This blog chronicles my experience in getting knee surgery done. If you are looking for some advice on getting surgery done in Croatia, check out my other blog here.
Knee Pain, and the search for cheap healthcare
A month into my trip, while running (on a treadmill!) in London, I felt a clicking sound in my right knee. The pain died down after a week of rest and a couple physiotherapy sessions, but then popped up after a couple months. At that time I was in Munich. I decided to get an MRI to see what was up. It would cost 920 USD in a Munich hospital. Not knowing if my insurance would cover it, I elected to delay it by a couple weeks to see how it would feel.
Two weeks went by, and the pain was still there. In fact it had increased. At this time I was in Zagreb, Croatia. While the public healthcare system there offers free treatment to all Citizens, just like the rest of EU, foreigners like myself have to rely on private hospitals. To my good fortune, I found out that though part of the EU, the Croatian healthcare is a whole lot cheaper than the rest of the EU. So much so that, it’s one of the countries for ‘health tourism‘. Essentially a place with good and cheap healthcare where people from other countries fly into for getting their procedures done! I searched for one that specialized in Knee problems. I found two in Zagreb:
Getting an MRI
I took an MRI with Sv. Katarina mainly because I heard of them first. It was only 200$, a bargain compared to Munich, and magnitudes less than an MRI in the US. Not just that, their customer service was excellent. I told them I wanted my doctor back in the States to review them, and they gave it to me on a CD as well as Dropbox files. Dropbox files from a hospital! Who does that?!! These guys were awesome! My Doctor back in the US, whom I asked for a second opinion, said that was one of the clearest, well done MRIs he had seen ever!
After getting the MRI, I found knee surgeons at both hospitals. The surgeons I found were
This is one place where I like the US better. We have so many peer review websites where we can read other patients reviews. I use yelp a lot. Out here, you’re sort of shooting in the dark. A review site would be really helpful. Especially for travelers who have no clue where to go.
Both surgeons had impressive Bios on their websites, which was the only source of information I had. I talked to both, and finally decided on Miskulin. Mainly as his schedule and mine matched more closely, and his initial communication with me felt clearer. I loved working with the support staff of Sv Katarina for getting my MRI bills for insurance. My insurance required some US specific codes such as ICD-9 and CPT Codes which it seems no country other than the US uses (Way to go America. Yet another way to be different from what the rest of the world does.). They looked it up and figured it out within a day.
Scheduling The Surgery
While talking to both doctors, I realized that July August is pretty much the worst time to get anything done in Croatia, as half the country is on Holiday! both doctors were off on their vacations and would only be back end of August. Now, while in Croatia, we wanted to go sailing on the Croatian coast. It’s quite an experience (and yet another blog :))! However they all get booked way in advance, and the only one I got was a cruise on Aug 16-23 starting in Dubrovnik and ending in Split. Initially, both doctors gave me an earliest date of August 25th in Zagreb for a surgery. Doing my surgery on the 25th would mean missing the cruise.
Then Miškulin told me he could do an earlier surgery on the 15th if I were to come to Dubrovnik! This worked out perfectly as the cruise started from Dubrovnik on the 16th! Talk about alignment! I chose that, and scheduled both the surgery and the yachting trip. The yachting trip would be a nice slow recovery time after the surgery.
We flew to Dubrovnik a day early and I found an AirBnb close to the hospital, which had the least number of stairs to climb to it. It surprisingly hard to find apartments close to the ground. They told me that was because of the oldness of the town of Dubrovnik.
The surgery was on a Friday afternoon. My doc was a lot more carefree about the preparations than I was. He just asked me to show up at 5pm. Since I had had knee surgery before, I knew some of the pre-op procedures. I literally had to pull the remaining bits of advice, such as how long to not eat prior, and what pre-lab tests are required (none!).
My first experience was a bit scary, and happened when I asked the anesthesist about the lack of pre-op tests. He replied with a “Well, you look healthy.”
Jodee and I look at each other. Slightly scared look on my face.
“What do you mean healthy?”
“You know, no high blood pressure, diabetes, etc…?”
I started to look worried at the level of prep.
The doc came in and calmed me down. He seemed sure and definite and talked about how the tests were primarily required for general anesthesia. Since mine was local, it wasn’t required. I remembered that to be the case as well. Ok, we proceeded with the surgery.
As it turned out, I couldn’t take the pain with the local anesthetic (yes yes I’m a big wimp), and the doc made an executive decision to do general anesthesia without telling me! Coz the next thing I knew, I was sitting on my bed. It was 3 hours later. And half the staff had left. Fortunately, nothing went wrong. But this part was still a bit sketch.
After surgery I go on the yacht cruise for a week. The Croatian islands are beautiful, and I’m glad I got to enjoy them from the boat.
The post-op advice was like the pre-op advice. Minimal. “Walk normally, and ice”. That was it. As it happened. The next few days I “walked normally” for a couple hours each day. And my knee began to hurt. Quite a bit. So I call the doc from the yacht and tell him that. He replies. “Well, walk normally but don’t exaggerate.” The precision of his advice was almost overwhelming. So I get on the Internet and research post-op surgery, as any anal retentive researcher is wont to do. Thankfully I got a bit more advice.
A week later, we drive back to Zagreb after the cruise.
I’m back in Zagreb, my knee still hurting and now walking in crutches, I go to my post op meet.He asks me to stay back for a week to get physical therapy. That was a blessing. For after a week of the physical therapy, my knee was almost as good as new.
Physical therapy here seems way better than what I got in the US. In the states, a session lasted one hour, and they did electrical stimulation, and a couple exercises.
In Croatian private clinics, I got the royal treatment. The moment I got in, I got 10 min each of ultrasound and laser therapy, followed by two types of electric stimulation. One for knee and one for the muscles around it. Each for 20 minutes. This was followed by 35 minutes of magnetic therapy, a 10 minute knee massage, an exercise program and finally a 15-min ice machine! Each session lasted about 3 hours!
And since I was only there for a week, I went for 2 sessions, and put in an hour of swimming at the free Zagreb outdoor pool…. 7 hours of physiotherapy a day! And I loved it. I would walk in and sit on the comfy leather chair to get plugged into the various therapy machines. I would take out my laptop and connect to the really fast wifi in the office. They would plug me into the different gadgets for the different therapies, and provider with unlimited cappuccinos. It was pretty much like being in a caffe in Croatia, with soft music piped through the wall speakers as the electric machine softly hummed my cartilages to heal.
A week of physical therapy and my knee was way better. Special thanks to Marko and Dunja, my therapists who worked day and night!
Now onto the rest of Europe…