Monday, March 14, 2011

Tales of a sick anthropologist/free health care now (part 2)

So we left our heroine in semi-delirium on Monday, tossing and turning in her sick bed, occasionally managing to sit upright for long enough to drink some water and then collapsing back down from the effort. I had no appetite and little energy to eat but I forced myself to eat about 3 almonds (I do try to keep almonds on hand for when I don't have time to eat: high in protein, calcium, vitamin E, magnesium). Eventually the sky darkened and I reached over to the wall switch and.... nothing happened. Tried again. Still nothing. This was not good. Was it just the switch in  the room, or the whole house? Learning the answer meant mustering enough energy to walk into the other rooms and check. I did, and the news was discouraging. No power.  

This meant, most immediately, no easy way of heating up water for some tea (yes, there is a wood burning stove but I wasn't sure I had the stamina to stand upright long enough to get a worthy fire going).  Was power off on the block?  I looked outside; hard to tell. Street lights were on, but I couldn't really see the neighbors. I called my landlord, Modesto.  The electric bill had arrived -- or at least I had seen it -- Sunday. It was just tucked underneath the gate that opens from the street, very inconspicuously. However, I'm sure it was only there on Sunday. So the power company cut off power one day after delivering the bill? Well, there wasn't anything I could do at 7 p.m. other than bitch and moan. Too little energy for that. Another 2 almonds. Back to bed.

My part-time room-mate arrived and was very solicitous, wanting to know if she could make me something to eat. I had made chicken soup the previous night so there was a big container of broth, vegetables and a few pieces of chicken, and I asked her if she could light the fire and heat up some soup. Back to bed.  A little while later (hard to keep track of time when there is no light and you are light-headed with illness) she told me the soup was ready. I dragged myself to the table and, tried to muster the appropriate enthusiasm for the task. For some reason I could really only deal with the broth and the vegetables. I tentatively stripped off a small piece of chicken and tried to eat it but it lacked taste and texture. Although my throat was very, very sore the cooked vegetables (carrots and a zucchini-like squash) slid down fairly easily so I figured I was at least giving my body some fuel to fight off the invading microorganisms.  I took a bit more broth and then apologized for being an ungracious hostess and staggered back to bed. 

At some point night turned to day; my room-mate got up to leave for school, asking if I wanted anything. I just asked her to pump out some water from the 5-gallon jug and leave it for me and then fell back on the pillows.  The day passed, somehow. I didn't really sleep, but wasn't really in the swing of things either. I called the landlord a few times to ask about the lights; he was in Guatemala City but said he had sent his sister to Quiché to pay the bill. I started to obsess about this (as I had a fair amount of food in the fridge, not that I felt like eating any of it). The day ended with no more power than when I started. I spent most of it lying down in a kind of unpleasant fugue.  I was able to send some emails (my USB modem doesn't require any power) letting students know that I wasn't going to make it to class on Wednesday -- I was clearly in no condition to drive 4 hours. 

Wednesday I felt incrementally better in the morning and called Anastasia. She told me that the International Women's Day Activity was starting at the outskirts of Santa Cruz del Quiché and I decided, foolishly or intelligently, to go. I had not planned to go as it was scheduled during my class time (when I would normally be in Guatemala City) but I thought, well, if I can make it there, it might be interesting to see. 

So I drank some water, filled up a bottle, sponged myself off and set off for the 25-30 minute drive. I parked my car in the center, found a microbus and rode out to the other end of town. I walked with the marchers throughout the town, and into the square. Someone had saved me a seat and although there were a lot of women from rural areas who had been walking too, I unapologetically collapsed into the seat. I made it through most of the program and then realized that I just needed to get back in bed, so I made my apologies and found my car and cautiously drove back -- it was a beautifully sunny day and the road was pretty clear but I was kind of hanging on. 

Back into a horizontal position for the next several hours... and then finally, after 2-1/2 days of bed rest (well, with one real break-out) and Chinese herbs, I decided to take myself to the health clinic.  I pass the Centro de Salud on my daily walk; it's on the last paved street on the north end of town. I didn't trust myself to walk so I drove.  There was an elderly Ladino man with a cowboy hat and blue shirt; he looked at me quizzically. "Que quiere usted?" (What do you want?) I would have thought that the answer was obvious by looking at me -- I'm sure I looked as sick as I felt. But there are no foreigners in town, and he probably thought I was from some visiting delegation or other. "Necesito una consulta" (I need a consultation). They took a sheet of paper and wrote down my name, my age and that was about it. Then the nurse or PA took me and did vital signs: temperature was 39.5 (around 103).  Pulse and blood pressure normal.

The doctor took me nearly immediately: she took one look at my throat and one listen to my lungs and pronounced a bacterial infection and sent me on my way with some prescriptions. The pain reliever/fever reducer they actually gave to me there; the other prescriptions (expectorant and antibiotics) I had to take to a pharmacy.

The cost of this treatment?  Nothing.  Did I mention that Guatemala -- as corrupt, dysfunctional, poor and violent as it is -- has a constitutional clause guaranteeing free health care for all citizens? I guess that covers visiting foreigners too.

The saga doesn't end. but this is a convenient stopping point.

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