Drugs, Doctors, & Health Insurance While Living on a Boat

I’ve had several people ask me lately about obtaining medications while out at sea and what kind of health insurance we have. I’d never really thought about these issues prior to setting sail because I was so accustomed to just being able to call in my prescription refills at Walgreens, drive right on through and pick them up; and I knew their aisles so well I never thought it would actually be complicated to find something as simple as Vaseline or Advil! However, finding the things we are familiar with has turned out to be a little more difficult in a foreign country than I’d originally thought.

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Prescription Medications

We’ve found it very easy to get our regular doctor to prescribe us a year’s worth of medications. Common meds such as birth control, blood pressure meds, and antibiotics are not controlled substances and your doctor should be fine with writing you a giant Rx where a pharmacy will fill the entire year’s supply. We found that the Blue Cross health insurance we had at the time would NOT fill a year’s supply for one Rx co-pay, so we had to pay full price for a year’s worth of the drug. Ask for generic to reduce that cost, or contact your insurance company to explain the situation, you might get lucky.

There was a time in Spain where Anna ran out of her birth control pills a few weeks before we’d planned on being back in the US. Mom’s disclaimer: she is on it for controlling acne and regulating her periods, not because she is sexually active. Just saying. We pharmacy-hopped trying to find the same dosage and ingredients as she had been taking. Unfortunately, although the pharmacists were really helpful, we couldn’t find it, and we were afraid that taking a different dosage might throw her menstrual cycle off. So we decided to stay there an extra week to get it shipped to us from the states. Shipping alone was a couple hundred dollars, for a $15 prescription! Ouch!

We have found that there are plenty of doctors overseas that will write you whatever prescription you need. Most offices are affordable, take local cash payment, and do not require an appointment. You probably won’t be able to get a long-term Rx for narcotics or controlled substances, but if you need something short-term most doctors are able to accommodate.

Health Insurance

We dropped our ridiculously expensive Blue Cross health insurance and purchased an international plan through Cigna. The video tells you all about it, and our agent is very helpful. We chose a really high deductible with a low monthly premium; so we will only use it in catastrophic situations. We actually haven’t had to use it yet; but it’s there just in case. I’ve also heard DAN (Divers Alert Network) is very inexpensive and comprehensive, it’s not just for diving accidents. The video on the right discusses more about the Cigna plan we have.

 

Vaccinations

We tried to live a “vaccine-free” life back in the US, given the negative reputation that vaccines have had in recent history. However, after much research, I decided to get my entire family up to date on all shots, including Typhoid, Hepatitis A, B, & C, and HPV. Knowing we were headed into new territory with new viruses and different environments, strange people and unfamiliar languages, I wanted to assure that we were as prepared and protected as we could be. Also, some countries require different vaccines prior to entry. Ecuador required us to all have Yellow Fever vaccine and a local doctor there administered the vaccine to us for a nominal fee as we entered the country.

 

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Pharmacies worldwide typically have the green “plus” sign so you can spot them easily. The pharmacist will be able to tell you where the nearest doctor is. Over-the-counter meds you grab off the shelf at your hometown drug store, like Advil or Tylenol, are behind the counter at every pharmacy we’ve come across, and usually they are not cheap. I’d pay about $10 for a 100count Advil jug at CVS back in Texas, but in Panama I paid $10 for a 10count box! Ouch again! I’d suggest stock up on as much OTC meds as you can prior to setting off.

 

We have been very pleased with overseas medical care so far. If you’ve seen our video where Kate fell out of a tree in Panama in 2017 and broke her wrist, you already know this story. She was 10 at the time and handled it very well. We were overwhelmed by the medical staff’s kindness and attentiveness; she got an x-ray within minutes of arrival, and she was wheeled in to surgery shortly after that. They knocked her out, set her arm, put it in a cast, and she was back out in the recovery room within the hour. We paid a total of $1,200 USD cash for the entire thing. No way would that have been so cheap in the US! The hospital room alone would’ve cost thousands! Watch the full episode here.

 

Before you set sail, make sure to stock up on everything that you can. We have chosen not to do any major procedures outside the US; all regular checkups such as colonoscopy, mammogram, my bladder cancer checkups, etc have been done while we were back home. If you have had a medical procedure in a foreign country, please leave a comment and share your experience.

 

DON’T go to a “Travel Doctor”

We spent $300 on one and all they did for us was provide some pamphlets and nausea medicine that we could’ve gotten over the counter. They’re not real doctors. Don’t waste your time or money.

