Thursday, December 30, 2010

Doctor, Doctor

Bequia Hospital, Bequia, Windward Islands, Caribbean---I sat slouched on the cement step leaning on the wall for support. Below me was a gathering of locals who were waiting for medical attention. There was no system, no written list, no waiting room except for the wooden benches along the building where the heat was beating down.

I had just knocked on the "door with the glass window" as I had been told when I asked around where to start. There a lady opened the door and looked a bit bothered by my arrival. I quickly explained my situation and she said I needed to see the doctor and to wait outside. As I sat and waited, I noticed that the sign above the door I had knocked on said "Casualty." Oh my.

A little girl saw my camera and wanted her picture taken, another boy stood banging on an oxygen tank larger than him. Flies. But none of that mattered because I was feeling worse and worse. It had started 7 days earlier, when I first got to this island. A queasy stomach, and what goes with it. But now, I was running a fever and had the shiver shakes in bed the night before.

So far on this trip, going to a Pharmacy was all you needed. In the Med, the Pharmacist could hand over whatever you described you needed---everything from antibiotics to antidepressants, none were required to see a doctor first. And they were cheap! But I was lucky, I had a few eye infections and the pharmacist fixed me up with but I was never sick. Until now.

But in the Caribbean, the Pharmacy said no. I needed a doctor first. So, off I went and there I sat.

Finally the lady came out of the Casualty Room with a dark skinned man in plain cloths, and said "That's the doctor, follow him." I don't know, I wasn't expecting a surgeons outfit but even a lab coat would have made me feel better.

And so I followed, up the stairs, through a room, down a hall, into a back room, out the back door!, through a field of grass and rock, down the road, into a yard down the street, up the stairs of this house...all the time, just following, never being talked to. And yes, at the point where the goat was tied to the fence, I got a little nervous. But at the top of the stairs a small plaque read "Doctors Office..."

And into a tiny examining room I ended. It was more than sparse. After explaining things, he got my blood pressure and lectured me about not coming sooner, that I was dehydrated. But he was very nice and really listened. Then he requested I hop up on the table and lay down. Now I had rushed out of my room that day wearing only a little sun dress and no bra...but I was also wearing my special Christmas thong underwear. Darn it. As he requested me to lift my dress so he could push on my tummy, I did a quick assessment of the situation:
"1. I can run
2. I feel like crap...and that IS a pun
3. I will never see this man again
4. He is a professional, I am a piece of furniture"

So in all my jingle bell glory, I lifted and he pressed. Diagnosis: Curry and Conch.

I had been eating it everyday in all the outlets and cafes. Turns out if not prepared correctly, you can get an infection, or bacteria, or whatever was giving me the runs. It was common among the natives.

So there in his office he pulls out a load of drugs and puts them in tiny envelopes...except he doesn't have enough antibiotics for 7 days, only 3. So I need to go to the pharmacy but only after 6pm because that is the only time the pharmacist comes from another island. Oh, better write this down.

So off I go with 3 sets of different kind of pills in search of the homeopathic version for this ailment: coconut water. With the doctor's approval, he agreed that what the locals had told me was correct: fresh coconut water straight from the coconut will help.

For days I had noticed that behind the street vendors by the beach a group of men were constantly working on the crafts that they sold. One was a coconut boat, so I headed there. Now this also happened to be the area where a cloud of weed smoke permeated the sidewalk most of the day. I could not help but notice how huge the joints were, they weren't hiding it. Not being a smoker in either way, I still knew that they would be mellow if anything. So I marched up to them and requested fresh coconuts. A kid about 13 years old was selected and off he ran to climb the tree and bring me three. One that they made me drink right then and there.  As I did, I sat on a boat trailer that was being used as the seating area for several men and women making crafts: necklaces with many kinds of beads and shells, coconut boats complete with sails and string, wood carvings.

I finished up and headed to my rental. Good thing because within a few hours my fever went to almost 102 degrees.

So what do yachties do about medical needs? We carried a lot of different prescription drugs on Juno, my old boat. I have a year's worth of my personal needs with me which took a lot to arrange before I left! I also have emergency evac insurance if something terrible happens and I need to fly home or to a "real" hospital. 

But when you are out there, you really must be self sufficient. I had dental bone grafting done in my jaw before I left and the procedure did not go well. Even though I had a month to heal before I left, it hadn't. TWO MONTHS later, we are anchored far from anywhere and tiny bone pieces drop out. I FREAKED. Well...freaking for me is I get very quite when I'm scared and I cry. So that's what I did, but I still didn't see a doctor and guess what? I survived! In fact, as soon as those pieces cleared my gums, I healed up for good.

What have I learned? Perhaps I run to the doctor too often, for every little thing and that my body has the ability to heal better than I give it credit.

What else? The costs. It cost me $75 for about 40 minutes of solo time with the only hospital doctor on the island including all the drugs he gave me. Then, filling the prescription for the rest of the antibiotics was $5.  Translate that into US and my insurance company would have laid out much more than $500 to walk-in to a hospital and pay for drugs.  

However, one doctor on this island's hospital is not enough. The conditions are not good and this is BY FAR NOT a third world country! When I talked to the locals about this they laughed and said, they know the remedies and fix themselves. But the owner of my rental had a real problem several years ago and explained her luck of having the right surgeon at the next island where there is a private hospital.  She was lucky she explained.

So as much as we complain about our health care system, the availability and conditions are top notch. I imagined walking the family I saw waiting with the tiny sick baby through the halls of the brand new Ormond Beach hospital in Florida. Marble floors and designer leather sofas...

The world in not fair but we are the lucky ones. We are the lucky ones.


Anonymous said...

Hope you are feeling better! And you are so right, we are the lucky ones...

Anonymous said...

Hope you are feeling better! And you are so right, we are the lucky ones…

Martha Archuleta