Travel Comment

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Cover your back - you won't lose a limb

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When Rupert Moore's mum insisted he take out travel insurance before leaving on a backpacking OE through Southeast Asia, he wasn't totally convinced.

Yes, of course it made sense, and mums are always right. Usually anyway. But the cost of a policy to cover all the things a young bloke gets up to can eat into the fun budget.

Fortunately, in Moore's case, mums are not only generally right, they also tend to be more flush than 24-year-old sons.

So, for family peace of mind, Fran Moore paid $1500 for an 18-month policy that gave protection against the sort of mishaps a surfing and skiing traveller might strike.

The investment may have saved his life.

After moving back home and saving furiously for a trip that would take him first to Southeast Asia and then to British Columbia for the skiing season, Rupert and mate Josh Crowley left Auckland in June for Indonesia. They back-packed and surfed their way around Bali, Java and Lombok for a couple of months, having a ball before heading to Thailand.

A week in Bangkok primed them for the party scene and drew them to Koh Phangan, where they joined thousands of young people from throughout the world at the island's full moon beach party.

By night they partied, by day they caught up on sleep, spending as many of their sunshine hours in the sea as on the sand.

And that's where the problems began - barely noticeable at the time, but bringing days of agony, emergency operations and a "rescue flight" home to Auckland where he faces more surgery to repair his wounds.

Koh Phangan is ringed with coral and after swimming one day Moore noticed several small cuts - tiny nicks - on one foot.

He knew the potential dangers of coral poisoning and took care to treat the innocent-looking cuts with antiseptic cream he carried in a medical kit.

From Koh Phangan, the Kiwi pair headed north for a three-day trek around Chiang Mai, without mishap. But the first day back, ready for an overnight bus to the Thai border with Laos, Moore woke with a sore leg. It got worse on the bus trip - severe pain, with vomiting - but there was no turning back.

They had booked on a boat to get to Luang Prabang in the central north of Laos - a slow journey. Two full days later, with an overnight guest-house stay on the way, they reached Luang Prabang with Moore in serious pain and unable to walk.

A doctor at the basic hospital made an incision in his swollen shin under local anaesthetic and the Aucklander will always remember the result - poisonous puss bursting from the 8cm scalpel cut, needing 30 medical gauzes to clean up the wound.

But armed with antibiotics and painkillers, he returned to his Luang Prabang guest house, hoping the worst was over.

No such luck. The following morning, with the pain still acute, the doctor gave him the message: This is very serious and we don't have the facilities to treat you. You must go to Bangkok immediately.

That night, Moore was in a modern Bangkok hospital - but surgeons hovered, waiting for insurance company clearance before they would operate.

The operation, under full anaesthetic, began at 11.30pm, thanks to pressure from the New Zealand embassy and his mate's liaison with the insurance company.

A week later, after the attraction of a private room with cable TV had worn off, Moore came off the intravenous antibiotics and was booked into a hotel - courtesy of an appreciated insurance company - as an out-patient.

There he learned he would require skin grafts to close the wound and that it would be best if he returned to New Zealand for that treatment.

Now, after wheelchairs through airports and a business-class trip home, he is ready for New Zealand specialists to finish the repair job.

But he has plenty of time to mull over how lucky he's been before heading off on stage two of his OE, to Canada - in December, probably - where he will rejoin Crowley and work as a ski instructor through the northern winter.

Doctors tell him that, if left untreated, he could have died from the poisoning. Having enough money on his credit card to book the flight to Bangkok, which will be reimbursed by the insurance company, and a mate to help articulate his position might have made the difference. Mum and dad would certainly have helped, but they were a last resort and didn't hear of their son's troubles until after the operation because he didn't want to alarm them.

However, Moore knows how close it was. He has no doubt that, were it not for his excellent insurance cover - provided online by World Nomads - he would have been shown the door by the classy Bangkok hospital. And he wonders what might have happened if he had been further in the wops than Luang Prabang when things turned really nasty.

The final bill for his adventure could top $30,000, making his experience a ringing endorsement for good travel insurance.

Young people on budgets may think the risk is worth taking across the Tasman, or perhaps Britain where New Zealanders have reasonable reciprocal rights. But in countries where healthcare is suspect or expensive, it is foolish to head off without cover.

Most of all, the story is an endorsement of the instincts of mums - they really do know best.


- Bruce Morris

Pictured bove: Fran Moore took out travel insurance for her son Rupert. Photo / Glenn Jeffrey

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