My Day Spent in a Peruvian Hospital


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South America » Peru » Ica » Pisco
December 10th 2007
Published: May 28th 2008
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Why I have I not written until now....


Ummmmm...been busy volunteering?? Cleaning up a big city that has nearly all fallen down due to a massive earthquake last August. Yeah, well, someone's gotta do it, right?

Even though we all try and keep as healthy as we can while traveling, sometimes we just can't help getting run down. Traveling is hard on our bods, work is hard on our systems, living in a disaster zone is hard...period. Sometimes one's body tells you when enough is enough. My time is now.


Ok, I spent 8 1/2 hours at the hospital yesterday. I'm fine, no worries, but four of us came down with some really "bad stomach" (nothing new around here, and with a consistent 80-90 people in this house, people are bound to get sick -- and many do, at some time or other), I was really lethargic and completely drained of all energy (this had started the night before, causing me to miss the mandatory nightly all-hands on meeting), I even woke up numerous times in the night drenched in sweat, but cold when I pulled my sleeping bag aside. The night before, Beca (the project coordinator) had brought up at the meeting should anyone be feeling sick (she had been down and out for a couple of days herself), to take it seriously and head to the hospital right away. In the morning, I decided it best to head over with her, and instantly two others appeared and asked if they could go as well.

One gal, completely dehydrated, looking pale and barely able to walk a straight line, got hooked up onto an IV drip. We all four were in the consultation room with the doctor, and once he took our descriptions and varying degrees of "bad stomach" (also known as a bad case of diarrhea), and made his diagnosis, he told us three of us had to give a stool sample to the lab and the other was going to get an IV right away. He left the room. He came back with a bottle, a needle, some tape and a few other "medical-looking" things. He placed them in front of this volunteer and left the room again. We all looked at each other, then busted out laughing. We were pretty sure, when he didn't return for awhile, that perhaps she was going to have to put the IV in herself, or maybe one of us had to do it. Do-it-yourself-drip! We are, afterall...volunteers! None of us knew the first thing to do. We knew the needle went in the arm somewhere (in a vein right? But where are they and which one?), and oh oh, the bottle has to go higher than the arm, it hangs on some metal thing above the head. I knew that part. But where do we find one of those metal things? I would never make it one day in doctor school. Thankfully, the doctor came back moments later and assured us he was going to hook her up, which he did. Good doc!

When it was our turn to "do the duty," we were told the hospital didn't have anything in which to collect our samples. Yeah, really. Nothing. Funny thing, a couple months ago, one of our vols had a parasite and was asked if she had a matchbook to poop in to get a stool sample. Yup. Welcome to Peru! We walked outside and bought a bright blue PowerAid drink from the cart vendor just outside the doors and each of us asked for a little plastic cup and an individual black plastic bag "for our drink bottles." Yeah, right.

All said and done, it took a few hours for the lab to have our results, but we were all quite cozy waiting in the "adultos" room , sitting on the adjacent bed next to drip-girl. The rest of the beds in the room, 6 in total, filled up throughout the day, but they never asked us to get off the bed we were on. At one point, I saw a gal on a gurney-type bed, hooked up to an IV, out in the hallway, behind a bright green partition. We were assured she was "supposed to be out there" but couldn't help feeling a twinge of guilt over the fact they just didn't want to ask us to move off the unoccupied bed. We tried to move, but they shuffled us back onto the bed where they could see we were at least comfortable.

Drip girl took 7 long hours to go through three different bottles of various liquids. Our test results came back with a big black check mark across the "1". Following that number, there was a 2 a 3 a 4 and a negativo. The doctor was too busy reading the newspaper in the corner of the room to bother to let us know that since our official pieces of scratch paper were marked over the number FARTHEST from NEGATIVO whether that meant we weren't going to live through the day, let alone get out of the hospital alive, or whether it was nothing to worry about. Eventually he pulled himself away from the comics section and came over to us. It was discovered that we all have a "bacterial infection" of some sort, which sounded rather vague to me, and for someone who rarely gets sick, it didn't actually tell me anything. We were prescribed cipro for 7 days. Whatever.

Two of the vols left and I stayed with sickie. I slept for part of the next hour and woke up to one Peruvian retching in the corner. The bed pan was on the floor, a good 2-3 feet below the top of the bed where he lay. Naturally this caused a bit of puke splatter. No one ever bothered to clean it up.

While drip girl was still lying there with needle in arm, one of the doctors insisted he give me a back massage. Uh, ok, if you insist! (I rarely turn down a massage...) I lay down on the gurney next to my friend, and the doc went to town on my back. He spent more time doing what felt like brushing lint off my shirt than an actual massage, but hey, who was I to complain? He joked with a couple of nurses that he could charge $5.00 and come to the Hands On house and give the volunteers massages. Uh, I hadn't the heart to tell him he needed to work on his massage technique first! I laughed and changed the subject.


When my friend's third bottle had emptied, the doctor gave her strict orders to not eat for two days. Ok, we both have limited Spanish skills, but understanding "No comida para dos dias" can't really mean much more than "no food for two days"....right??? They asked if I liked arroz y pollo (rice and chicken), and claro (of course) was my response. One of the nurses disappeared for a few minutes and came back with a to go box with rice, onions and a big leg of chicken. Yum. I hadn't had much all day and was starving, but there was no way I was going to eat in front of my friend. A minute later she returned and gave a box to my friend with the same ingredients. The doctor who just moments before told her she can't have food for two days told her to "eat up." Whatever. Sometimes, just when you think you understand what is going on in a foreign country with a foreign language, you realize how much you DON'T know!

We finished our meals, were invited back for dinner at the hospital the following night with our new hospital staff friends and then left for home. We had been inside for 8 1/2 hours. Longer than a normal working day. The price? Zilch. The lab test was going to cost 9 soles each (about $3 US) but the doc insisted since we are volunteering and helping out the community of Pisco, he wasn't going to charge us at all. The tuk tuk driver we flagged down for a lift back to the house also gave us a ride for free.


Sometimes it pays to volunteer.

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