Poor Capt. Mike has been having knee problems for a few months now. It started back in the boat yard in Puerto Rico when he slipped on the ladder and ended up back on the ground much sooner than planned. Since then, every few weeks something triggers that knee, and he’s limping and in pain for the next few days. A stereotypical guy, he’s been dealing with it by ignoring it and hoping it goes away. (Don’t tell him I said so) But when it happened again this week, we had to address it. Should we start looking for an orthopedic surgeon? Should we start planning our summer around medical tourism in Mexico? Or do we both just need to toughen up and start an exercise regimen to strengthen the muscles around the knee?
I know what I’d do back home in Boulder if I still had good insurance: I’d make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon at CU Sports Medicine. He’d order X-rays that wouldn’t show anything. We’d schedule an MRI and another appointment to go over the results. If it’s a torn ACL or meniscus, we’d schedule surgery. Otherwise, we’d talk options like injections and shots and physical therapy. But what do we do on an island in the Caribbean, where we don’t speak the language?
Well I started by Googling physiotherapists in Guadeloupe, and got a long list of “Kinésithérapie” practitioners in return. I scanned the photos in each listing, looking for fitness equipment and weights in addition to massage tables in order to choose a physical therapist, not just a massage therapist. I translated Google reviews from French to English. And since none of them had web pages, I screwed up my courage and finally made some phone calls. Now, talking to someone who doesn’t speak your language is hard enough in person. But it’s REALLY, REALLY hard over the phone with no facial cues or acting things out to help. After asking “Parlez-vouz anglais?” and getting “a bit” in return, I made an appointment for Jeudi (we agreed it was the day after mercredi) at 1400h.
Mike and I loaded Google Translate on our phones, and practiced what to say simply and clearly (Not too many words. Bottom line up front.) And we rented a car to travel from the marina to Kinésithérapie Les Salines to meet with Ana at 2pm on Thursday. And … Ana is wonderful! She’s originally from Spain, now lives in Guadeloupe, and she speaks Spanish, French, and a little bit of English. And she’s a sailor! She evaluated Mike; bent, manipulated, and twisted his leg in all kinds of ways. In a mixture of French and English she told us that the ACL felt fine. But that it might be a combination of a strained ligament and bone bruise and that he should rest and ice and buy a brace at the pharmacy. She taped Mike’s knee using blue kinesiology tape that matches his toe nails. And she manipulated his leg a bit to help it get back into alignment. She gave us her card and asked us to call within a week to let her know if it felt better, or to make another appointment.
And what did it cost? NOTHING! Ana asked if we had the local French insurance card. I said no and that we’d pay in cash. She said not to worry about it. If we return next week for a follow up appointment, we can pay her for that session. But for about a 30-minute evaluation, KT tape, and the relief of knowing Mike’s ACL isn’t actually torn (priceless!) she said as a fellow sailor she wanted to help us out, and we’d do the same for other sailors. Of course, I’m paraphrasing our multi-language conversation and hand gestures 😉 What a relief, and a reminder that there are good people everywhere! We’ll still have to keep an eye on it, and maybe start seeing a physio on a regular basis the next time we’re in one place long enough. But I think we made the right decision to work through the difficulties and make that first appointment.