Visiting a Colombian Hospital

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We don’t have any pictures of this experience, and you wouldn’t want them anyway. Instead, here’s a nice picture of Cartagena.

It’s a great injustice to the world that we made it all the way to Cartagena and our first post is about visiting the hospital. But on day 3 of our Cartagena adventure, we got the most wicked food poisoning that either of us have ever had. I’ll spare you the gory details, but the standard symptoms were accompanied by joint pain and rash, which worried us a bit because these symptoms overlap with Chikungaya, Dengue, and Zika, a trio of mosquito-borne viruses in the family Flaviviridae. After consulting a friend who’s a doctor-in-training (HI ADRIAN!), we decided it would be safest to go to the hospital and took a taxi to Hospital Universitario de Cartagena. We learned the following fun facts about Colombian hospitals:

  • Public ones treat anyone and everyone for free, for 24 hours. If you choose to stay longer you start incurring costs, but that first 24 hours is free no matter who you are.
  • The facilities in urgent care were shabby. There were almost enough chairs and beds, but some people still lay on the floor or sat on the ground in some places. There was a toilet with no seat, and no running sink water nor drinking water in our waiting room. This likely led to the next revelation, which was…
  • Their solution to everything is an IV of saline. Yes, it made sense in our case, since we were probably dehydrated from vomiting and diarrhea. It probably also made sense for other people who had fevers. But a girl with a broken arm? IV. Or the guy with an open leg wound? IV. Or even the guy who was almost decidedly mentally ill and homeless? IV of saline was what the doctor ordered. Every time.
  • Once you check in, you’re a patient there until they allow you to leave. We may not have understood this one correctly, but once we checked in and they drew blood for tests, we were told by the guard we couldn’t leave until we were cleared to by the doctor. The doctor was waiting for our test results. Those ended up taking 6 hours.

Despite everything the doctors and nurses were wonderful and listened to us stumble through our symptoms with broken Spanish. After IVs—alright, full disclosure here, they failed to peg me twice with an IV and after that I was done—and waiting for test results, the doctor came by to let us know we were suffering most likely from food poisoning  and not some mosquito-borne virus, gave us prescriptions, and sent us on our way. It was exhausting, but we had answers. And even though we have travel medical insurance, it was still a huge relief to know that we wouldn’t have to worry about some kind of medical bill. Thank you, Colombian medical system. You did a great job.

– Natalie

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