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Travel Insurance Story from the East Coast of Australia

The moral of this story is to always take out quality travel insurance.

“I can't feel my legs! I can't feel my arms!” I shouted out in the darkness. The shook my body felt forced me up in sitting position in the lower bunk bed, almost hitting my head in the upper one. My yelling that must have started when I was still half asleep had woken my friend up.

“Just stay there Sara. I'll go and wake the dive master up,” she said. She tried to look calm, but I saw the fear in her eyes.

Somehow they got me up to the top deck, on what the promoters had promised us was the fastest, newest, most high tech, and definitely coolest diving boat ever to have crossed the waves outside of Whitsundays out to the most secluded parts Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

It had however blown up to 30 knots over the last couple of days, so we had just been able to reach the first tip of the reef and were now caught in a little bay. We had to seek protection from the wind.

I don't remember much of that night. In a daze I realised that the hottest of the dive masters put an oxygen mask on my face and told me to breathe slowly. A radio contact was set up with a doctor on the main land and every five minutes I was asked how I felt. The tingeing and pins and needles increased and decreased in strength. The numbness came and went and came back again. All very clear signs of the bends.

It was not much to be done that night. The skipper feared for everyone's safety if he was to turn the boat around and hit for the mainland; the black see and the storm made it to dangerous. Moreover, I could not be picked up by a helicopter; one of the most dangerous things a person with the bends can be exposed to is rapid and major shifts in altitude.

We all just had to wait. My friend held my hand the whole night through as she and the hot dive master from New Zeeland tried to keep me clam by telling me stories. The New Zeeland dive master ending all his with: “Sweet as!”

The morning came and with it a calm ocean. When we got back to the mainland I had major difficulties walking and the doctor at the local surgery instantly ordered me to head of to Townsville Hospital, 350 km north from Whitsundays.

To our rescue came a posh polite upper-class Londoner, who had been on the boat with us. As the gentleman he was he offered to drive us to Townsville. At this point I was as spaced out as a non-stop weed-smoking Berliner hippy. I left it to my friend and our saviour to call my insurance company, the hospital and to organise somewhere to sleep.

If I was unlucky to get the bends, I was lucky to have good people around me and a travel insurance that worked perfectly. SOS International in Copenhagen and my Swedish insurance company AON reassured us that I was fully covered and could claim everything from hospital bills to accommodation and food back. I was even able to claim money back for the phone cards I had to buy to call the insurance company.

My pile of respites grew rapidly. In the end I got every penny back that I had spent as a result of the bends, but I can reassure you not even an office rat is used to that much paper work.

Patience and persistence were much needed. One tricky part was to get doctor Griffiths in Townsville and an SOS International doctor in Copenhagen in contact with each other, because of working hours and time difference they were never in their offices at the same time.

The lovely Dr Griffiths, who walked the wards in Hawaii-shirts and shorts, ordered me to undertake five treatments in the decompression camber. “I can put that in your diver's log if you want to. It will give you a lot of diving time,” he said smilingly.

Five days of treatments passed in a daze, the nagging tingling, pins and needles occupying most of my thoughts. A pressure equal to 18 meters depth was put on in the camber and we poor souls in there started to speak like we had inhaled helium having to equalise every three seconds. The numbness and the loss of sensation in arms and legs came and went. However the treatment slowly seemed to pay off. I was released and ordered to rest.

As a budget backpacker you learn how to save your pennies. For the last two months my friend and I had spent an absolute minimum on accommodation, staying in dorms with up to 10 bunk beds. Our dear new friend from London made me rethink. “Sara, you have been very ill and only the best is good enough. You need a good hotel with a good bed. Your insurance will cover that. No more bunk beds fro you young lady,” he said with a firm voice.

He was right and I was a quick learner. After a few days the white-gloved portiere's question if he could take my bag did not made stare at him and thinking: doesn't he know that my back pack has become an extension of my body? Instead I asked: “Actually, do you have a room with balcony? I would much rather prefer that.”

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