It Was the Worst Pain I’d Ever Felt. I Still Didn’t Want to Go to a Bulgarian Hospital

Most of what we write about being digital nomads has been positive because most of our experiences have been position — the occasional apartment fire aside.

But on Saturday, I got sick. Really sick — or so I thought for sixty excruciating minutes.

Brent and I were on a bike ride, four or five kilometers from our apartment in Bankso, Bulgaria. Suddenly I developed the worst sustained pain I’ve ever felt, in the upper right side of my torso. I couldn’t ride any more, but when I got off to walk, every step literally caused me to groan in pain. I felt like John Hurt in Alien with the space monster busting out of my stomach.

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As I struggled to make it back to Bansko, my mind raced through the different possibilities: gallbladder attack? ulcer? the world’s fastest spreading stomach cancer?

And what was I going to do if the pain didn’t go away? Frankly, we haven’t heard great things about the local medical care. Bulgaria does the best that it can, but this isn’t a rich country that can spend lavishly on health care. One fellow digital nomad dislocated his shoulder while slack-lining, and had to visit the local medical center. He came back with a tale about dirty facilities, an indifferent staff, and very weird requests for tips from the nurses since our friend was a “rich” Western European.

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As you can see from the chart, right, Bulgaria ranks almost last when it comes to the quality of health care in Europe. Again, not their fault, but it was the reality I had to deal with as a digital nomad in a hella lot of pain.

Then there’s the fact that I don’t speak Bulgarian, and not everyone here speaks English. Plus, the nearest actual “hospital” was some sixty kilometers away, and I was dreading finding a way there.

Basically, I really, really, really didn’t want to be seriously sick in rural Bulgaria!

Fortune was with me, however. As soon as I got home and laid down, the pain vanished, and hasn’t come back.

Knock on wood.

So one of my worst fears about being a digital nomad was not realized. But it’s probably only a matter of time before something at least semi-serious happens.

Ironically, in some ways, Bulgaria’s health care system is actually better than America’s. At least here residents don’t hesitate to seek treatment. If this had happened back in the U.S., I would have been stressing out too, but for a different reason. Had the pain continued, I almost certainly would have been forced to go to an emergency room. Then I’d have been looking at thousands of dollars in medical expenses, even with our insurance. Which means I might have been less likely to seek treatment in the first place, which could have resulted in serious complications on its own.

Which situation is worse? Honestly it’s kind of hard to say. But I’m definitely not thinking about giving up being a digital nomad.