Life, Illness and Death in the Philippines – Preferably the Former

There are a couple of well known Philippines vloggers who have recently had heart issues and of course vlogged about it, because that’s what you do nowadays when you are having tests and open heart surgery. I wish them well, but their experiences have been thought-provoking and scary.

In addition, I am Facebook friends  with many of my classmates from high school. Since we graduated 46 years ago, this means that they are all old. You notice I didn’t say I am old; I am married to Janet so how can I be old. But the rest of my classmates are 🙂

Not to be too unkind but they often post about their ailments, their partners’ ailments, their dogs’ ailments, etc. Some are minor and some are quite major.  Again, I don’t want to be indelicate, but I wish they would all get better quickly – if only so that I don’t have to be reminded of what lies ahead.

So as we get older, how do we deal with this? For years I could avoid dealing with any of the aging process by saying “I am perfect, no issues, not a broken bone, not a stitch.” I was the guy who went to the doctor’s office and the nurse took my blood pressure and said, “Wow, I wish I had your BP.” A few years ago they stopped saying that. Not that my BP is high, just that the doctor says I should cut down on my salt. “So what would you suggest?” I asked. “Telling them not to put salt on my fries at McD’s?” Ok, it’s a start.

Last month I bought a blood pressure monitor because I figure they might not have those free monitors in super markets in the Philippines. My 20 year old son asked what it was. “The gizmo that’ll tell me what week I’m gonna die.” And of course like most people with BP monitors I have begun to obsess  over it and try to figure why yesterday I was 5 points lower than today; knowing that at this rate of increase I have maybe a month to live.

I have a couple other minor physical annoyances. I’m a woodworker and my fingers and thumbs are always stiff and sore. Everything else is sore too but the fingers are sort of important to me. I even bought a pair of cut-resistant gloves because when I was younger and cut myself, the bleeding would stop. Now it stops only after all the blood has completely run out.

But really I’ve been lucky. No major health crisis and nothing’s fallen off. According to our Optometrist I am 20-20 with better vision than Janet. Of course I have to wear reading glasses most of the day because my arms have shrunk.

I have an acupuncturist and every time I go to him he says I am in great shape with no major issues compared to his other patients, who apparently have stuff falling off. So I keep going to him because just like with the BP, I like hearing that I’m OK – until I’m not.

But all this health and aging stuff is an issue for those of us moving abroad. After all I live in a country with the best medical system in the world 🙂 OK, that was said sarcastically, since we all know the U.S. medical system is far from the best; it’s only the most expensive.

So how do I deal with the possibility of getting sick in the Philippines? The same as here – I’ve decided not to get sick. I mean there is no easy or pleasant way around it, is there? Wherever you are, whatever the medical system is like, no matter what the costs or the insurance coverage – no one wants to get sick. And yet someday most of us will. Personally I prefer dying in bed with Janet or getting hit by a jeepney, but what if I don’t?

From a strictly nuts and bolts standpoint there are a few things you should do in the Philippines. Phil Health, the Philippines health care insurance system is a deal that beats all deals in life. It’s about 2400 pesos a year, which is about $50/year. Yeah you heard that right, 50 bucks! And even if you are an expat not married to a Filipina, you are eligible. Now the coverage is modest. It covers hospitalization and depending on the hospital and what’s being done, Phil Health will typically pay between 15 – 40% of your bill. But did I mention it’s $50 a year!

Thanks to President Duterte there is a now a national 911 system in the Philippines. It’s an amazing achievement. However in most of the Philippines calling 911 because you are having a medical crisis has limited benefit because in most places there are no ambulances. So, make sure you or your wife or your trike driver knows how to get to the hospital.

Choose your hospital wisely: Last year we were in Cebu City and I cut myself (I hadn’t brought my cut resistant gloves) and we thought I would need stitches. We grabbed a taxi and Janet told the driver to take us to the emergency room closest to Ayala Mall. Janet is a smart multi-tasker.

Find a good doctor: This seems obvious to me but I know guys who live in the Philippines who have not signed up for Phil Health and don’t have a doctor. So we will do our research and try to find a doctor we can mesh with. This is not so easy even in the US, with our best medical system in the world 🙂 I have at times struggled to find a doctor here I like, even with nothing wrong with me. A few years ago I was advised by my then doctor to have a minor surgical procedure and referred to a surgeon. I went to the consultation and while the surgeon made it clear he’d be happy to cut me open, he indicated I didn’t really have to do it. So I didn’t. My primary care provider was pissed at me; perhaps he gets a kick back. I found another doctor.

So in the Philippines I will find a doctor I can work with, a dentist, and an acupuncturist to tell me I’m in great shape. I will tend to give them the benefit of the doubt because – they are dirt cheap. Oh, did I not mention that before? When I went to the ER last year for the stitches that I actually didn’t need, the doctor and nurse dressed my wound, and gave me a tetinis shot. ER cost? $9.

One of the vloggers I referenced at the beginning of this piece ended up needing quadruple bypass surgery. He used Phil Health Z, a special program for particularly major health issues. He posted that his quadruple bypass cost the equivalent of $5100. For that amount it’s almost worth having the blockages.

And BTW, in the US with our greatest medical system in the world 🙂 , you’re not going to see doctors jump for joy like in the Philippines (see picture above). So the Philippines has a big advantage in the jumping up and down for joy medical category.

I was talking to a friend recently who happens to be a health professional in this, the greatest medical system in the world 🙂 We agreed completely; quality vs. quantity is where it’s at. His other advise? That we should all tattoo “No CPR” on our chests.

So here for me, as I age and prepare to retire and move is the issue: do I want to park my keester near a hospital in the country with the greatest medical system in the world 🙂 or do I want to live out my life with joy and happiness, even if it’s farther from a hospital and there are no $600 ambulance rides to be had?

Now if only I can convince Filipino restaurants to cook with less salt I can have both quality and quantity.







11 thoughts on “Life, Illness and Death in the Philippines – Preferably the Former”

  1. Dying in bed with your Mrs would be a good thing. Getting hit by a jeepney, not so much… you would lay on the street and bleed to death before anyone did anything! I will add one thing though… living life with much less stress is healthy living, IMO.

    1. The stress thing is very important to me, Randy! I noticed 5 or 10 years ago that the stress had begun to catch up with me and I didn’t like it one bit. I am looking forward to a retired life with a little less stress – maybe a lot less. That might improve longevity; it will certainly improve quality.

  2. Our new private hospital here is called ‘Living Hope’. You can take what you like from that.
    Yes it costs about P500,000 for a bypass here, and I think Phil Health pay 50% of the bill. so that would be P250,000 ($5,000)

  3. I agree on the stress thing… last time in the US I had my BP it was – for the first time – really high. Frankly, I had become “a success” at work. I was doing some of the rain-making and nailing it, and then they gave me more stuff to do… when he doctor saw that I quickly said, hey, you have no idea the stress there is at work… He wouldn’t buy it and said it was diet. Maybe. Anyway, 1.5 years later… and living here, and walking all over the Cebu City…. I was on Osmena Blvd. and they had multiple stations full of trainees doing free BP’s…. mine? Totally normal. Okie, lots more fruit and vegetables, lots of exercise… and de-stressed on a regular basis by additional healthy diet of cute filipinas. I also did a calc back to my former coworkers of how I was “out-living” them by a significant rate by comparing their “free weekends” vs my full-time “weekends…” Very satisfying.

  4. Hi Dave, I’m new in your blog site. I like your style of writing. There’s good humor and practicality to life in it. Reminds me of Bob Hope.
    By the way, I’m a Filipino and I live in Cebu City, Philippines. 58 years old.

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