13 August 2012

"Creo que tengo un brazo roto." (Segunda Parte)

I am using one of Ean's big pirate bandanas as a sling.  Under the sling, my arm is bare. Our extensive first aid kit, painstakingly prepared especially for our sail around the world, includes 14 assorted sizes of band-aids (some waterproof), three tubes of anti-bacterial ointment, and a half-roll of Tums, but stops short of really sophisticated medical equipment, like ACE bandages. 

It's been about 30 hours since the twist-crack (read about it in la primera parte); we are docked at Marina Santa Marta, and we've started the check-in process through Dino the agent.  It will take a few days to complete all the customs and immigration paperwork, but the very helpful and kind Dino tells us that we are unofficially cleared to enter Colombia.  Welcome to Santa Marta!  We avail ourselves, first, of a Colombian ATM.  And now, finally, we are ready to take care of our "emergency."  It is just before noon, and we take a taxi to La Clínica Prada, which we've been told is open on the weekend for las urgencias.

Between the curb and the front door, I trip over an uneven bit of sidewalk.  Ean, who has been awake for the past 30 hours, heroic in boat-handling, and a sympathetic and gentle care-taker, can only roll his eyes.  A young security guard opens the glass door for me and in I go, the walking wounded.  We are in a reception area with about 30 plastic chairs (half occupied), a television tuned to the news, and a counter behind a glass partition, where a woman watches my approach warily.  She has decided instantly that I am odd and out of place, and apparently this does NOT endear me to her.  "¡Hola!" I say brightly, and Ean, the only bald man in Santa Marta, gives her a big, sleep-deprived, manic smile.  The security guard and the woman exchange a glance.  He will keep an eye on us.

We have prepared for this moment by looking up Useful Phrases in our Berlitz book.  I try this one on the wary woman: "Creo que tengo un brazo roto." (I believe that I have a broken arm.)  She looks at me and my pirate bandana and my perfectly normal-looking arm and I'm pretty sure she thinks I'm full of crap.  She's probably too polite to tell me so, although of course she COULD tell me, and I wouldn't know to be offended.  When I can't understand her reply ("Lo siento, no hablo español.  ¿Hablas inglés?"), she is so done with me.  With hand motions, she invites us back into the clinic and then waves us away, down a long hallway. 

We wander down the hallway with no idea of what we are supposed to do.  Finally, a guy in a lab coat pauses long enough for me to accost him with: "Creo que tengo un brazo roto."  He, like Wary Woman, looks skeptical.  When he ascertains that we can't understand Spanish, he ushers us through a door at the end of the hallway, where a sign says, "VIP," plus some spanish words that we don't recognize.  We find ourselves in a smaller, more comfortable waiting room, with chairs for about ten people.  There are three children here, along with their assorted grown-ups.  The television is tuned to a show for kids, instead of the news.

Lab Coat Guy brings an English-speaking dude.  Hallelujah, because I don't want to have to say, "Creo que tengo..." one more time; I feel ridiculous and I'd really rather just go get an ice cream cone.  English-Speaker Dude has been enlisted to explain to us how "the -ahem- system" works. We tell him that we don't have insurance and intend to pay cash.  Thus we may gratefully wedge ourselves into "the system," which was not designed for the likes of us.  All I need to do is show my passport and a credit card to the intake clerk in the VIP waiting room.  The VIP Lady will enter all my "information" into the computer.  A minor hitch: we had just given our passports to Dino the agent.  And did we make copies of our passports before we handed them over, like experienced cruisers do?  Oh no we didn't.  But what are they going to do now?  Send me away with un brazo roto

VIP Lady is happy to take my drivers license in lieu of passport.  VIP Lady, I must say, seems a bit warmer than Wary Woman from the main entrance.  English-Speaker Dude explains that the clinic will put an initial "hold" of 500,000 pesos on my credit card, and then I will be charged after I receive treatment.  A bit less than $300 - está bien.  VIP Lady creates my record in the computer and leaves the waiting room with the credit card.  Uh... am I gonna get that back...?

