“You must have broken your foot playing football (soccer)” said (in Spanish, of course) the Guatemalan man I passed on the sidewalk. He wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last to pinpoint exactly what had happened to my foot. Nearly every stranger I’ve spoken with on the streets of Xela, or in a café, restaurant or park has said nearly the same thing.
The number of people with insight as to the exact cause of my injury has suggested to me that foot injuries may be rather common here. That being the case, Xela’s surgeons must have a lot of practice fixing broken feet, which has given me further confidence in their abilities – or one can only hope.
Returning to the Hospital – The First Time
The initial visit to the hospital in Guatemala had been an interesting endeavor, and returning for checkups were an experience of a similar nature.
Following my surgery, the good doctor Pérez had given me a card with an appointment on it shortly before I made my escape from the hospital. It read 7:00 a.m., but he suggested I arrive at 6:30 a.m. just for good measure. Fantastic I thought, get in get out, and on with my day.
That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I arrived with Olivia (the school translator) in tow or rather she arrived with me in tow around 6:30 a.m. a week after my surgery as instructed, only to find the waiting room positively packed with people. Two thoughts went through my head at that point. The first was how wrong I had been and how long this would likely take. The second, I didn’t bring any food.
In fact, I hadn’t brought anything, no food, no water, no book, and no iPod. I had my hat. I was sorely unprepared for what would prove to be a very long wait.
Arrival of the Nurse
The nurse arrived around 7:30 a.m. for our section of the waiting room at which point there was a mad rush to line up. We quickly managed to lose our place near the front of the line to find ourselves closer to the middle of the men. As it turned out, the women and children lined up separately as they are for the most part seen before the men.
After checking in, Olivia settled back down beside me on the hard bench. I was very grateful for the fact that she had the foresight to bring a book with her. She read to me until she had to leave, at which time she left the book with me to keep passing the time.
Enter the Hawker
I have to say that of all places such as busses, subways, trains, parks, and somehow in restaurants where you are already eating, I have never been happier to see a hawker (a vendor of sorts) than in the hospital waiting room. We bought some tamales; I’m not the biggest fan of tamales, but hey, they were food. Then the chip and peanut lady came by and I got some of those as well.
Olivia was also kind enough to run out to the street and get a few other things to eat from the vendors that had finally opened up. The muffins were awesome.
The Good Doctor
It hadn’t occurred to me that my surgeon would be the one to see me and everyone waiting in the trauma area. As it turns out he spends the early morning seeing people in the ward, the late morning and early afternoon seeing follow-up patients and the late afternoon doing surgery (unless there is an emergency I assume).
I’m really just assuming this is how his day goes from when I saw the good doctor and the little Spanish I understood from the nurse. “No you can’t just show up at noon and expect to be seen, you have to get here in the morning” is more or less what I’m mostly confident she said.
It was shortly after noon (going on six hours since my arrival) when I finally got to see Dr. Pérez. He seemed to notice me immediately, though given I’m a 6’ tall white guy in a sea of Guatemalans I suppose it was impossible not to. Once I was finally called by the nurse things went fast, they cleaned up the dressings, made a new support for my leg and sent me on my way.
Returning to the Hospital – The Second Time
My follow-up a week later to get the stitches out ran a similar course. That time however I was prepared with food, water and other provisions, only to have the good luck of getting seen within just a few hours.
I still have to go back to get the pins removed that are still sticking out of my foot. The doctor has indicated that I will need to return daily for physiotherapy for a month in order to get back on my feet.
The thought of hours in the trauma room waiting for each daily physiotherapy session was just not going to work for me, so I’ve already found a private place to get the majority of my physio done and I’ll go see Dr. Pérez once every week or two if he’s okay with that arrangement. For about $15 a session I figure I’ll save 3-5 hours per day.
Living in Xela… on Crutches
Given the cobble stone roads, oddly placed telephone poles in the middle of uneven and sloped sidewalks, and a host of other obstacles, I guess I should have anticipated that recovering in Xela might not be as easy as I had hoped.
The stroll to the park and market I had once thoughtlessly carried out on a near daily basis was now the physical equivalent of going for a run sidelined by everyone in my company keeping a snail’s pace.
Getting groceries has been limited by how much I could carry in my backpack. Combining my limited mobility with my limited capacity has made meal planning difficult. I must again thank some of my friends for their assistance in this matter.
However overall, living in Xela has gone pretty smoothly. PLQ, the school I had been attending, has been more than accommodating in letting me continue to just hang out and learn on my own when so inclined as well as participate in many of the events.
Not that my case is special, as I’ve seen people at the school on a regular basis for months who’ve only studied a week or two. I’ve even started volunteering teaching English to a bunch of kids here; I use the word teaching very loosely. More on that in a future post.
One of the things that have helped me get by while living in Xela on crutches has been the hospitality of the locals. Cars and busses stop for me on the road like I’ve never experienced before, people clear the side walk and I’ve been offered help more times than I can count. I’ve tried to be as independent as possible, but there is just no getting around the fact that living in Xela on crutches is a pain in the butt.
This is part 2 of a 3 part series on emergency surgery and hospitals in Guatemala.