My brush with death in Bolivia – visiting the Dr in Sucre

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I spent a good few days in Bolivia with an odd pain just below my ribs – while poking about I found that a rather strange lump had appeared there. Being rather a hypochondriac I immediately assumed that either my appendix was about to burst or something was eating its way out of me from the inside. Engaging my more rational mind I figured that the weeks of bouncing around in buses, carrying my backpack and sleeping on incredibly dubious mattresses probably meant that I had done something to a muscle. Nonetheless, not least to stop worrying about strange fatal illnesses, I decided a quick visit to the doctor was in order.

A quick chat with our Spanish teacher and I established that Sucre does not just have one hospital but a whole district of hospitals of varying cost and specialism. Upon her recommendation I decided to visit one Cristo de las Américas – a semi private hospital on Avenida Japón. With her help I went armed with the relevant vocabulary and hoped that my slowly improving Spanish would be sufficient to ensure that I did not leave missing a vital organ or limb. I also established that the hospital is closed between 12am and 2pm for siesta – excellent.

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The hospital

There were a number of steps involved with the hospital visit so for anyone following a similar path here is what happened:

1. Arrive at hospital and find Caja (cashier) counter – at this counter I asked to see a general doctor and was asked to pay the princely sum of 20Bs (a masssive £2 or 3USD) for the privledge. I handed over the cash and after a good few minutes of faffing on the part of the cashier I was presented with some kind of receipt and told to wait in the seating area.

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Waiting at the caja

2. Waiting to see the doctor – there were already a number of people in the waiting area so I prepared myself for a long wait. Fortunately I had Em and my book with me so I settled down on the sterile plastic chair to enjoy the wait. For the next 15 minutes not much happened and no one was called to see a doctor. Then all of a sudden someone fetched me – guiltily I was pulled in first ahead of everyone else waiting there.

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The plastic seated waiting area - sterile!

3. Seeing the doctor – Dr Kevin (seemed like an odd name in Bolivia), was very nice but spoke no English – so I pulled out my trusty scribbled list of vocabulary. Everything was going very well, I got a thorough inspection, was prodded in various parts of my abdomen and he listened for some time with his stethoscope. This process took some time and no one said a word – I steeled myself for the bad news.

4. The verdict – Dr Kevin sat me down and confirmed my own rational diagnosis, something muscular. However, he wanted to do an extra check as a precaution – I needed an ‘ecografia’. Panic, my scribbled list of vocabulary had not prepared me for replies and further questioning in Spanish yielded a look of panic from Dr K as he tried to explain what this meant. Fortunately, I remembered that I had my trusty dictionary in my bag so we looked up the word and I needed an ultrasound scan – for what I was not sure, perhaps he thought I was pregnant (seemed unlikely given the obvious gender limitations).

5. Back to the caja – another payment was needed for the ultrasound. Back to the cashier queue, more faffing, and another 50Bs (£5, 7.5USD), and I was ready for my scan. They sent me into the bowels of the hospital.

6. Waiting for the scan – so it turned out the ultrasound department only opens at 4pm. It was only 3pm – more waiting.

7. The scan – finally a nice lady turned up and opened the ultrasound department. I had a nice helping of sticky goo and was informed that everything looked fine. Apparently they were checking for stones in my gall bladder (thank you again trusted dictionary – my lessons had not prepared me for internal organs).

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The ultrasound results

8. Back to the doctor – another 10 minutes in the waiting room and I handed the doctor the print out from my scan. He informed me that everything was fine but I should have an injection to reduce the inflammation in my muscle. He gave me a prescription.

9. To the pharmacy counter – I was sent away to pay again.

10. Back to the caja – yes once again I was handing over another 10Bs (£1, 1.5USD) and beginning to think that this hospital could be more efficient.

11. Back to the pharmacy – I was handed my medicine and a syringe, was I supposed to inject myself? Well no, they sent me back into the bowels of the hospital and to a rather stern looking nurse.

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Ready for the injection

12. The injection – I started pointing to the inflammation because I assumed that was where the injection was to be. At this point I am sure this nurse gave a wry smile and pointed to my right buttock – hoorah. I dropped my pants, was instructed to take a deep breath, and she proceeded to inject a good 10ml of liquid into my rump. The injection was a little sore but worse was my leg then went completely dead.

13. Sit in the waiting room – this time to wait for feeling to return to my leg

14. Complete – finally, a good 2.5 hours after arriving I was ready to leave, having paid just 80Bs (£8, 12USD). I was the proud owner of an ultrasound picture of my abdomen and a rather sore backside.

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