We forget to worry about where the credit card has disappeared to, because now I am officially a patient (the computer tells them so!), and I get an exam.  I score another English-speaker - YES!  She is a young woman - I feel so old that I think of her as a "girl."  She asks me about allergies and medications and could I possibly be pregnant? and she takes my blood pressure.  All good.  FINALLY, she wants to see my arm, so I pull it out of Ean's pirate bandana and present it for inspection. 

Until this moment, all these people have been pleasant and helpful, but no one has actually believed me about my brazo being roto.  And I don't know if this sweet, smart woman is a doctor, a nurse, an orderly, or an air conditioning technician, but ye gods I am relieved that she recognizes a broken arm when she sees one.  First clue: when she tries to gently turn my forearm, I am no longer the smiling, grateful, and unfailingly polite patient she has come to know and love.  My yelp of pain is accompanied by what I would guess to be a SEVERE frowny face.  I have already discussed the "twisting" nature of the accident; now, if you want to twist my arm, you get what you get, right?  I don't actually need to explain this to her - she totally, instantaneously, gets the picture.  So she repositions my arm and her eyeballs in such a way that she can see the damage without any more of the twisting that would have been so unpleasant for EVERYONE.  And she sees the bump, which is about the size of... oh, let's say, a half of a kiwi.  But not one of your rounder, fatter kiwis.  Imagine a really long, elliptical, even slightly skinny kiwi.  Cut it in half, length-wise, and stick one of those halves, in your mind's eye of course, to the outside of my arm, starting at the wrist bone.  That's what the bump looks like.  She doesn't actually say it, but her expression telegraphs it: well, duh, THAT'S broken.  Next stop: la radiografía.

Ean makes friends in the waiting room
I wait with Ean for a few minutes, who is now alone in the waiting room and completely mesmerized by an animated children's show with a moose, a bird, and a hippo, who are singing and dancing.  He's forgotten why we're here.  Then Lab Coat Guy escorts me to radiology and introduces me to X-ray Guy.  Not a word of English, but he shows me what to do.  For the flat-on-the-table view, I am a shiny happy patient, but X-ray Guy receives a big frowny face when he turns my arm sideways.  He takes it in stride, and the job is done in a flash.  In the United States, lab technicians generally don't share their interpretations with patients.  But here at  La Clínica Prada, X-ray Guy develops the film, holds it up to his desk lamp, and says - I swear this is true! - "Yep."  Translation: SO broken.

Clutching the X-ray envelope in my good hand, I wander back down towards the VIP waiting room.  Exam Girl meets me on my way back.  Of course, she already knows my arm is broken (duh), but we return to the exam room, where she pulls the film out to show me la fractura.  Then we return to the waiting room, where we eventually manage to snap Ean out of his trio-of-dancing-animals trance.  ("They have costume changes!" he reports deliriously.)  After Ean gets his chance to see la fractura, Exam Girl explains that she will contact the on-call orthopedist, who will set my arm in el yeso.  While we wait for the doctor, she will immobilize my arm with a temporary wrap (like, an ACE bandage, perhaps?)

There is a special treatment room for patients who have sprained or fractured appendages.  I share the room with a cheerful, friendly lady who apparently has sprained her ankle.  Must be just a sprain, because she isn't getting a big bright yeso: just a wrap, which looks suspiciously like an ACE bandage.  Cheerful Chatty attempts to talk with me when Exam Girl steps out of the room.  No joy.  We exchange some sympathetic smiles and hand motions, and then she starts laughing with the couple of medical professionals who are tending to her foot.  I'm sure she is laughing AT ME.  She is saying that I am such an idiot for visiting Colombia without being able to speak Spanish, and that I certainly do look like a big clumsy fool....  Oh wait.  That's not Cheerful Chatty's voice: it's the voice in my head.  I can tell because the voice is speaking English.

