Expat Extra: A cancer patient at a public hospital

Up to a certain point, art tour guide Rick Powell was able to pay for private care for his colorectal cancer. But without a healthcare scheme or limitless funds, there came a point where he had to move over to the public system.

The move came, when Powell was told he needed surgery which would cost him US$2,500. He could not afford it, and so the private hospital called an ambulance to take him to a public hospital.

He says: “I waited three or four hours in the worst pain of my life, and they were pumping me with painkillers, which of course I had to pay for every time they do it. I got to Rivadavia (see photo) as high as a kite…

Although he has to wait, often for several exhausting hours at a time, for an appointment, what is the reality of receiving adequate, even good, cancer treatment at a public Argentine hospital?

Powell says: “One thing that has always surprised me is how accessible the doctors are. I don’t know how they keep their buena onda, because the system is warped, and there are so many people. When I go to Marie Curie now, it’s a six-hour wait. That’s daily. The doctors are always patient, answer all your questions and even when I can talk to them in Spanish, they want to speak to me in English. I’ve been amazed at the care of the doctors.

However, Powell is less positive about the facilities. “That’s a different story. In Rivadavia, they scared me and said the next step would be chemo and that I should sell everything I owned and go to a private clinic. Because in the public system there aren’t any modern radiation machines. It is cobalt, it’s radioactive material. They put you in a big, lead-lined bunker and they radiate your whole body. But they said ‘you’re young, the prognosis is good…’ I like being called young at 50!

“We investigated private clinics which would cost 25,000 pesos and wasn’t possible. So we had to search around, and it turns out public hospitals do deals with private clinics. Marie Curie, which also has a cobalt machine, said they would find me a private clinic, as cobalt is for the last stage, for people who are dying. So they arranged for me to go to a private clinic.

“In Argentina they feel very strongly that you deserve to be treated if you are sick, period, and the only problem I’ve had has been with bureaucrats from the States. I’ve had doctors talk to bureaucrats as I don’t have DNI and technically I needed something, in order to access get a private clinic. But my doctors explained I could not wait, and so they worked it out.

“If I were in the States, I’d probably be dead.”


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