 

I hope this helps, feel free to contact me if you have any other questions. ~Renee

 

I Ran Over My Daughter

I received an email today from a woman who is “very determined” to set sail with her husband and two kids ages 4 and 6. She had several questions, but one of which I felt needed to be addressed immediately, as we’ve had literally hundreds of people asking the same thing lately:

Elle R. writes:  

My biggest fear is the safety of my kids. I’m ridiculously paranoid about piracy, sharks, kidnapping, illness on board, etc. How did you mentally prepare yourself for this?

Hi Elle! Thanks for writing in. We have lived in the city all our lives, aside from a few summers spent in the mountains. We have had baby gates, outlet covers, front door alarms, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, high-end wifi-enabled home security systems, Beware of Dog signs in the yard (but no dog), helmets, knee pads, pepper spray…you name it. We lived a bubble-wrapped life.

And then we sold all that and perched our four kids atop a fiberglass rocking horse with a built-in lightning rod and set off for the unknown. Three years later, we have had no one fall overboard, get lost in a storm, or starve to death. Aside from a few tummy aches, jellyfish stings, and some cuts and scrapes, we have managed to stay alive and thrive while on this amazing journey!

We do keep a pretty elaborate First Aid Kit, we all know CPR and basic First Response, and we have plenty of antibiotics and medications on board. We also have a defibrillator on board as well. You know: the thing where you yell “CLEAR!” and it restarts your heart with a jolt of electricity. We purchased it when we completed the CPR course a few years back, just in case someone goes overboard and needs to be revived. We’ve never had to use it thankfully.

 brush with death

Ayers Rock (Uluru), Northern Territory, Australia

Ayers Rock (Uluru), Northern Territory, Australia

However, our closest brush with death was when all six of us went on a road trip in Australia two years ago. Ironically, we were nowhere near water and we were doing something we’d done a million times before: driving a car.

We’d rented a large family van for a two-week expedition across the Australian outback. We packed a cooler full of food and drinks and motel-hopped for over six thousand miles, enjoying everything from the Sydney Opera House to kangaroos and red dirt roads.

  One particular steamy afternoon, after about three hours on a desolate dusty backroad, we pulled over to grab a snack and relieve ourselves. Me and Anna squatted in the ditch, Kate walked up front to squat, and the boys did their business at the back of the van. Afterwards, with flies swarming us and sweat dripping down our necks, we quickly grabbed a drink from the back, climbed in and slid the doors shut. Keith kicked the A/C on and threw the car into drive.

This was the worst moment of my life. I’ll never forget it. Immediately after Keith pressed the gas pedal, we felt a distinct “thump thump” like we’d hit two small potholes. At the same time that Finn yelled from the back saying “KATE’S NOT IN,” I heard her scream from under the console where I was sitting buckled up in my passenger seat. Keith and I instantly looked at each other, he threw the car into park, and I swear I have never exited a vehicle so quickly. I dropped to my knees on the gravel road and looked under the car to see my youngest daughter face down on her tummy, directly under the middle of the van, between all four tires. She was only half-clothed as she had removed her bottoms to go pee, and unfortunately, she did so in front of the giant van, and Keith couldn’t see her when he started to drive away.

She was trembling, her hands outstretched in front of her. I said something to the effect of “Kate, slide on out, come to Momma.” On her tummy, my 10-year-old girl slowly scooted out to me and stood up as I took her in my arms.

I’ve never been so scared in all my life. Keith was in shock, swearing and crying, because he could not believe he’d done that. It all happened so fast. She’d been squatting, with her back to the bumper, directly in the middle of the front of the van. When the car rolled forward, it nudged her bottom and pushed her right onto her stomach, where she splayed out between the two front tires. The right front tire rolled over her tiny hand and ripped the fingernail off of her pinky finger, but other than that she was fine, with no broken bones. She recalls feeling a little light-headed but was more concerned that “Daddy was cussing, and I don’t like that.” The first thing she said to me when we broke the embrace was “Mom, can I put my pants on?”

We realized right then that you can never “plan” for accidents.

You can prepare yourself and secure your children, but accidents happen, and if it’s their time to go, it’s their time to go. We are not an overly religious family, but we do believe in God, and I think as long as you know where you are going when the inevitable happens, you might as well enjoy your life and live it to the fullest.

