Facing mortality – life on the road with all the dangers of living Part 1

It really all started in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

A collapse, fainting on the way to the bathroom after being unable to catch my breath.

Left leg was really giving me some pain.

Went to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, and just could not shake the pain in the leg. Took pain killers, and took some anti-swelling medicine, to no avail.

Walked about 3 blocks to town, and that exhausted me.

I thought it might have something to do with the environment I was in, so I took off to south Costa Rica.

Could not find a cheap place to hang out at, and went on to Panama.

Staying at the Hostal Panama, and one of the guys stated my left leg looked swollen.

That was the kicker to get me to go to the doctor. My brother had urged it, my father had urged it. I figured if it was that easy to spot, there was something wrong.

I went to a local clinic, and the Doc confirmed that I needed to see a specialist. Since I had no insurance, she directed me to Santo Thomas Hospital. the local “go to” hospital for those that are poor. (Yupper, I am one of those, for sure)

Not speaking Spanish all that great, I finally navigated the entry hurdles, and got in line to visit a doctor.

This all started about 9AM, and arrival at Santo Thomas was around noon.

A veritable jungle, it was. Crooks in chained restraints, local indigent people waiting to see a doctor about their ailments, plus all the other local “normal” people who were waiting.

People came and went – I could not figure out why I was not being seen

There was not much concern about the wait time by any of the hospital people. I had my paperwork in the inbox, and I would be seen when I was seen.

About 4PM, enough was enough. People had come in after me and been seen, and left. I was still waiting with no idea of what was going on.

Amazing what happens when you just hang around and annoy the staff – within 30 minutes they called me to see the doctor.

Not much examining – they already knew from the note from my visit with the clinical doctor what my condition was – so, it was 5 tests written up within 5 minutes.

Once I paid, ($109), off to the visits to the sonograms and x-ray rooms.

Did the sonograms and the verdict was I had a blood clot the upper part of my leg. Not what I wanted to hear!

Did the x-ray, and blood tests, and back to the doctor’s office we went.

He told me to wait outside, and he would page me. This was about 5:45 PM.

At about 6:45, I went into the “consultation” area where this doctor was supposed to be, and no one was in the office!

Lady walks in, I ask about the doctor, she tells me I need to leave.

Trying to speak softly about how this doctor was supposed to page me, and what the heck is going on. She does not know, but I need to get out of this doctors office.

I still hang around the office, but outside. Another woman comes by, and I try to talk to her. To no avail!

I’ve got a fricken blood clot in my leg, and I do not know where this stupid doctor is!

Finally, the last woman tells me to come in, and says I need to enter the hospital – DUH!

So where’s this doctor? 6PM. he leaves.

Well, shucks, he just leaves me hanging?

Anywho, what do we do about me getting into the hospital?

See this doctor here – Dr. Hepburn – vascular specialist. She speaks English too! Thank you Lord!

She tells me I need to get in right away.

Well, what am I going to do with my car, I have to let the people at the hostel know that I will not be staying there tonight. I’ve not planned to go directly into the hospital.

She is emphatic – you need to enter and stay in the hospital.

OK – I say – let me take care of a few things, and I will be back in about 2 hours.

“I will not be here”, Dr. Hepburn replies. See this doctor here.

He immediately tells me he speaks no English.

OK fine, whatever. I have to do some thinking and some arranging, I will be back.

Back to the hostel – no charge for giving a late notice that I will not be staying the night at the hostel – go to the hospital, and get well, they tell me.

Great. Can I leave the car here?

Nope – sorry, have to keep it open – they have one parking spot.

Ok, no probs, I’ll figure something out.

Hop back into the car, go back to the hospital. Look around – no bloody parking!

Wait – what it this beside the hospital – looks like very limited parking, and there is a spot. What the heck – better to ask for forgiveness than permission. I park the car where the doctors park – oooops.

Go back in, get admitted, and they want to start me on an IV of heparin. Go into a room, where this nurse is setting about a dozen people up with IV’s.

Same as in the waiting room, people who come in after me are getting their IV’s, and I am like a bump a log.

Walk over to the paper work that is laying on the counter. Someone set my paperwork aside.

I bring this to the attention of the nurse – of course broken Spanish, English and lots of hand gestures. Finally get the message across – get the IV of Heparin.

