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TALK ABOUT SURPRISES!

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TALK ABOUT SURPRISES
This year for my wife’s birthday I planned a surprise. We threw a party for her and after
blowing out the candles I asked my two kids to hand her an envelope. Inside there was
a heart-felt letter that I had written to her. After reading the letter and getting quite
emotional, I asked her to open the second envelope I had placed inside the first one.
My wife was so very excited when she discovered that the second envelope contained
boarding passes for our first cruise to Alaska which would be departing the next day
from Seattle, WA. She was shocked and thrilled to find out we were going on vacation
to celebrate her birthday, but more importantly to celebrate her life. She is a cancer
survivor and every single day we thank God she is still with us.
The next day we boarded HAL Oosterdam in Seattle for our seven days cruise. The first
couple of days were uneventful, however on day three she woke up with abdominal
pain that gradually increased during the day. Finally around noon we decided to visit
the medical center to try to figure out what was going on, but it was closed. We then
went back to the cabin thinking that the “stomachache” would go away. However, by
about 5pm the pain had become unbearable, so we decided to return to the medical
center. After a few minutes of running some tests the doctor diagnosed my wife with
acute appendicitis. And then the real adventure began.
The ship was en route to Sitka, Alaska where we were scheduled to dock the next
morning. As this ship is not equipped to handle an emergency like peritonitis and due
to the risk of an appendix rupture, the only choice was to medevac my wife. I was in
disbelief after I asked the doctor if she had advised the captain about the potential
medical emergency and she replied that the captain didn’t need to know because this
was a medical issue and not an operational one. To the best of my knowledge the
captain was never informed. The next morning, after a sleepless night, the ship
docked as scheduled in Sitka and my wife was transferred by ambulance to SEARHC
hospital where a group of doctors and nurses were waiting for her to perform a
laparoscopy and have her appendix removed.
Dr. Daniel R. Sparks, was very professional and explained to me after my wife’s surgery
that everything went smoothly and to plan. His advice for us was to go back to the ship
and continue our trip, so I started to coordinate our return. I called the ship’s
representative to let her know that we were planning on continuing the cruise. You can
imagine my frustration when the representative apologized but informed me that we
would not be allowed back onboard. Dr. Sparks, was kind enough to take time from his
busy schedule to talk directly to the doctor onboard the ship. He explained exactly
what the situation was, but the doctor onboard had already decided that we would not
be allowed to return to the ship. I contacted the ship’s doctor directly and asked to talk
to the doctor who had taken care of my wife the night before. He told me that she was
unavailable and then proceeded to explain that the company policy was to not allow
the return of any guests for the first 24 hours after a medical procedure. This was even
though the ship’s doctor who had taken care of my wife the night before had told us
that depending on the situation and if the local doctor gave us clearance, we should be
able to return and continue our cruise. I told the doctor on the phone that I respected
HAL policies and that we would find a way to get to the next port of call which was
Ketchikan and re-join our cruise from there 24 hours later.
However, after I mentioned this, he again apologized and informed us that we would
not be allowed to return to the ship at all during this cruise. So just like that we were
left there stranded in Sitka for the next three days. The next day, after breakfast my
wife told me that she didn’t feel like staying cooped up in the hotel, so we went out and
explored this beautiful town. We walked all day from the Alaska Raptor Center to Totem
Park to downtown Sitka until late into the evening.
A couple of flights later, we finally we made it home to California on day seven of our
interrupted vacation. You can imagine the look on my face when I opened the
envelope that was handed to me when we disembarked and noticed there was a
charge on my CC for $3231 for the one night stay at the medical center onboard the
ship. The same day I called HAL guest relations to tell them that I was not happy with
this charge. I was told that they would “look into it” and that “a case“ had been opened
for me, never to hear back from them. Mind you, this was a charge for the relatively
simple diagnosis and the very limited treatment we received on board. Looking at these
charges, one might assume the surgery was actually performed on ship as opposed to
the treatment for pain and observation she received.
I am a B-747 captain for a major airline with 29 years’ experience flying international
routes. After having been pretty much everywhere in the world, I can tell you that the
people in Sitka, Alaska are the warmest and friendliest people we have ever met. We
are grateful to Dr. Sparks and his friendly staff for taking care of my wife in Sitka and
making us feel at home and to Dr. Hefer, on board the Oosterdam, who setup
everything so my wife could get the medical attention that she required.
That all being said, I am very upset that we were not allowed to return to our cruise and
that we were basically abandoned in Sitka to figure out arrangements on our own to
get home. I would also appreciate a response from HAL guest relations to discuss the
exorbitant charges for the relatively minor medical treatment my wife received in your
medical center as well as to get an official explanation as to why we were not allowed
to continue our cruise after getting clearances from medical professionals to return to
the ship.
We very much enjoyed the very little bit of Alaska that we were able to experience, and
we can’t wait to return. Hopefully this time without any “surprises.”
Luis F Salinas and Marianela Soberanes G, Murrieta CA.

