The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to put many plans on hold; but if there is something that cannot wait, that is health. We talked to Luis Pareja, a resident of the Dominican Republic who did not hesitate to travel to Spain to get rid of his low back pain at Instituto Clavel.
Flying from the Dominican Republic to Spain was not a remarkable fact until only a few months ago. However, since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, any trip, even in justified cases, has become a feat.
Despite COVID-19 pandemic, there are circumstances that cannot wait, and a disease is certainly one of them. That is why we put a safety protocol to ensure our patient and staff are safe and operative.
Luis Pareja decided to travel to Barcelona to undergo a procedure for the revision from a previous intervention and to say goodbye to the pain. Get to know his story first hand!
In 2018, you underwent arthrodesis (fusion) at another clinic and everything went well until September 2019, when you felt pain again, when did you find out you needed to undergo further surgery?
They recommended it to me in early March 2020. It was not at the Instituto Clavel, it was another neurosurgeon.
Did you consider other countries to undergo surgical procedures? Why did you finally decide to come to Instituto Clavel?
Yes, I was considering the Dominican Republic, because I live and work there. I also considered the United States, Switzerland and Spain. I made this choice for a simple reason, because the answer that Dr. Clavel gave me was the best one.
How did you know them?
I found them on the Internet and had reference from people on Dr. Clavel and his clinic.
How long did the process of clinical evaluation and online appointment last?
First, I completed a questionnaire and, then, they offered me the possibility of an interview or medical appointment on the Internet, because I was 8000 km away. Before the appointment, I had to send my latest tests.
The problem was that the data protection law in the Dominican Republic does not allow sending these documents in a format that can be easily transferred from one place to another. I had to adapt the format of the floppy disk in order to send these files to Dr. Clavel. I think it took me a week and then the interview was arranged.
Did you feel comfortable attending an appointment by video call?
Face-to-face is always better, but I think that here the personality of Dr. Clavel plays in favor, his ability to transmit serenity and makes you feel comfortable.
How many video conferences did you attended until a face to face appointment was arranged with you?
We had the appointment and I was given a recommendation. I thought about it, compared it with the recommendations I had received from other neurosurgeons and, since it was the best, I made up my mind. Then I had to look for a transatlantic flight in the midst of the COVID pandemic.
Did you have trouble traveling to Spain because of the COVID-19 crisis?
Yes, it was not easy at all. I took a Spanish repatriation flight organized by the airline and the Ministry of Home Affairs. I had to travel to Madrid and then go to Barcelona to undergo the surgical procedure, which was easy, the difficult part was the flight.
Did you need a permit from the authorities to travel?
No, I had the doctor's letter, which stated the reason of my trip to Spain. Since I was flying internationally with closed airports.
Was it uncomfortable to travel with your disease?
No, I took some medicines and you have ups and downs in this disease, and, fortunately, the trip was during a down moment. It is a matter of luck. So, I didn’t have to follow any special recommendation.
Was the COVID-19 test performed when arriving in Spain?
I was tested for COVID-19 in the Dominican Republic and, in Spain, I was tested again at the hospital in Barcelona.
What was your first impression of the hospital and the surgical team?
I saw them very active and integrated in a well-known hospital like Quirón. They provided me personalized and specialized care and I received an immediate response from nurses and assistants.
Did you feel safe at Instituto Clavel?
Once I arrived in Barcelona the taxis were protected. I went to the small hotel they recommend me and I didn’t see anyone, I was almost the only customer of the hotel, which was very good. Then I went to que Quirón hospital to be tested for COVID and, although there were a lot of people, they were all very polite.
A nurse from the Instituto Clavel, Sonia Hernández, waited in the queue in my place. She was all the time queuing up instead of me while I was sitting. There are very few places in the world where a nurse queues for you, the attetion was excellent.
What was the surgery like?
The surgery was quite complex, I think there are few places in the world where they offer you the possibility of undergoing both anterior and posterior surgery at the same time. The offers I had got from other centers were either performing anterior or posterior surgery, undergoing both of them at the same time was actually very interesting.
I believe that Dr. Clavel's synchronization of this surgery is a differential. It is a very coordinated team, with a high level of understanding of the disease you have and a very organized surgical team to provide you a global solution. In addition, Quirón Hospital is a center that leaves no doubt about its technical capacity and the truth is that for something that was hard, they maintained a very professional attitude.
I was admitted the same day of the surgical procedure, at 7 o’clock in the morning and the surgery was at 9:30. It lasted about two and a half hours.
How did you feel when you woke up from surgery?
Very good. I woke up promptly in the intensive care room with nurses watching closely my evolution.
What was the length of your hospital stay?
Five days. I asked for the maximum that they could give me because, of course, I was far away from my home and also, I'm not in favor of leaving quickly in this kind of surgical procedures, because some of them can go wrong.
When could you start walking?
12 hours after the surgery, in small steps. Every day I was progressing under the supervision of the physio, who continued in FisioSpine.
How many appointments did you have on FisioSpine after surgery?
I had 5 or 6, two hours each. It was one of my requests, to stay one more week in Barcelona in order to have the peace of mind that I was going to have the utmost attention. A problem could arise after the five days, so I didn't want to move from Barcelona. Then, they offered me the chance to take advantage of time with the attention of a physio to improve and make recovery faster. I took the opportunity and asked the physio also to treat my neck pain. Her performance was excellent.
The advantage of being in a COVID period is that you can have the best professionals because there are no crowds and, usually, no queues.
Once you left Barcelona, what recommendations did you receive for your rehabilitation?
They provided me with sheets including exercises that I have to perform. I have to walk, take medications... It is very well structured and all the doubts were cleared.
Have you attended a review appointment at the clinic in Madrid?
I will have a follow-up appointment on July 7 in Madrid, before flying on July 16 to America. After three months the appointment will be by video call, and I will be back again by Christmas, so I will be able to go to Barcelona or Madrid.
After several days since surgery, how are you feeling now?
The danger is how well I feel because I might relax, I can do things that I should not do, so I have to stop myself. Some nights it hurts a little bit more, I have to change my position and I can't sit for long, but I'm managing it with caution. Let’s say that I find myself so well that the problem is that I can be imprudent, that is the risk I have now.
How do you rate the experience at Instituto Clavel, would you recommend it to other patients?
I've already done that.
Look, to be really good you have to compete in the international market, that it's when you know what there is, when you go beyond yourself. When you have patients from 30 different countries, you really do your best. And that's what happens at the Instituto Clavel, which is internationalized and that's why it's so good.
So, despite the COVID, are you glad you have traveled to undergo a surgery at this time?
It's better because you don't have crowds and people are even friendlier. I don't regret it. In addition, it was professionally better for me in this period.
I suppose that many people are being held back by fear...
We must live with fear, not just of COVID. And then be responsible, because if a friend drives you to Barcelona at 200 km per hour is much more dangerous than the COVID, the limit is only on the responsibility. The problem is that we must also be aware of the responsibility of others. The Spanish people, in general, are quite disciplined and obedient and, although there is everything, in the end you find more responsible people and you can reduce the risk by wearing personal protective equipment (such as face masks) and maintaining social distancing, which are important. In this case fear was attenuated, time and money were very well spent and the intervention is going well at the moment.