So, I am sitting there, thinking my life is on the line – blood clot in the leg, could break loose and get to my heart and/or lungs, and I am in emergency shut down – close to, if not dead. What a way to be when traveling!

Orderly comes in, motions to me to follow her.

Says I’m supposed to change out of my clothes and into a hospital gown. I look at this IV running into my arm, wondering how I am going to get my shirt off.

While I am assessing the situation, she is in a big hurry to get me to change. In the hallway, with all sorts of foot traffic!

So, I start undressing. A look of shock comes over her face. Alto!

Motions to a bathroom in a room, and I figure this is where I’m supposed to undress and get into this hospital gown with checkered shorts! Cool – a new fashion statement from The Big Mozey!

Get my shirt off in the bathroom, run my sleeve around the IV, and work my way into the hospital get up.

Back to a gurney, and we are off to the hospital ward.

I am taken up to the 3rd floor and put into a room with 6 other men.

It is now about midnight. No lunch or dinner, I am exhausted and I lay down hooked to this IV full of Heparin.

This is the beginning of the “Twilight Zone” of my travels.

Not supposed to unhook from the IV, attached to a machine that regulates the flow of the medication. No bedpan, nothing to relieve myself in. Do I just go to the bathroom on the bed and on myself, and then they clean up later?

Do come back for the “Rest of the story!”

Cheers for now.

About John Wilson

Traveler, writer and photographer. No home now, just traveling the world in search of the lost chord.
This entry was posted in Facing mortality - life on the road with all the dangers of living Part 1, Panama - the country, people and pictures and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Facing mortality – life on the road with all the dangers of living Part 1

  1. Oh my gosh John I can’t believe this is happening! I also can’t believe you left the hospital before getting treatment. I think I would have been so freaked out by the clot in my leg that I would have somehow paid the fee. I am hoping in your next edition you end up being fine!

  2. Silverboom says:

    A good tale…a good place to make the break. Hope this ends well!!!

  3. Wow, what a story John! Hate that all this happened to you but a fascinating read. Obviously, you are OK because 1) you wrote this after it happened and 2) there will be a part two! :) However, still an frustrating and scary experience. Can’t wait to read the next part!

  4. Tree says:

    Hang in there buddy!

  5. What a cliffhanger, John. Assume you are alright since you are writing and your sense of humor has not departed. Best of luck!

  6. Terry says:

    Well, that’s a side of Costa Rica we don’t usually hear about. Good luck with your recovery.

  7. John Wilson says:

    Yeah Terry,
    It is usually about fun and games, sites and people.
    Reality hits hard when you’re 59.
    Just a note – this is happening in Panama City, Panama,
    The problem started in Costa Rica, trying to take care of the problem in Panama.
    Thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment.
    John D. Wilson

  8. Sometimes it’s just hard to determine when you “really” need to see the doctor vs you “should” see a doctor! Glad you went to see the doc in time! Stay strong John! Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

  9. Mack Reynolds says:

    wow, pretty suspenseful. good story telling. i wonder why the people were so apathetic and lethargic about helping you out. do you think it was because you were a foreigner, or some other reason you can’t be sure of?

  10. senaf says:

    John,..I am reading backwards..I read part 3 first and now here I am in Part 1 and understanding alot more on what happened to you. This is the part of travel no one wants to happen to them or even in our minds, BUT it is a part of travel that can happen to anyone. Most of the things you stated even happens here in the states, but knowing where you are does not help the fact that no relative can really visit you unless they make their way to Panama and come to see you. The fact that you are writing this blog in 3 parts sofar makes us all concerned but also know that you are ok. Looking forward in seeing Part 4 where you tell us all that you are back home. Let us know how you are doing!!

  11. John Wilson says:

    Thanks Senaf,
    I do appreciate you following and taking the time to post a comment.
    Truly an uplifting feeling knowing people who I have never met care enough to post concerns and prayers for me.
    Thank you much.
    John D. Wilson

  12. John Wilson says:

    I think it has to do with the class of people that they deal with.
    Similar to those in the USA who deal with poor people.
    Assembly line type of feelings towards the patients – move the cattle about, do not get involved with the patients.
    The doctors are doing them a favor by seeing and treating them.
    Such are the hassles of not having the money for better treatment.
    John D. Wilson

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