My husband, Marcos, and I moved to the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize four years ago with considerable knowledge of the country since we had made 12 trips here and were able to watch the country grow and change. Even so, being a tourist is quite different to actually living and working in a foreign country…we’ve learned many things since our arrival.
One of my concerns before our move was about medical and dental care. I imagined I would need to return to the States or go to Mexico for decent care…I was wrong.
My first encounters with medical and dental professionals for small things left me feeling well cared for and, more importantly, cared about. An appointment can usually be obtained the same day, if not the same hour, and the physicians always give you their personal cell phone numbers. I was astonished by that, and now understand that being available to patients if they need you is just common practice here.
There is national healthcare in Belize, which anyone can use. We can also afford private care that costs a fraction of what it does in the States. A visit with a specialist of any kind costs about $30, and you are given as much time as you need. My last visit with a specialist in the U.S. cost me $180 and I was seen for exactly 15 minutes. I recently saw a specialist, had an ultrasound, and a full blood screen in Belize, and the total cost was $315. Dentistry costs about half of U.S. prices, and sometimes less.
In Belize, your doctor sees you as a person, not just a problem to be solved or an insurance policy to be charged. The atmosphere is relaxed, like a small-town U.S. doctor’s office in the 1960s. When you visit a doctor here, you’re part of the community. Your blood pressure is generally taken in the waiting room along with everybody else’s, and you are either congratulated or perhaps scolded a bit right there.
One year ago, I awoke with a serious pain in my abdomen, and we called our island doctor at 6:30 a.m. He met us at his office, started an IV, gave me pain medication, and said I needed to get to the hospital on the mainland quickly because he thought it was a burst appendix. Since his office is right next door to the airport, and our local airline will always give space to medical emergencies, I was flying out within half an hour to one of the private hospitals in Belize City.
This was, apparently, a life-threatening emergency (my worst fear living overseas). I can’t imagine having better care than I had medically, and I felt “loved” back to health by the nurses. I had surgery and stayed in the hospital for a full week. I had excellent nursing care around the clock, and was visited by two different doctors twice each day.
The total cost was about $12,000…I cannot imagine what this would have cost in the U.S.
It is true that Belize does not possess the extremely high-tech equipment that one sees in some other nations. If that is called for, I can see why traveling for medical care would be important…otherwise I prefer to see my medical professionals right here in Belize where I feel that sense of comfort and belonging I sometimes longed for in the States.
I am old enough to remember when physicians made house calls to ordinary people, and asked after the health of the rest of your family. To my great surprise and delight, it is still that way in Belize.