Kate the day before the accident, South Australia

Kate the day before the accident, South Australia

It took us months to recover from this accident, which I like to call the Best and Worst Day of My Life. It only took Kate a day or two to move past it, kids are so resilient and forgiving, but she knows now not to EVER get in front of a vehicle, no matter whether it’s parked or not. And Keith always does a head count when we get in a vehicle. Nowadays, if you ask Kate, it’s no big deal; she’ll gladly tell you the story about how her Daddy ran over her.

 

Elle, my point is, you can’t ever completely prepare yourself to go sailing with your kids, but you can take as many precautions as you think best, learn from others, and always have a backup plan. Rogue waves, great white sharks, and pirates are about as common as winning the lottery. Make smart choices: secure your boat while you’re not on it, lock your dinghy up at suspicious docks, keep the kids down below in rough weather, make sure your boat has modern communications and radar tracking, and stock up your medical kit.

 

Then just sit back and enjoy your time adventuring with your family!

 

Happy Sailing,

Renee

Why Does Everything Keep Breaking?

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I woke up to half a dozen emails today with basically the same question; so instead of copying and pasting the same answer half a dozen times, I thought to myself, “self, why don’t you create a singular place, where you can share your thoughts on the matter and maybe tell some stories about how we’ve handled certain situations over the last three years of our sailing adventures.” Thus, the birth of this blog! HAPPY BIRTHDAY BLOG!

Kim R. writes:

While this has been my husband’s dream for so long, now that we are out with our five kids, my husband (who assumes so all the rolls for maintenance and captaining) is so stressed and worried all the time. Did Keith ever go through this? If so does it get better? How do you deal with the fear of something breaking

 It’s been difficult. He feels he can never relax... even when we are on land exploring, his mind is racing with the responsibilities that face him when he gets back on the boat.

Hey Kim! Thanks for writing in. You are NOT alone! I guarantee there are thousands of other folks who have decided to embark on this adventure only to discover it’s not all cocktails and sunny skies.

We set sail three years ago having next to no sailing experience. Even though he was completely capable and we had plenty of funds and resources, Keith was still so very nervous about the whole thing. We all were. Probably for the first entire year none of us were really able to relax.

THINGS WILL BREAK

You WILL be stuck somewhere at some point waiting on a part or trying to jimmy-rig something just to get to the next major city.

Recently, we ended up having to leave American Samoa after waiting three weeks for Amazon to deliver a new handheld VHF radio. Keith had dropped our main radio in the water while climbing out of the dinghy because he didn’t listen to me and put it in a waterproof bag. Did he learn a lesson? Probably not. We placed the order before we set sail to AmSamoa, and expected it to arrive within a week. It got lost and never arrived, even though we walked all the way to the Post Office every day to check. (Luckily, Amazon refunded us for the lost packages; but we are stuck with our old backup VHF for now.) Reminding yourself that it’s a matter of WHEN they break, not IF they break, might help you both to relax a little. 

BEING A DO-IT-YOURSELFER IS CRITICAL TO LIVING ON A BOAT

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You’ve got to have at least a bit of mechanical and electrical knowledge, and plenty of common sense to work a problem. The sailing community is AMAZING and you have to learn to rely on your buddies and other sailors if you come across a problem you can’t handle on your own.

We installed all our solar panels ourselves back in Turkey; however, we did have a fellow sailor friend nearby who’s also an electrical engineer by trade, and Keith enlisted his help quite a bit, which helped our installation to be a lot smoother than if he hadn’t been around. Keith has offered up some of our spare parts to others’ who are in dire need of something; and vice versa. I think, in addition to Google, you MUST rely on the sailing community and be willing to ask for help or advice.

This same friend’s water maker crapped out during their Pacific Ocean crossing recently. He had to finagle a fix by using a peanut butter lid and some other random parts. They have a kid on board and only one water maker, so it was a scary time but they made it through. We were less than a day away from them so had they needed assistance we weren’t too far away.

YOUR POSITIVE ATTITUDE CAN OVERCOME YOUR HUSBAND’S MOOD

I’ve learned that my husband’s attitude drives the entire mood of the boat. And sometimes that is a terrible thing! So I have to control my mood and maintain a sense of peace and joy, especially around the kids, (and sometimes through gritted teeth) to help shift a negative environment into a more positive one. Eventually it may stick. Kill him with kindness. Otherwise, just kill him.

I hope this helps a bit. Please leave a comment on your perspective on being MacGyver on the water, and share your stories with me how you have had to overcome the same fears that Kim has.

 Cheers! ~ Renee