Exam Girl returns with good news: the orthopedist will be here very soon, so there is no need for a temporary wrap.  A few more minutes of waiting, and the Bone Doctor arrives, wearing a golf shirt and jeans and looking relaxed, in spite of the minor problem with which he has been presented.  (That would be me.)  Another minute and he is mixing plaster and warm water in a big bowl.  He studies the X-ray as he squeezes white goo through his fingers.  Thankfully, my ulna, albeit cracked, is still straight and true, not poking out in any inappropriate directions.  Thus, there will be no real "setting" of the bone, only wrapping and molding, which takes about ten minutes.  Bone Doctor only gets one frowny face from me, which he totally ignores, and he doesn't speak English, except, "Four weeks."  Cuatro semanas, I confirm.  "Yes.  Four weeks."

An orderly cleans me up and steers me out... wait, I'm not supposed to be in the big waiting room!  I'm supposed to go to the VIP room!  Where's Ean?  But my escort is putting some official-looking papers in my hand, and he motions that I should give them to... guess who? 

Oh dear.  My care is unceremoniously transferred into the hands of Wary Woman, who is apparently the clinic's only money-handler.  She flips through my paperwork, and I notice my credit card on the other side of the glass partition, lined up with a half-dozen others.  As I wait, it occurs to me that she doesn't seem quite so cold, anymore.  She's got my treatment record, and she sees the big cast.  I guess she is revising her opinion of me: still odd, maybe, but clearly not out of place.  I had, indeed, come to the right place. 

She starts tapping away at her keyboard, completing the invoicing process, but then she glances up at me.  Maybe I look a little worn out.  She points to the chairs: "¡Siéntate!"  She smiles, just barely.

Meanwhile, my old amigo Lab Coat Guy has brought Ean to meet me.  We sit for a few minutes before Wary Woman waves at us.  Honestly, she doesn't look even remotely wary, at this point.  She shows us the final bill before she runs the card - 528,000 pesos.   Está bien.  When she pulls the credit card receipt off the machine, I start to lift my big heavy cast up to the counter, but she shoos me away and hands the slip to Ean.  He should sign for me.  She seems to be smiling sympathetically now.  GraciasMuchas gracias.

The security guard opens the door for us, he's smiling too! - and out I go. It is about 3 o'clock.  Three hours, three hundred bucks: we've bought our first Santa Marta souvenir.  It is a souvenir that I will be thrilled to throw away, but the story is mine to keep forever.  More learning opportunities, for the benefit of Team Joy.


  1. I loved the great description AND the xrays!!! LC

  2. I loved the great description AND the xrays!LC

  3. So can Ean just cut this damn thing off, when the time comes?

  4. Good luck with that Jane... It looked like he put the plaster on WAY thick- what on earth is Ean going to cut it with???

  5. Good luck with that Jane... It looks like Columbian golf shirt doctor put the plaster on THICK! How is Ean supposed to cut that off and not get your arm? :)

  6. After EXTENSIVE research on the internet (so how could I possibly go wrong?), the new plan is to soak the cast off in a solution of warm water and vinegar. I'm supposed to "score" the plaster to help the water soak in (like with a box cutter or utility knife), and then unwrap and or cut with kitchen shears. What do you think? :-O

  7. And I totally wish I would have named him Golf Shirt Doctor instead of Bone Doctor. WAY better.

  8. Hey Janie! Your anecdotes of trying to navigate in a foreign culture in a foreign language are so freaking familiar...

    I hate being the 'dumb' foreigner. Learning a new language and a new culture can be so humiliating sometimes--you just want to scream "I know what I am talking about in MY language, buddy!" He he...

    Anyway, hope it is healing well and we did find tin snips to be helpful in cast removal (broke my arm right before a move from Reno, NV, back to San Diego and sure as heck wasn't going to pay a doctor visit for cast removal. Wasn't in the budget!!!) Didn't soak it but I'm sure that would work, too.

    Love to you and Ean!