Cruising is brilliant, until the day that it all goes wrong and, sometimes, it does all go wrong. All cruise lines insist that all passengers not only have insurance, but that they have insurance specific to cruises. This must include emergency helicopters and repatriation cover. I would say that a helicopter arrived to medivac a passenger off on at least 40% of the cruises I have been on.
When we started cruising we discovered that we had to provide our insurance policy number to the cruise line before we boarded. However, I also discovered that they did not seem to check whether the policy was valid. You could put down any old number and it would be accepted. I then discovered that some cruisers, to save money, do not bother with cruise cover insurance. Believe me, this is not a good idea! We always did have the correct insurance, thank goodness.
In January 2015, we went on a cities of Portugal and Canary Beaches cruise and set sail from Liverpool for the sunshine. On the second night, as we sailed down towards the Bay of Biscay, we were invited to dine at the Captain’s Table. This was the first of the planned formal nights. A great meal and a wonderful experience. We arrived at Lisbon in good heart and had a fine time. It was our first visit to this city and we were mightily impressed. The sun was shining and all was well with the world.
The next night it all changed; we were at dinner, when Joyce felt pains and realised she was bleeding. We went back to the cabin where she self-medicated and sorted herself out. The next morning, things were worse so we were at the ships medical bay first thing. The doctor took Joyce in for an examination and tried to stop the bleeding but was not having a lot of success. Later that morning, the ship docked in Gran Canaria and it became obvious that Joyce needed more specialist care than the ship’s doctor was comfortable administering.
Before we knew it, we were packing our suit cases and a taxi was waiting for us on the dock, where we were unceremoniously dumped from the ship into the hands of the port agent. The taxi took us to a private clinic, which was a tiny office in the back streets of Las Palmas. There was a delay while the taxi driver desperately phoned around, until a very harassed doctor arrived to examine Joyce, who was now in a bad way with the bleeding. The examination was short and not so sweet. The panicking doctor barely had time to hand me an invoice and take payment before we were back in the taxi and on our way to the general hospital. The taxi driver dumped us, suitcases and all, at the hospital entrance, produced a credit card reader, took his money and was away. That was the last we heard from the port agent or any of his people.
Things now got a lot better, at reception Joyce was immediately seen to. I produced our EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) and we were sent up to a ward where the bleeding was brought under control. She was diagnosed with a tumour, which had started to bleed and an operation was needed soon.
I was in a bad state – in a total panic – but eventually calmed down enough to phone the insurance company, I was handed over to an experienced agent, in Ireland. He was brilliant. He told me that our experience with the Port Agent was part for the course but, do not worry, he would sort everything out. I sat with Joyce up in the ward and the nurses even started to make up a bed on the floor next to her in case I had nowhere to go. However, later that night a phone call from the agent sent me and the cases to the Marriott hotel on the sea front where he had arranged for me to stay for the duration.
For the next couple of days, I taxied to and from the hospital as the medical team sorted Joyce out. They had decided to control the bleeding enough for us to fly home, so Joyce could have her operation in the UK. The fantastic Irish agent arranged a flight for us soon as she was certified “fit to fly”. We had to follow the insurance company’s and the airline’s rules to fly, including a special taxi to the airport and the use of a wheelchair at all times. The flight home went like clockwork.
Back in the UK we went straight to our GP, (yes, back then, you could still get an appointment immediately) who told us she was expecting us. The insurance company had already been in touch to confirm that Joyce’s illness was new, and not something she had been treated for before. She had already sent back confirmation that this was a new condition. The GP immediately referred Joyce to our local hospital where she went in to have the tumour removed. This took two operations but, after the second one, they were confident that not only had they got all of the nasties out, but that the prognosis was very good.
I learned some very important lessons on this cruise. You must have up-to-date insurance which covers all aspects of cruising. Keep your insurance company advised of any changes to your health, they do check your medical record. Keep all receipts and invoices to make your claim. When it all seems overwhelming the Irish claims team are wonderful. (They are used by many of the leading insurance companies.)
Joyce has now recovered and no longer has to go for check-ups, and we have been on many great cruises since this nightmare, including one which turned into “The plague ship of the Caribbean” but that is a story for another time.
Roger will continue to share his adventures at sea in this special cruise ship diaries series. These will be published here on the blog every Tuesday…