Insurance horror story!
Below is a lengthy true story from a travel agent who failed to obtain her own insurance for a cruise. It drives home the fact that for a few dollars you receive thousands of dollars in medical protection as well as help from the insurance company who will make arrangements for your medical emergency. She is a member of OSSN (Outside Sales Support Network) for travel agents, an organization that I belong to. She sent this to our members.
Read and beware. Always sell Travel Insurance to your clients.
I’ve never participated in writing into the emails that we get, but I wanted to share a true story with OSSN members – my own. As long as this is, I have tried to abbreviate. I’ve left a lot out – some things I can’t remember and a lot of it I wish I could forget. Parts of it are fuzzy, and some things they said I’ll most likely never remember. And, part of it just hurts too much to talk about right now.
In March, I boarded Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas with my two teens, 17 and 15. My sister was with me with her daughter, as well as her son and daughter-in-law. We didn’t take the same excursion when we got to Cozumel on Wednesday, but met up later at Palancar Beach to spend the remainder of the day. I remember specifically telling my oldest son, Justin, that I forgot our travel insurance. I NEVER go without it, but when we go to the ship, just as we started to sail I remembered that I’d forgotten it. In all my years of traveling, it had always been something I’d done fairly soon after booking but with the Spring Break season, I had so many clients going out that I forgot to take care of MYSELF. My son reminded me that we’d traveled on “a zillion” (well, not that many) cruises and never had any problems. I dismissed it and didn’t worry about it anymore.
Around lunchtime, we decided to zip down to the beach to meet my sister and family. The boys have grown up on motorcycles, and I even rode a motorcycle as a teen in the country. The idea to just rent a scooter (okay, they do warn you not to do this but for someone who felt experienced, and who had done this numerous times before) was appealing as we could do what we wanted and get back in plenty of time before sailing. The first mistake was getting a scooter rental, period. But that mistake was done and we were on our way. We arrived at the beach just fine but when we got ready to return, my son discovered his scooter’s back tire was low. That meant that the younger son would have to ride behind me. Now, that was another problem as I wasn’t used to having a passenger.
As we headed out for the ship around 4 PM, my sister and family got a cab and went on into town for a quick shopping excursion and would meet us onboard in time for sail-away at 7. We pulled out onto the highway and accelerated when my helmet strap broke completely. My son (the one riding with me) tried to grab the helmet and put it on my head, hoping to hold it. However, it wouldn’t stay steady and in the hassle with the helmet, I lost control and hit a concrete embankment while traveling around 35 to 40 MPH. My son, thankfully, landed in cactus but I wasn’t so lucky. I apparently flipped several times, and landed in rocks.
I don’t remember the actual accident but my sons tell me that it took an hour for the ambulance to get to me. They thought, at first, that I was dead. Imagine having your sons, as children, thinking their mother is dead! Finally, they were able to determine that I was severely injured but alive. They tell me the ambulance crew tried to get me out of the ditch and in the process, tried to drag me out by pulling on my leg. Turns out, it was broken and they say I screamed in severe pain (thankfully, I don’t remember). They took me to one hospital, which wouldn’t help me because – guess what – I didn’t have travel insurance.
I had amnesia and couldn’t remember how old I was, nor did I remember being on the ship as in my mind, it was still January. Apparently, the cruise line was notified but my sister (who was cross-referenced) was not notified until just before sailing. The ship’s desk didn’t verify my injuries, nor did they work to ensure the safety of my underage children, and they told her she could not leave the ship as they were preparing to sail but told her I’d had a minor accident and was already on my way home that evening via plane with the kids (we still don’t know where they got that story). From there, they moved me to a hospital for divers, which initially claimed they worked with Blue Cross. Here, my memory comes back. I remember them constantly coming in and demanding money. They took my CHILDREN and my bank card and made them attempt to draw out a large sum of money (thankfully, they didn’t know the right PIN). The scooter company claimed I owed $450 for the scooter damages. I had taken out the extra insurance that was supposed to cover accidents, but guess what? They claimed it didn’t. They came into my room constantly and threatened to have me arrested. Yes, arrested. While I had a broken leg and multiple facial injuries. My son got no medical attention and was in shock, with a bruised rib and torn rotator cup, as well as scrapes and cuts. They tried to take an X-ray but their machine wasn’t working properly.
