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A Traumatic Injury Far from Home

VE intern with villagers in Hoima
by Jeanne Tasker

Like many travelers, I had never deemed it necessary to buy travel insurance. What could happen to justify this extra expense, when one is already paying so much for airline tickets, tour guides, equipment, and hotels? I've just survived a graphic example of why a traveler should always carry travel and evacuation insurance. On my latest trip, combining charity work and adventure in Uganda, I suffered a horrendous fall on a jungle trail.

I accompanied my daughter, Cynthia, on a “Vision Trip” with Village Enterprise, for supporters of the NGO for which she volunteers (see the archived 2008 story on VE, "In the Heart of Tanzania"). We flew from San Francisco directly to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, then to Entebbe, from which we accessed Kampala, Uganda. Following an overnight stay there, we headed out into the field to witness the program in action. Village Enterprise makes small grants to aspiring business owners in East Africa.

Based at the Hotel Hoima Resort, in Hoima, we visited a village where African village elders were determining the economic status of its residents, to decide who most needed the sort of assistance Village Enterprise provides. We observed another village in action, role playing about how to be effective sales people for the products their businesses would develop.

An overnight stay brought us to day number three of the trip. An excursion to a Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Preserve, originally scheduled for the next day, led us to the Preserve that morning. About one half hour down the trail, at 9:30 AM, I tripped over a short stump hidden under leaves and fell hard on my face, my right leg and knee twisting under me. I knew that something really
serious had happened to the leg, immediately. Richard, the Preserve manager, carried me back to the lodge on piggyback, with Cynthia supporting the dangling leg. The VE van took me to the nearest clinic with X-ray equipment, where it was determined that I had a spiral fracture of the femur, with more complications. An ambulance then moved me to The Surgery in Kampala. A temporary cast was applied.

It was here that the extent of the injuries became clear and that I would have to be medically evacuated to a Western European nation or the US for orthopedic surgery. At this point, the travel insurance company from which I had purchased my policy started denying and delaying tactics. My tiger of a daughter said, “Unacceptable!”, and called on her insurance provider to make the move.

A Swiss team of doctor, critical-care nurse and two pilots arrived the next morning and whisked us off to London, refueling in Greece, where a very competent orthopedic surgeon took over my care. It was agreed that trying to get all the way home to Santa Fe, New Mexico, would take too much time away from dealing with my injuries, not to mention the ordeal of travel.

Two weeks after the surgery in London, which repaired my shattered knee and included a long metal rod with screws supporting the femur, I was allowed to return home on a commercial flight, provided I was able to keep my leg straight in its metal brace. Here there was no waffling by my insurance provider who would underwrite business class tickets for me and another daughter, Camilla, who flew to London to accompany me home, as well as pay for her ticket to London.

So, I am now home and in negotiation to recoup the money for the medical evacuation. Despite the problems with that particular company, I shall never, again, travel out of the United States without extra travel insurance. I shall also be setting off airport security alarms for the rest of my life!

Visit VILLAGE ENTERPRISE to learn more about their work in East Africa.

photo by Cynthia Sewell

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