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How Travel Insurance Protected Me (and My Ankle) in Belize

Dec 21, 2020

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I was in my element.

Finally, it was my turn to get in on a game of three on three.

I’d been watching games eagerly from the court sidelines on Caye Caulker, a paradise island off the coast of Belize. The Belizean Ballers played tough. I was ready to show these athletic Belizeans that a white boy from North Dakota could ball!

Everyone was barefoot but me, and the other team thought it was hilarious that I was playing with shoes. Many of them couldn’t afford shoes.

Look at the rich kid with shoes,” they said pointing and laughing. I wished someone from Nike had been there to defend me—I was only doing what their marketing said I should. No matter, I was here to show everyone what me and my shoes could do.

The first play of the game, someone passed me the rock from behind the three-point arch and I took a jump shot. To my surprise, it went in! But there was no celebration. I landed awkwardly on my ankle and did the “hurt-walk” dance. This didn’t feel like a walk-it-off injury—this felt like a type of injury that wouldn’t heal itself. Instead of rushing to get treated, I played two games on what was most probably a sprained ankle. I was 22 and I thought I was invincible, so yes, I was in no hurry to see a doctor.

I still hadn’t gotten any medical attention a week later. Being on a small island off the coast of Belize, there weren’t really any options. But I could have, and should have, caught a boat for the hour-long trip to the mainland and gotten some help. I assumed my body would do what it always seemed to do when I got hurt: heal itself. But, I was wrong.

Flustered, but Covered

My ankle did not heal. When I got back from my Easter break in Belize to my job in Guatemala, my boss saw me limping into the office and sent me to get medical attention. I was covered at the time by a Seven Corners travel medical policy. My initial x-ray and doctor visit cost $24, and my deductible was $50, so I didn’t need to file a claim.

The doctor said I had a sprain. He provided me a pair of crutches and gave me some exercises to do with my ankle over the next few weeks saying that in that time I would be healed. But, the exercises just made my condition much worse.

The next step after I didn’t heal was getting an MRI, which showed that the bones in my ankle had splintered, a.k.a. Osteochondritis Dissecans. Unfortunately, the treatment is months of immobilization in a boot.

The Takeaway: Three Very Important Lesson

After this experience, I learned three very important lessons that have served me since.

Lesson 1: Quit While You’re Only Slightly Behind

The first is to know when to walk off court. I’m not just talking about the basketball court, but to know when to quit while you’re only slightly behind in life so you don’t get pushed even further back.

Lesson 2: Don’t Let Problems Progress

Don’t let medical issues increase to a crisis. A visit at the first sign of trouble might, at worse, be an unnecessary visit to the doctor. But not taking that visit could lead to greater complications. Don’t be afraid to get medical help if something doesn’t seem right.

Lesson 3: Be Covered

When I first started traveling, I didn’t use travel insurance. Luckily, I landed a job in Guatemala where it was mandatory that all volunteers get a policy with Seven Corners. Since I was a full-time staff member, they paid for my policy. If that hadn’t been the case, knowing the person I was 10 years ago, I don’t think I would have gotten a travel insurance policy.

It may be that you are young and have never had a serious medical problem and feel invincible. But things happen in life. Better to look forward and avoid potential problems than backward with regret.

About the Author

luke armstrong

Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.


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