Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Our favorite pastime


Okay, it's not really our favorite. It's just the place we've spent the most time, outside of our house, since we've been here in Mexico. It's our little hospital.

The emergency room is air conditioned. It is relatively clean. The people who work there are nice. I've joked that on hot days we could walk down there with some card games and coloring supplies and just hang out there with the girls. There is plenty of food right outside. There's even a clean bathroom (although you must bring your own toilet paper -- we found out the hard way).

Shortly after arriving here, Callie came down with swimmer's ear, which I talked a little about here. Swimmer's ear is usually a bacterial or fungal infection of the outer ear and it happens when your ear doesn't dry out properly after swimming or bathing. If I had treated it in its very earliest stages (when it is just starting to itch), I probably could have gotten rid of it. But...I didn't know that she was getting swimmer's ear until it was too late. And the infection went deep. So I took her to the ER.

The ER here doesn't seem to be reserved for true emergencies like the ERs at home. I would never take a child with swimmer's ear to an ER at home. Not only because of the cost of treatment, but also because the wait to see a doctor would be ridiculously long and I'm sure the doctors would rather see someone who is having...I don't know...an actual emergency? Here, it seems to be the place people go for even minor issues. Especially people in our town who live within walking distance of the hospital.

The first time we went to the hospital, it took me a while to figure out where we were supposed to go. I wandered around the hospital with a crying Callie and complaining Brynn in tow, waiting in the wrong lines and speaking broken Spanish to annoyed patients until I figured out the system. The second time we went, I had the system down and felt pretty proud of myself. It had been a week since the first doc had put Callie on antibiotics to get rid of the infection (it was her first time on antibiotics, by the way -- I'm proud that we made it four years, five months, and 19 days, not that I'm keeping track) but she wasn't getting better. In fact, it seemed like she was getting worse. So we headed back to the ER again and saw a different doctor. Her ear was definitely worse. He upped her dosage of antibiotics and gave her some anti-inflammatory ear drops. He also told us, "Come back here on Sunday at eight in the morning to see the ear specialist. Get here early." Both of our trips to the ER so far had been relatively pleasant, easy, and very cheap. Going back on Sunday morning seemed like it would be no big deal.

So on Sunday we returned. We arrived in the ER around 7:50. Callie was unhappy. Her ear still hurt. Brynn was unhappy. She was tired and hungry. I sent the girls and Scott to go sit down. I stood next to the ER desk waiting for someone to check us in. Nobody came. So I stood. And stood. And stood. Around 8:20, someone finally came to the desk.

"Is the ear specialist here?" I asked. I showed her my prescription from our previous visit. "This doctor told me to come back today to see the ear doctor." The woman behind the counter looked alarmed, showed me a little tiny scrap of paper and babbled on in Spanish about something I wasn't sure I could understand. I asked a few questions to try to clarify things, all the while wishing I'd brought my five pound Spanish dictionary with me so I could figure out what she was saying. At some point she looked around at the Mexicans in the waiting room and sighed, "No me entiende." She doesn't understand me. That was about the only part I understood.

What I did know was that we were in the wrong place and I needed to go some place where I could get one of those little scraps of paper.

So we left the ER and walked around to the open courtyard in front of the main part of the hospital. It has a little outdoor waiting area that is shaded by a blue Pepsi awning and several open windows with people sitting behind them helping patients in one way or another. One of the windows had a long line of people. I put Scott and the girls in the line to be my placeholders and I wandered around the rest of the hospital looking for directions. I found an orderly and explained to him that I needed an appointment with the otorrino ("otorrino" is one of my new vocab words! It means "ear doctor"). He pointed to the long line where Scott and the girls were standing. At least we were waiting in the right place now!

By about 9am we were at the front of the long line which, I had figured out by now, is where people go first thing in the morning when they need an appointment with whatever specialist happens to be at the hospital that day. And the long line is why the ER doc told us to get there early (he just didn't tell me exactly where I was supposed to go). So I told the guy behind the window what I needed and he gave me the coveted slip of paper. He told me to go to the window inside the hospital to pay for our appointment and then return to the window next to his.

The appointment cost 133 pesos, which is about ten American dollars. An ER visit costs the same. And includes free drugs *if* the hospital pharmacy has them in stock. I paid for our appointment and headed back outside to the second window and waited in line again. At that window I was given a chart for Callie and told to return to the inside of the hospital to the nurse's station (and, yes, that apostrophe is in the right place because there is only one nurse). Callie and I went there and the nurse weighed Callie and then told me, "Go back to the ER and wait for the otorrino. It will be a long time because you are number 13." Sigh.

So at about 10am we arrived back at the ER and sat down...on the floor this time because there were 15 families total who were waiting to see the otorrino. And we were the last to arrive. About the same time that we arrived, the otorrino called his first patient. The first appointment took nearly 45 minutes. I was not feeling encouraged. Luckily, most of the other appointments only took about 15 minutes, so around nearly 2 o'clock, the doctor called Callie into his exam room. Her ear looked marginally better than it had a few days before, but he upped her antibiotic dosage once again and said "absolutely NO swimming for seven days." Yikes.

All together, we were at the hospital for around six and a half hours. Most of the time Callie and I sat on the floor, stars of a gringa show, as all of the Mexicans stared at us. Callie was great. She did the requisite whining and sighing and collapsing into my lap, but she only had one fit -- it was when Scott brought three enchiladas for Callie and me to share. She was adamant that there would be no sharing going on. She screamed her head off and when I relented, she ate them all. Yes, despite her skinny frame she is truly a member of this food-loving family.

Here is what the hospital looks like from the outside. Around the corner to the left is the "urgencias," or the ER. To the right is the open courtyard with the Pepsi awning. I didn't have the courage to get much closer to the hospital with my camera. It seemed a little...brazen.


The hospital seems to have no cafeteria, and no need for it. Here is one of the little restaurants across the street from the hospital. The sign over the door says "Cocina Económica," which I translate as "Cheap Food." There are a few "cheap food" places in every town, but it is especially useful to have one close to the hospital, don't you think?


This taco menu sits atop the stairs you climb when leaving the hospital. The taco stand itself is in the street in the "no parking" zone right in front of the hospital.


See the yellow curb behind that taco stand? That means "no parking." The owners of the trucks parked there don't seem to care. Neither does the owner of the taco stand.


With any luck, we'll finish this final round of antibiotics and be done with our little hospital forever. I am grateful that we have the hospital here but at this point, I'm over my desire to sit in the air conditioned waiting room and play games. I'll head for the beach, instead, thank you very much!

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