This is my adventure story with how you deal with medical emergencies in Panajachel. I know I don’t want to repeat this and Rocio doesn’t either but it is what happened and the results. For those of you who live where you think you have good free medical care, this may help you put that into perspective.
The adventure started on Sunday evening. The photo is from Tuesday when we went to pick up Rocio. A friend commented “those people look happier than people here [in Oregon] going out to dinner or to a movie.”
Sunday, Rocio was at my house doing homework (accounting, in my opinion something to make you sick) with a classmate. About 8PM she had this pain and went to lie down. I made her some Valarian tea but the pain continued to get worse. She was convinced it was serious and her response to gently touching low on the right side of her abdomen convinced me it wasn’t just accounting homework.
We called “mom” who headed over. As Rocio is in extreme pain she is telling me not to get stressed out and apologizing when her feet ended up on my pillow as she moved around trying to decrease the pain. (I wasn’t stressed out — I tend to approach any emergency very logically and once the emergency is over, that is when I get to be emotional.) I started thinking of possible actions including an air-lift to Guatemala City.
Her mother called the Bomberos Voluntarios and they were here in 5 minutes. They checked her pulse and blood oxygen level. Normal. I had previous taken her temperature and it was normal. So, pain, yes, but it seemed like the “normal action”, to the hospital in Sololá was sufficient at least for now.
On the trip there I suggested it was her appendix. The ambulance guy assured me it couldn’t be because she would be vomiting and would have a high temperature. I accepted that — after all, I am a computer geek, not a doctor.
After arriving at the hospital she was in a bed in the emergency room within one minute. It was my first time inside and while there there is nothing fancy or even high-tech, it was clean and people got attention. She was put on an IV. Maybe half an hour later they concluded it was intestinal but not sure exactly what and said she needed to stay overnight. End of part one of the adventure.
Monday morning her mother went to the hospital and they said it was her appendix and it needed to be removed. She signed the authorization form (over Rocio’s objections). When we went back for 2PM visiting hours, Rocio was on a gurney and very drugged out. We quickly found out that the operation had already been done.
There were multiple amusing events in the women’s ward but this was my favorite. I was standing next to the gurney when a young woman (20s or 30s) came over and stood nearby looking at Rocio. The woman then said to me “is she sick?” (I guess she thought people just liked to go to the hospital and see what it felt like to be on a gurney with an IV drip. 🙂 ) In any case, I said “si” and she asked “what does she have?” I explained it was what she didn’t have — an appendix.
On Tuesday I headed to Sololá for visiting hours at 2PM. Her mother was not there but Rocio said she could now leave. I suggested we would need permission/her mother there/whatever and she said “I doubt it”. She limped off to get dressed. Juanita showed up. Ten minutes later we were on our way out armed with a couple of prescriptions. While it was a relatively long walk (probably 300 meters) between where Rocio was and being outside, she wanted to walk rather than use a wheelchair. So, we did.
Outside there were a couple of taxis available. She picked the white one. 15 minutes and 50 quetzales later, we were at my house. While I tied up Fred first, it was clear he understood Rocio wasn’t ready for play.
She is doing fine. Yesterday she wanted to cook lunch. Next Tuesday her four stitches come out. She says she still wants to be a doctor.
What did all this cost?
I think that will be the typical Gringo question. Here we go (note that it is about Q7.7 to the US$):
- Ambulance: Q0
- Trips to visit: Q3 each person each way on the bus
- Taxi back to Pana: Q50
- Hospital costs: Q0
- Medicines (for at home — zero in the hospital): Q550
It certainly wasn’t a Gringo experience. Nine beds jammed into space for about four, bathroom “down the hall”, no fancy beeping electronic stuff, … But, everyone I saw was getting cared for. And there were no fancy charts (that, in US hospitals seem to mostly be billing information). All in all, it worked.