Eventually they determined that I had a broken leg but they were unsure how badly it was injured, telling me they had an ortho doctor who could operate and fix my leg. I declined to let the m do this. They the n started sending photographs of my face, which was FULL of rocks, bleeding and cut, and my bottom lip was turned inside out from the embedded rocks in my mouth, to my husband and mo the r in the US demanding at first $2,000 (later it went to $5,000) be wired immediately to their bank account. THIS was a problem. First of all, they didn’t have that kind of cash on hand. Second of all, it was now after 7 PM and no bank was open.
During this time, I was given no pain medication. I was given no fluids, no antibiotics, no water or food. They put my leg in a splint and put me in a concrete block room where I faded in and out of consciousness. My children were told they could not stay with me. Somehow, I remembered a girl from my area who lived in Cozumel and owned a diving operation. I was able to tell my kids to have someone at home look them up online and call them for help. My husband reached Chelle and she promptly came to the hospital to take possession of the children – the cruise line certainly wasn’t concerned about them as they’d already left with their documentation in the safe. Now we had another problem – no paperwork to fly them home. Not knowing what else to do, the teens and Chelle developed a plan where they would walk from their hotel to the ferry the next morning, take the ferry to Cancun, get a taxi to a bus stop, take a 4 plus hour bus ride to Costa Maya and get another taxi to the ship.
The boys spoke no Spanish. Once you get out of the tourist area, no one speaks English. The children were not in the nice tourist areas anymore. My oldest son tells me of their adventure. The youngest son was still in shock, and hurt. Justin had to half carry his bro the r and what little they had with them. My 17-year-old quickly became the adult. He couldn’t sleep the night before for fear of missing the ferry. The next morning, Nick was in very bad shape and sore, so he had a hard time helping him. On the ferry in the early morning, there aren’t a bunch of US tourists.
They got to the bus station and waited for their bus, which did not show up. Now, you can imagine the fear they went through as their phones were dead and they couldn’t call anyone. The last anyone had spoken to them was prior to getting on the ferry. They came to see me, but they NEVER told me they were going alone or I wouldn’t have allowed it. But as teens, they did what they thought was right (looking back, I’m more than upset that my children were sent out without supervision but I still don’t know how that came about as it wasn’t supposed to be that way).
One of them (not naming names) started to cry out of desperation and fear, thinking they’d missed their bus and no one could speak English to help them. Finally, someone was able to tell them in broken English the bus was just late. However, when it arrived, so did about six o the r buses. They began asking people for help to get on the right bus and each time, were told a different bus. Finally, they decided to ask one more time and were told a different bus but took the chance that it was going the right way. Four hours later, they saw a sign for Costa Maya immediately after having made a stop. Justin began to panic thinking they’d missed their stop so he stood up and began asking for help. A man was able to explain to the driver what was going on and they found a taxi stand where the kids were able to get a cab to the pier. Upon pulling up to the gate, the children heard the ship’s horn sounding and saw them pulling up the gangway. They had to run (with Nick injured) to get on the ship.
Meanwhile, onboard, my sister was yelling at the purser’s desk because the kids weren’t the re and the ship was leaving without them. She was promptly told that the re would be someone at the pier who would help them (she asked them, “like they did in Cozumel ?”). She said about the time that my nephew was getting ready to head outside to jump overboard, they were paged to come down to the gangway to get the children. That means that the cruise line does not have a policy that ensures that underage children are seen after when there is an accident.
Now, back in Cozumel , I was still being held for what I consider ransom money. They had done nothing for me. I had a face full of rocks, a broken leg and no pain medication, food, water or fluids through IV. They did try an IV, but when the air ambulance crew finally got to me, it had the same date and time on it as the one they hung when they checked me into the hospital. It wasn’t working. When my husband was able to finally get in touch with someone from Royal Caribbean in Miami – the right person – it was too late to arrange an air evacuation on Thursday so they had to wait until Friday. Royal Caribbean did agree to LOAN me the $15,000 to get me out of Cozumel and to the US . I must repay that loan promptly. If you are like us, we don’t have that kind of money lying around so it will take me a long time, and we’ll go without a lot in order to pay this loan.