 

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Yikes! What a story! Apart from the annoyances, it sounds like your wife is OK (and was OK immediately following the procedure). Sometimes you have to scratch your head in wonder at some of the hurdles life throws at us. Hopefully you'll get to experience a less stressful cruise to Alaska. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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. I do not know what SEARHC is in Sitka but on a cruise some years ago, my husband was sent to Sitka Community Hospital ER after a fall going up the walkway to the cruise terminal in Sitka. He received outstanding care by the medical staff there and we were able to reboard the ship later in the day. The hospital contacted the local HAL agent who actually drove us to the gangway. There was no surgery involved so possibly that was the reason we were allowed back on.

 

I am sorry you could not finish your cruise and it seems HAL has not been too gracious about the situation especially presenting you with the gigantic medical bill.

 

I agree with you that the people of Sitka are so friendly and generous.  While waiting in the hospital, a local resident came up to me and asked what the problem was. At that point, I was concerned that we might not be allowed back on the ship as the doctor told me it was the decision of the local agent. 

 

She told me if we had to remain in Sitka to give her a call and she would help us any way she could. I thought that was truly generous since she did not know us at all.

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Wow, quite a story! Hoping you had travel insurance with medical coverage which would (most likely) cover most, if not all of the medical expenses.

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SEARCH stands for: Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium SEARHC/Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center.

 

First class facilities, awesome and friendly staff. We were extremely lucky to had surgery there!

 

Thank you for your reply.

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What a story!  I'm glad that your wife is okay.  You should submit the medical charges to your insurance for reimbursement.  I had to do this once and there were no issues whatsoever.

 

I hope that your next cruise goes off without a hitch!

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Welcome to Cruise Critic.

 

What a story!!  You wife has survived cancel-- you plan a wonderful surprise for her -- and then something unexpected happens.  She ends up having an emergency appendix surgery and your cruise ends quickly because of rules.

 

I sure do appreciate you telling us all about what happened and glad that your wife is doing well now.

 

Hope you are able to do another Alaskan cruise in the future.

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2 hours ago, Taters said:

I'm glad that your wife is okay.  You should submit the medical charges to your insurance for reimbursement. 

 

Indeed, good news that your wife is OK and that you received excellent medical service in Sitka.  I also agree that you ought to submit the medical bill to your insurance company, but, because it was generated on a non-US ship, I would expect it to be denied.  Travel insurance ought to come into play at that point.  

 

I agree:  Alaskans are very friendly and welcoming folks!

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OMG  what a incredible   story . We are glad to hear that your wife is in good health  . Holland America  does owe an explanation  of those medical charges aboard ship . Perhaps the trip insurance will iron it out for you  .I have been in ships medical facilities many times  but ,the bills were all under $200 . Now with a air  tamer around my neck, I no longer get sick 😀

 

 Best of luck to you &  your future  Alaska cruise✌️

 

  

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2 hours ago, chocopipe said:

Dr. Sparks, was kind enough to take time from his
busy schedule to talk directly to the doctor onboard the ship. He explained exactly
what the situation was,

 

Not as serious of a situation as your wife's, but I had a similar situation on the day I was boarding the Rotterdam for the VOV.  I stumbled over a piece of luggage after arriving at the Port, was superficially injured, 911 was called, taken to Tufts Medical Center, received excellent care including a CAT scan to insure I didn't have a concussion, was released, and the Port Agency's representative to was with me the entire time was given some paperwork to clear me for embarking the ship.

