(Part One of this story told of how EG resident Ric Saborio, on a cruise with his family of the coast of Mexico, came down with a mysterious ailment.)
The plane to pick up Ric and Gail Saborio and take them to Fort Lauderdale was on its way. Now Gail just had to settle the hospital bill in Cozumel, the island off the coast of Mexico where the cruise ship had left them after Ric became ill.
First there were the doctors. Gail had a few hundred dollars on hand, her “trip cash.” She used that. Then there was the hospital bill itself.
She heard the figure 43,000. What? Forty-three thousand dollars?
“My mind was racing a mile a minute … how can I get $43,000?” she thought. She almost broke down – after the drama to pay the $16,600 chartered plane cost, this was more than she could handle.
Then she realized they were talking pesos, not dollars. The bill was just under $4,000, no small sum to be sure, but so much better than $43,000 it came as a huge relief.
But how to pay even that sum? She did have another credit card. She handed it over. It was denied. Denied – how could that be? She had checked with the card company before the trip to alert them to their foreign travel. There was no balance.
She called the number on the card. The woman on the other end of the line said no: ““There’s nothing I can do.”
Gail was stunned. No amount of talking to the woman would work. She would not allow the charge. Gail took the first card. Because of the flight, they were already over the $16,000 credit limit, but she didn’t have any choice so she handed it over. It went through!
Now, 24 hours into their odyssey, their departure was finally imminent. All the Mexicans who’d helped them so far – one man bringing Gail some food from his home, the young girl who accompanied her from the hospital to the consulate and back to the hospital, the woman in the ambulance who held her hand – had made Gail feel cared for. “They were very compassionate,” she said.
But when the two U.S. nurses from the plane arrived at the hospital to help transport Ric to the airport and said, “We’re here to help you,” Gail felt a rush of relief.
“It was really great to see Andy and Diana,” she said.
The plane wasn’t one of those island-hoppers but rather a sleek flying machine. Flight time was all of 90 minutes.
“It was a wild ride. It went 600 miles an hour,” Gail said. The plane flew in airspace above commercial jets.
“It was the high speed lane, George Jetson’s lane,” said Ric joked.
In Florida, Gail was finally able to relax ... a bit. Since Ric had woken her up talking about a burning plastic smell early Tuesday morning, July 3, to the time they touched down in Florida Thursday morning, July 5, Gail had slept a total of one hour. She just couldn’t let her eyes close.
Now, in the Florida hospital, Ric’s nurse told them, “I have two patients in this room.”
In Mexico, doctors had thought Ric had had a stroke. But now Gail was being told it was a virus.
“I think that they knew that something was really wrong with him,” Gail said. He needed to be stable to get on a commercial flight – that was the objective in Florida.
Gail was back on the phone, changing plane reservations. Initially, she was told it would cost $500 to change the tickets (they were to have flown out after the cruise from a different airport). But when Gail called back to actually book the new flight, the woman she talked to listened to her story, then said a family member had just had a stroke. She told Gail to hold on a minute.
When the woman came back on the line, she said the ticket change would cost $25. Total. For both tickets. “She used every coupon she could for us,” Gail said.
Ric and Gail flew back to Rhode Island on Saturday, July 7. There they learned Ric had a malignant brain tumor, an astrocytoma. It was affecting his sight, smell, taste, short-term memory, and sleep.
He had cranial surgery July 18, where doctors removed 50 percent of the tumor. He will start radiation soon. After that, the doctors will see how things look.
Ric is finally this week getting some sleep and he’s got a new haircut. A hairdresser friend came over to the house to finish the mohawk that the surgeons began.
Gail is going through papers and looking into reimbursements for all the out-of-pocket expenses they incurred getting Ric home.
They are both filled with tremendous gratitude.
“There are some really good things that have come out of it,” said Gail. Namely, “the renewed sense of confidence that I have in the basic goodness of strangers and humanity. For every one person who wasn’t helpful, twenty people when out of their way to help us above and beyond.”
And they are both hugely aware of the importance of health insurance.
Ric is slim and athletic. As Gail says, “He never smoked a cigarette in his life, he’s a runner, ideal body weight, we did everything right. You try to take care of yourself and still life throws you a curveball.”
Without health insurance, Gail said, they would lose their house. “Even with one of the best insurance companies in the country, it still cost me $20,000 to leave that country that I had to pay up front.”
She said they were fortunate to have the credit available to them too. But she returns again to the people who helped them.
“It’s mostly the strangers that touch your heart. I’ll never see them again. I’ll never even know their last names,” she said. “Those little kind words along the way.”
She recalled several times in Mexico where someone said, “I’ll be here waiting,” when she went into the consulate or with Ric to a different hospital for a test.
“And then they were there when I got back.”
Postscript: Ric Saborio, a fifth grade teacher at Eldredge Elementary, will not be in the classroom in September. He hopes to return in November … and he says they’ve lined up a great sub!
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