Medical Scams Targeting Seamen? A Seafarer Shares His Story

by | Last updated Nov 24, 2023 | Health | 0 comments

March 2015. I underwent a medical examination for my pre-employment. The medical clinic was new, and I hadn’t heard many complaints from fellow seafarers who had gone there before me. Unfortunately, this would be my first time experiencing one of the cheekiest medical scams.

When I was getting my medical check-up, everything seemed fine except for one finding that made me extremely anxious. They said there was something in my heart that needed to be checked by a cardiologist. Who wouldn’t be nervous about that as a seafarer?

Goodness! I was extremely frightened. Since it pertained to my heart, I thought it must be something serious! Cholesterol? Irregular heartbeat? Or maybe lovelife?

Left Ventricular Hypertrophy

Kidding aside, I read what was written on the paper the doctor gave me. It said “left ventricular hypertrophy.” Wait, a hypertrophy? It seemed serious.

I felt really down during that time, almost in disbelief. How could I have such a problem when on board, I was exposed to physical activities?

Furthermore, I always included vegetables in my meals. I avoided fatty, oily food, and meat. Then during my vacation, I went jogging at least four times a week while avoiding alcohol. I didn’t smoke either. As a seaman, I always prepared for my medical exams.

Saddest Day of My Seafaring Life

The doctor said they didn’t have a licensed cardiologist, so he might have to refer me to his cardiologist friend at the hospital near UN LRT Station. He scheduled me to go there after a week.

That week was one of my saddest days as a seafarer. I Googled everything about left ventricular hypertrophy, its causes, and its cure. I even went to forums and asked online heart specialists about it.

But I never told anyone even my seamen colleagues, friends, and family. They might go into panic mode. Though I did not ask for any second opinion from other nearby doctors, I learned so many things with my online research and forums.

A model of a plastic heart with colors showing tis viens.

The Cardioman

So the day came when I had to face my verdict with the cardiologist. I brought my ECG and some papers the medical clinic gave me and handed it over to the cardio man. Backed by my own research and understanding of the findings, I was confident that maybe, just maybe, my PEME result was just a false alarm.

To my surprise, the doctor simply advised me to “limit meat consumption and exercise more.” Then he gave me a letter granting me Fit To Work (FTW) – aka for the win. That’s it. I thought he would say something serious.

I also noticed that his tone sounded like, “Another day in the office.”

Of course, I also had to pay a few thousand Pesos for the consultation. Voilà! My medical issue was resolved. And this is how the dots began to connect. We’re diving into another “ConsPeraCy Theory”, folks!

Explaining my health-conscious routine

While I was still inside with the cardiologist, I explained that I maintained a healthy diet and exercise regimen. I rarely consumed meat on board.

During the month leading up to my medical examination at home, I focused on eating vegetables. I was also not a heavy drinker.

In fact, I had developed a formula on “How to Pass Pre-employment Medical Examination (PEME) for Seafarers Without Any Hits,” which had consistently yielded excellent results for many years. You should check that out too!

I told him that I’m only 25 years old and physically active through exercise, especially jogging, which is known to be good for the heart. I mentioned that when you combine this with a diet rich in vegetables, you’d get a “hyperventricular blah blah.” Did that even make any sense?

Runner’s Heart

Actually, I may have agreed with the findings but not totally with the cause. I was jogging full blast on steep roads and pushing myself so hard that I’d be drenched in sweat. Most probably, I may have acquired the “Runner’s Heart” which is normal if you are pushing to your limits every physical exercise.

I mentioned this to the doctor, but he just gave me a look and continued with his explanation. Am I suggesting that I know better than the doctor? Let’s continue reading for now.

A man jogging on the field.

Same findings. Same advice. And the same doctor!

Next, I waited for my fellow seafarers who had gone to the same clinic a week ago. I think there were 6 or 7 of us from different companies. There was even one who was younger than me (23 years old).

But this is the most shocking part. The cardio man exactly gave us the same causes and advice. He should have just recorded what he said to save his breath because everyone is having the same findings. Of course, my fellow sailors also paid a few thousand Pesos for that.

Lastly, when I was on the ship, I asked my fellow seafarers who joined a few months after us about their medical results. It was not surprising what they told me. Most of them had the same findings, were referred to the same clinic, talked to the same doctor, and paid the same amount!

I shared the experience with my friends on Facebook and most of them were surprised when they found out we had the same experience.

Is this another medical scam?

With those results popping up, I started thinking that maybe there was something wrong with their ECG machines. If not broken, perhaps they were misconfigured or had incorrect settings. Or maybe, it’s a “ConsPeraCy.”

It’s hard not to entertain those thoughts, especially when you are a young seaman and your previous medical results from stricter medical centers passed with flying colors.

Not to mention, subsequent pre-employment medical examinations I underwent in other clinics after that incident showed negative findings about my heart.

I’m sure there are others out there who had worse experiences than me at other medical centers. I remember a friend who spent a five-digit amount on his tooth.

Doctor writing something on a piece of paper with a patient in front of him.

More forms and shapes of medical scams

I opened this topic because we seamen know it happens. From simple ear or dental cleaning to grave operations, some seafarers are affected by it. Not all medical clinics for seafarers engage in such practices, but there are a few that do, and these actions can tarnish the reputation of the entire industry.

Sometimes, there are seafarers who would pay the medical staff to “expedite” the process and pass the medical examination with flying colors. It’s one of the saddest realities in our country.

This kind of medical practice may seem normal nowadays, and it’s us, the seafarers, who are affected and suffering. We are also the solution. However, we don’t do much about it except complain to our fellow seafarers. How can we stop these widespread practices in our industry? Is it all about money now?

May the winds be in our favor.



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