 

Arriving at the pier, the Agent's representative gave the paperwork to the check-in person, her computer showed I was denied embarkation, someone made a call to the ship's medical center, the doctor came off the ship interviewed me and looked at the paperwork, saying "This tells me nothing!"  The Port Agent asked if speaking with the doctor at Tufts would be of help.  He waffled, but finally agreed to do so.  After speaking with the doctor who treated me, he finally--but reluctantly--agreed to allow me to board.  The "savior" of my situation were the Boston Port Agents.  They knew what to do and were persistent enough to get me on the Rotterdam.  (Throughout this process, really, I felt helpless.)  

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Oh my heavens - what a story!

 

So glad your wife is ok and all worked out but I am really baffled with you not being allowed back on board.  The first 24 hours I sort of get (in case of complications) but not time after?

When we did the Med one year one of roll call members did have to be med evac’d and the staff were great at keeping us up to date on her progress (her husband had given permission and asked).

But, once all was good, she and her husband did reboard the ship later to continue the cruise.

 

I’m sorry that your lovely surprise had such a sad ending to it and so happy to hear that your wife is a successful cancer survivor 🙂

 

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Your kindness and consideration to your lovely wife made me think of my dear departed husband who was constantly doing things like that for me.  Wow!  What a story!  I was crying through the first part of it about the birthday surprise and switched to dismay as I read about her appendicitis.  I can understand why HAL wouldn't want to be responsible for someone who has had surgery in a port while traveling with them.  They may be ill-equipped to handle such emergencies, or they may not wish to assume the liability. 

 

Life tends to throw curves when you least expect it.  Please be thankful that you have your wife and that she was able to get the medical attention she needed before any complications set in.  It sounds as though both of you have had your share of woes with her cancer.  Say a prayer of gratitude every day that she is a survivor.  DH was not so fortunate. I know both of you will get back to Alaska; this time to enjoy it all the way through a cruise.  

 

My mouth dropped open at your medical bill from the ship's infirmary.  In 2011, our son had to spend the night in the infirmary, hooked up to all kinds of IVs, and the doctor at one point had to be called after midnight to attend.  Our bill was $400.  Good grief, that's a hefty inflation rate for services in the infirmary.  I sure hope you purchased travel insurance, so you can submit a bill.  As others have stated, it should take care of that "surprise" for you.  If you are expecting HAL to remove those charges, you may be in for another disappointment because I doubt they would agree to that.

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I am so sorry this happened to you! It would be bad on any cruise, but when you had made such a special event of it, it's heartbreaking. I'm glad your wife is OK, and I hope you will be able to try Alaska again.

 

I have to say, you were stranded in what I think is Alaska's most charming port. It's real town, not a tourist center. And I'm pleased--but not surprised--to hear how helpful and nice everyone was. 

 

If you had trip insurance, that should pay the medical bill on HAL. Your regular insurance might pay it. I do know that Medicare will cover treatment on a ship if the treatment happens while you're in US waters or at a US port.  

 

I have to question the doctor's comment that a possible medivac didn't require contacting the captain. A medivac may be called for because of a medical situation, but the process is very much an operational one. And then to say you would be able to come back when policy says you wouldn't be allowed back? I do understand the policy about 24 hours. They don't want to be responsible if a patient has some kind of secondary problem. But that doctor seemed to speak without thinking. 

 

I hope you get some kind of answer from HAL. 

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20 minutes ago, 3rdGenCunarder said:

I have to question the doctor's comment that a possible medivac didn't require contacting the captain. A medivac may be called for because of a medical situation, but the process is very much an operational one. And then to say you would be able to come back when policy says you wouldn't be allowed back? I do understand the policy about 24 hours. They don't want to be responsible if a patient has some kind of secondary problem. But that doctor seemed to speak without thinking. 

 

Agree that a medivac WAS an operational issue and I would think the Captain would have some "words" with the doctor if he was not informed.  

 

In Boston, on the Rotterdam, the Port Agent explained to me that it was the doctor's concern of possible future liability to HAL if they allowed me to embark and something happened that was connected to my fall even if it was ashore and not on the ship.

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I have no idea of protocols in this situation, but just want to say prayers for you and your family.  You've been through a lot, and didn't need this added disappointment.  Praying for you that you are over the worst and that you and your wife have many cruise opportunities in future.

