Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bolivian Healthcare - An investigation

We started our Bolivian adventure on a bus into La Paz, the worlds highest capital. We ate our first meal at a Thai restaurant that didn´t really have any Thai food, just ramen and sushi. We really noticed the altitude once we were walking uphill to our hostel after a few hours of drinks. Whew. Gemma noticed it when she accended one flight of stairs the next morning to the hostels balcony and started to get sick. Off to a rough start.

We left on bus for Ouruo where we would then take a train to Uyuni to see Bolivia´s great Salt Flats. We made the first leg of the journey just fine but upon arrival at the train station Gemma started feeling ill. After she passed out on the train and was layed down on the floor under the care of a couple on board doctors. It took the train two hours to reach the next town with a doctor. To my surprise we were greated by an ambulance from the 70´s. They provided Gemma with an oxygen nasal mask which really just dripped water into her nose. She thought they were just squirting her with water in her face because she was out of it. I was sitting in the back with her and upon arriving at the hospital we were greeted by a man who was cross eyed and I´m pretty sure had only one real eye. It wasn´t comforting.

At this point we were all pretty sure she was just experiencing altitude sickness because as we got further south we were reaching 4000m above sea level. The doctors, nurses and I struggled through our broken Spanish and English to try to discuss what had happened. They didn´t really seem to know what to do and told us we needed to decide between staying the night there (no thanks) or getting an ambulance back to town two hours away for 300 Bobs.

Then two guys, or should I say two dudes, walked in the room like they owned the place. One was wearing a fake Fox Racing denim jacket, demim shirt and sweet denim jeans. His hair was slicked back and he had a necklace on with a tiny skull hanging off of it. His name was Dr. Nicholas. His younger counterpart was sporting some fake DKNY shiny track suit bottoms and Nikes. This was Dr. Alain. Although they didn´t actually let us know this at the time. They spoke a little English.

After a confusing 10 minute examination we came to understand these two were doctors. They never said who they were and no introductions were made. Luckily Gemma had come around a bit and was starting to feel better. They concluded it was food poisoning from drinking bad water. We said we only drank bottled. Then they concluded it was from bad meat, but she´s a vegetarian. They finally asked what else she had eaten and we told her a fried egg sandwich for lunch and they were like "Ahhh, HA! Eggs!!! Salmonella poisoning!" They were proud.
As funny as they were they turned out to be fantastic. They were from Cuba and were in this tiny town they called "the ass of the world" providing free services to the towns poor and other unfortunate travelers. There was no charge for any of the medicine or ambulance ride.
Gemma would make a full recovery and is still with us today.

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