As I admonished my dentist to put on gloves before he put his hands in my mouth (I live in a developing country), I thought about the millions of Americans avoiding quality health care in the United States. 

And I thought about the quality health care, health insurance options, and care competency that I left behind in the United States years ago.

The coronavirus is terrifying. No one disputes that. But living with pain, delaying care, and making that pain worse and more expensive to treat in the future is more terrifying.

Millions of Americans are risking their immediate and long-term health and financial security by avoiding the doctor due to Covid-19 fears. As a result, many Americans are missing vital medical checkups and appointments. In addition, over 85% of Americans are terrified of catching the coronavirus on a visit to the doctor.

In 2020, over 41% of Americans delayed or avoided getting medical care because of coronavirus fears.

It’s natural to fear the coronavirus pandemic. If you catch it, it may cost you at least $20,000 to treat it.

However, it is not natural to pretend that you never have to revisit a doctor or hospital. You risk your long-term health by doing so. And it will cost you a lot more to treat undiagnosed ailments later than now.

Don’t take the embarrassment of health care options around you for granted and avoid them out of fear. You can do a lot to mitigate your exposure risk if you need to go to a hospital.

You have options when it comes to medical care, even during a pandemic. Take advantage of them.

But I’ve buried the lead. Let me tell you about being afraid to go to the doctor in a developing country.

Health Care in Manila

I am an American and have lived in Manila for the past few years, long before the virus appeared. In 2018, I went to a local hospital to get a checkup. Since the virus appeared, I avoided the local hospitals like the plague.

Health care in the Philippines is of acceptable standards, and medical staff is highly trained. However, quality medical care is more readily available in the larger cities than in the remote countryside or jungle.

And while the staff may be highly trained, the facilities and medical supplies are not Western world standards. I enjoy a great cost of living when exchange rates favor me, but I take a hit on Western-style health care and infrastructure.

Several months ago, part of my molar crumbled off. A few days ago, that molar started to inflict sharp stabbing pains in my jaw. I should have gotten it taken care of months ago.

But I was terrified of the coronavirus. I am a freelance writer with assignments past due. I have a small business to launch as if I knew what I was doing. So I used every excuse to avoid getting care.

A few days ago, I went to a local hospital, which I figured would have good medical equipment relative to a tiny dental clinic.

The Office of Dr. Almoro

My dentist, Dr. Almoro, proceeded to try to examine my teeth with ungloved hands. I told him to put on plastic gloves.

Yes. I should have run out of his office screaming.

But I am in a developing country. 

The next largest hospital is a large Covid-19 isolation unit. There are small dental clinics nearby, but they don’t have the kind of equipment or supplies that a large hospital does.

Dr. Almoro was affable. I don’t think he is a bad guy. But he has an old-school, macho mindset, not very professional, and I was out of options. I could stay in mind-numbing pain a few more days, find a dentist as worse as Almoro, or deal with it. (Not like I’m going back to see him any time soon.)

Dr. Almoro was in his street clothes, wore a mask, and had to be admonished to put on gloves. I got a tooth extracted in New York City years ago. Again, the dentist was clad in surgical scrubs, wore gloves and a mask.

It’s not like I had the health options I did when I lived in the United States. I’m in a developing country.

I didn’t realize that living in a developing country is that the painkillers were of a lower grade. Dr. Almoro injected me several times, but the numbing effects were minimal and short-lasting. The last time I had a tooth removed in New York City, the numbing agent lasted hours.

Dr. Almoro took a few tries to rip the second bottom left molar from my jaw. Unfortunately, I was not fully anesthetized due to the low-grade drugs. And the pain of his pliers-like instrument sent shockwaves of piercing pain through my jaw.

Dr. Almoro ripped my molar out, causing an ominous sound like porcelain cracking under pressure. He broke the tooth and had to pull out smaller remnants.

This horrific experience cost me $60.

It Could Have Been Worse

As I left, I had to remind Dr. Almoro to give me a prescription for painkillers and penicillin. Dr. Almoro seemed to believe that I was exaggerating the pain as if having a rotten molar ripped out of a jaw with a low-grade painkiller is a pleasant experience akin to tickling.  

One of the painkillers he prescribed me, mefenamic acid is sparsely prescribed in the United States. Its side effects cause nausea and vomiting.

I am not looking for sympathy – I am lucky. I am fortunate I didn’t need dental surgery on my jaw after waiting so long to get that tooth pulled. That would have been really expensive.

And it is not my intent to malign all medical professionals in this country. But this is the reality of my situation here. 

I’d give anything for access to Western-style medical care now, even during a pandemic.

Don’t Forego Medical Care – Even During a Pandemic

You have no idea how fortunate you are to have access to American medical care, even with its shortcomings.

Your only option could be Dr. Almoro, for example.

If you have a checkup or medical emergency, call ahead to learn about the hospital’s Covid-19 protocols.

Many local hospitals are offering at-home visiting services, so call your local hospital or clinic and ask.

Don’t ignore the pain for as long as possible because you fear Covid-19. If you think you have heart trouble, go get checked out. An uninsured person will have to pay $53,000 to pay for heart attack treatment. However, depending on the severity of the heart attack and the complexity of treatments, you could pay as much as $164,000.

It’s a lot cheaper to check your fear, be informed and prepared, and visit your doctor when needed. 

You will never appreciate how valuable quality health care is until you lose complete access to it.

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