so slowly. My head throbbed from the combination of the devices wedged up both my nostrils and elevated blood pressure from the pain and the whole situation.

“Well, at least this birthday will be memorable,” Tigger says. He is so my child.

Finally, the hour passed and no one came. I gave them 15 minutes before I hailed a passing nurse. The doctor came over hesitantly. “You see, I spoke with my boss, and, uh, well, he wants you to be seen by the ENT in the morning.” Okay, whatever, just remove these things! “Well, he wants the ENT to remove them in case you have another bleed.”

You’ve. Got. To. Be. Kidding.

“The ENT will be in at 7:30.”

I gaze at the clock to discover this means 3 more hours.

We had a couple of overnight options available. A different lady came and explained to me, at 5 in the morning, that if they admitted me, I would need to pay $1200 AUD which would cover everything, including the operating theatre and all x-rays. Otherwise, they could keep me in the ER, and what I already paid would cover everything.

Yeah, option 2 please.

They moved us into a more private area of the ER as Tigger’s improvised bed which involved dragging a chair over and laying across the chair and onto the part of the hospital bed that wasn’t covered by my uplifted mattress scared them. They kindly offered me something to try to help me sleep since it would be at least 3 hours.

I waited patiently, in and out of sleep until the 7:30 arrival time of the ENT. Except he hadn’t shown up by 8:15. At this point I was nearly in tears. “Would you please call him? I’m really miserable.”

A few minutes later a young guy walks in and introduces himself as the ENT and announces his brilliant plan of admitting me overnight, starting antibiotics, and leaving the Rhino Rockets in for 24 hours. I was ready to grab something sharp and deflate the damn things myself!

2013-07-04 16.55.17

No one had checked with my emergency medical insurance to see if an admission would be covered, so there was a conundrum on their end. Luckily, a more senior ENT arrived. “No, no, no,” I heard him say as they explained their plan. He came into my room, said his name, and uttered the most beautiful words I could’ve heard that morning: “We’re going to take those packs out and send you home.”

“Thank gawd!” I replied.

“I’m not from this hospital, so normally I would have to bill you separately for my services. But I’m not going to do that. If you become wealthy or something some day, how about you donate my fees to a charity of your choice instead.”

A few minutes later he pulled the balloons out of my nose and took a look. A few pokes and scrapes from silver nitrate sticks, and I was a free man.

So what did I think about Australia healthcare? Besides wishing I hadn’t had the experience, I mean.

  • Pretty efficient, but I was also in a smaller town.
  • Every doctor introduced themselves to me by their first name. There were at least 3 physicians on duty which impressed me for the size of the city and hospital. The doctor also did the majority of my patient care, including the IV insertion.
  • $240 AUD flat fee for the ER? Includes the physician, medications, x-rays, labs, etc. WOW! $1200 AUD for an inpatient stay which would’ve included everything done, including surgery, except if an outside consultant came in. I’d have to pay their fee separately.
  • Fastest call button answers in my life! I would press on the button and within seconds a nurse was in my room.
  • They watched out for Tigger and made sure he was comfortable throughout our long stay.
  • I’d give the system 5 stars from what I experienced. Yes, my experience was pretty limited, but I’ve worked in ERs for enough years to see a VERY different experience.

I’m grateful it was a relatively minor situation and that the fee was relatively low (lower than my copay in the US!) I was pretty impressed and hope to not experience any other country’s healthcare system for a very long time.

Actually, let’s just say hopefully never.

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  1. I’ve never heard of a Rapid Rhino Rocket! What a name! That sucks that you had to go to hospital but I’m glad you’re ok and didn’t have to have those things in for 24 hours!

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    • They are quite uncomfortable, so I was pretty darned thrilled when he said he was going to take them out right then.

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  2. Definitely a memorable birthday. It sounds like you lucked out though. The two times I’ve needed to be admitted to a rural Australian hospital travelling around I seem to luck into young, good looking eastern European doctors. Then the prospect of an overnight stay doesn’t seem so bad!

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  3. Sounds good for tourists! I can tell you it’s not always so great if you live there…my advice is to not get banged up in a big city hospital =) The fee sounds good though…glad to know they aren’t gouging tourists (because Aussies pay a LOT of taxes into that system). Happy belated bday too!

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    • That’s usually the rule for big cities. 🙂

      I don’t mind paying more in taxes if I’m getting something in return.

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  4. Tigger is right. Definitely a memorable birthday. Seems like you both did well about taking it in stride.

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  5. Sorry you had such a miserable birthday. That Rhino thing up you nose sounds really unpleasant. BTW – we had a great experience in Australian ER a few years back, and being NZ citizens, we didn’t have to pay anything.

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    • They had a list of something like 7-8 countries where they have reciprocal agreements. Obviously, the US is not one of them.

      Yes, the Rhino Rockets were absolutely awful. Painful and uncomfortable. I think I would’ve needed sedatives to keep them in for 24 hours. LOL

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  6. That sounds like an awful lot of blood! Nice to hear my country isn’t overpriced in every situation.

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    • Yes, it was quite a bit of blood loss. No fun at all. Looks like you do healthcare pretty well at least. 🙂

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    • I was definitely pleased with it. Docs were great, service was great. Price was way more reasonable than expected.

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  7. Well that sucks but I am really impressed with the docs and hospital in general. The bill is awesome, Dylan got his ear bit by a dog and we spent 1 hour in the ER, saw a PA, and got a couple stitches and it was seriously $1800!! CRAZY! I figured Australia would be just as expensive, great info!

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    • Yeah, I was REALLY nervous about it and was so relieved when I found out that was all it was going to cost. I mean, I’d rather not have had to pay that, but it’s sure better than what it could’ve been compared to US prices.

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  8. Sounds like a pretty good experience under the circumstances. Funny that the co pay would cost more in the states. Where is all the money going?

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    • It’s so insane. You can’t walk into the ER doors in the US without paying at least that much, and you’ll still get a sizable bill later.

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  9. Oh dear. Somehow it always seems worse/more unfair when it happens on our “special day”. Then again, that lunch looks like it was seriously.to.die.for! 😉

    In any case, hope all is well now.

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    • Nose is still sore, but otherwise just fine. 🙂 The lunch was pretty decent. I’ll be having a birthday do-over soon, though. LOL

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  10. What a miserable birthday! Did you ever find out why your nose wouldn’t stop bleeding? I’m assuming it’s stopped now, right?!

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    • The theory is exposure to all the dry area from indoor heating. Yeah, I wouldn’t have left the hospital unless it was stopped. 🙂

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