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Laparoscopic appendectomies sound like a big improvement over the old method, it is amazing that your wife would be discharged so soon. I am happy that your wife is okay, glad you received excellent treatment in Sitka, but think it is a shame HAL would not let you continue your cruise.  One of my fears is that a cruise line would dump me in a lousy hospital in a developing country rather than give me care they were able to do onboard.

 

I am surprised that the overnight medical care on HAL cost $3231, but have no idea how much care your wife received or what is reasonable and proper. I guess I am regularly surprised at the cost of US health care. 

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14 minutes ago, whogo said:

Laparoscopic appendectomies sound like a big improvement over the old method, it is amazing that your wife would be discharged so soon. I am happy that your wife is okay, glad you received excellent treatment in Sitka, but think it is a shame HAL would not let you continue your cruise.  One of my fears is that a cruise line would dump me in a lousy hospital in a developing country rather than give me care they were able to do onboard.

 

I am surprised that the overnight medical care on HAL cost $3231, but have no idea how much care your wife received or what is reasonable and proper. I guess I am regularly surprised at the cost of US health care. 

 

(bold is my addition) This is an important thing about travel insurance. If it's absolutely necessary to get you off the ship and get treatment asap, you have to take what's near. But if there's time to arrange further care, trip insurance can help with that. If you have a good plan (I use travelguard and buy the additional evacuation amount), you call them right away and from then on, someone is in your corner helping you deal with the unexpected issues that arise. I know, because I've been through it and travelguard was a godsend.

 

People look at travel insurance as covering the loss of money if you have to cancel. But really, if you can afford to buy the cruise, you can afford to lose that money--you get no value for the money, but it won't bankrupt you. But the cost of medical care and transport and the need for someone to help with logistics, to me THAT is the value of travel insurance. 

 

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$3231? Sounds about right for a few tests and overnight monitoring. Surgery would have cost much more (wait until you receive your insurance statements for Sitka).

 

The doctor and medical staff on ships are outside contractors. HAL does not set their rates nor would become involved in the billing. 

 

Depending on your health insurance, this may be covered under your normal policy (it would be for me - my Medicare supplement covers all costs outside the country).

 

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Hi Cho,

 

Glad your wife is OK.

 

Hope your insurance refunds all of your costs.

 

Boo on HAL.

 

Ira

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What a terrible experience. Im glad your wife is OK and so sorry you had to miss the cruise.

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Sometimes...the folks in Seattle don't understand what customer service can be. We had an "issue" on Zuiderdam a couple of years ago and I contacted guest services and got nothing. I then wrote a letter directly to the Office of the President of Holland America Lines...and waited.

I got a wonderful personal, 2-page response and a very nice free incentive for our next Holland America cruise. I encourage you to write directly to the Office of the President and describe as you did here what happened and the response (or lack of one) you received.

Without demanding anything, a nice letter just might get you something that you might not expect. Good luck.

 

Jim

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Why does HAL deny embarkation at another port even with a doctors clearance?

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Depends on the captain, I guess. A few years ago, we were travelling with friends, and he had a heart attack in Herculaneum. Got him back to the ship; kept him overnight and off to the hospital in Civitavecchia the next morning. Kept him overnight, discharged him the next morning. He took a train to Livorno and rejoined the ship, completed the transatlantic. and had a double bypass 3 weeks later....

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My guess is that HAL, on the advice of lawyers, does not want to take on the responsibility of an ill passenger.  And she was ill, no matter if the doctor signed off or not.  She could have developed a post-op infection while onboard, or worse!  All sorts of complications  when you consider the ship could possibly be at sea and an evacuation might be in order.   

 

Personally, I think HAL did the right thing for the passenger and themselves.  It's up to the passengers to have travel insurance for instances such as these.

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1 hour ago, Iamthesea said:

My guess is that HAL, on the advice of lawyers, does not want to take on the responsibility of an ill passenger.  And she was ill, no matter if the doctor signed off or not.  She could have developed a post-op infection while onboard, or worse!  All sorts of complications  when you consider the ship could possibly be at sea and an evacuation might be in order.   

 

Personally, I think HAL did the right thing for the passenger and themselves.  It's up to the passengers to have travel insurance for instances such as these.

As I understand it, all medical staff, equipment, medications and stuff is all contracted. The only thing the ship does is provide the facility. The cruise line and ship take no responsibility for any medical issues that occur or are treated.

I am glad the OP's Wife is OK.

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