The hospital in Cozumel waited they learned the air crew was coming before they decided to remove the rocks from my face. They had been instructed by my husband that a plastic surgeon was in Houston waiting on me to get the re to repair my face and mouth, and they were to only to remove the rocks and pack the cuts, with no stitches to be done. They came into my little room and told me they were going to fix my face in broken English and asked for permission to remove the rocks. I told them they could proceed, but when they started, they held me down and improperly administered pain medication. What I mean here is that they put the needle into my face, pushed it in too far and shot ALL the numbing medication down my throat instead of into my lips and gums. In addition, he didn’t wait for the o the r areas on the outside (my nose and under my nose), nor the tear in my right side of my mouth, to numb and started digging rocks out and sewing me up with a very large needle and thread. I tried to stop them, and they became very rough. All I could do was lie there and cry and plead for them to stop but they would not. The next morning, the hospital believed they were getting a wire transfer for $5,000 USD, so they released me to the air crew. Once I was airborne, the transfer was halted by the bank.
In Houston , we learned that I had split my tibia ( the lower leg bone) like a piece of wood from the top to almost three-fourths of the way down. In addition, it was broken horizontally in two and my knee was shattered. It took them two hours to clean me up and my face was infected but they were unable to do anything with it initially because of the bad work done by the doctor in Mexico . They soon determined the doctor the re did not use the right thread and he basically butchered my mouth. I used to play trumpet at church – I’ll never play again. It took me three months to walk again and I’m still struggling. I can walk about 1/10th a mile now but it is exhausting.
I’m telling my story in hopes that you will pass this along to others. Do NOT let your clients travel without insurance. This experience cost me a lot of money but it could have cost me my children. Houston said if they’d opened me up for leg surgery at that hospital, it could have cost me my leg, my ability to recover and walk again, or even my life if it became infected. It has cost me my musical talent. It has cost us a lot of money in traveling between Houston and Little Rock . It has cost us a lot of money in my Blue Cross major medical deductible, co-pay after co-pay, and prescriptions.
My husband is Canadian, and in process for his green card. That means he could NOT leave the country or they’d not let him back in – he called Immigration and begged and was told all about their “policy.” My father didn’t know if he should come to me, or when they learned their grandchildren were traveling alone and they didn’t know where they were, should he go looking for them? By the time they found out the children were safe, it was too late to fly to me and the air ambulance had finally been arranged. My mom has no passport so she couldn’t fly to me.
I’m going to be working on a grassroots movement to require cruise lines to revisit their policy regarding underage children. What happens when the children are stranded and parent(s) are injured? Who is responsible for getting the se children back into the US to a responsible party? If anyone’s interested in helping me lobby for change, please let me know. That’s my story, in short. There’s a lot that I didn’t say because it still hurts me to talk about it and some things were so embarrassing and painful that I can’t share it with you right now.
I hope that someone reads this and that it helps them with their business. If clients think that trip insurance is a waste of money, please tell them my story. Even if they don’t insure their trip cost, they NEED basic medical coverage and evacuation coverage. Their children need to have someone looking out for them, and many of the insurance companies such as Access America will get someone to them to help them. Also, don’t assume that the cruise line is going to look out for those children. Encourage parents to be safe and take NO CHANCES when traveling with children.
For those who are sharing my pain, please don’t feel bad for me. I am truly BLESSED that God has brought my family through this. I haven’t lost my home due to medical bills. I haven’t lost my children and I am walking (slowly but surely). I am reminded daily: I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me. Many have wondered where I have been, and what happened to me – I thought I’d share with everyone my story.
Some day, perhaps we ( the boys and I) will write a book in more detail. Thanks for listening and May God Bless!
Ships ‘n Sand Travel