On Sunday night, Rachel returned from a weekend trip to the coast, complaining of diarrhea. She stayed home Monday. That night, I was awakened at around midnight by Rachel banging on the host family’s door. I got up to see, and found Rachel in pain. Thomas and I dressed quickly and decided that she needed to go to hospital. There are several in the area – a huge public one about 2 miles away , and several smaller private ones. We went to the cheaper of the two private ones, which was only 5 minutes walk down the road. We supported Rachel as we walked.
We knocked at the door and were let in at once. A young Guatemalan doctor was on duty and within a few minutes we were ushered into an examination room. He invited us to stay while he examined her, probably in the interests of propriety. I was able to figure out much of the conversation. The room was spotless, and seemed like a typical US hospital examination room. He asked her all the right questions – any blood in stool, where was the pain etc, and took her temperature and blood pressure. He than said that he did not want to give her drugs until he had examined her stool and blood. He also wanted her to stay the night. So we all traipsed off to a very nice private room – comfy bed, chairs, with TV and drip ready. Two nurses came and administered the drip. We then left, getting home about 130 am.
Thomas picked her the next morning. She was a new woman. They had found a type of parasite in her blood, and had given her suitable drugs. We were all pleased to see her restored to health. The total cost of the visit and drugs? 1300 Quetzales, or about $190. She paid this herself.
This of course provided an interesting topic for discussion at dinner time the next day. Thomas told us that the previous month, he had suffered serious heart pains, and had been taken to the public hospital (since they could not afford the private one). He had spent a week there. During this time he had had oxygen administered, electrocardiograms, and numerous other tests. They had given him drugs and discharged him when he had recovered. He seems fine now. The total cost? Zero.
A view of the public hospital, which I visited on one of my walks early one morning. The green and white banners are for some type of celebration. Tomas says the lines can get long, but usually move quickly ones the doors open. Each person gets a number when he-she arrives. Emergencies enter immediately via a side gate.
Apparently, anyone in Guatemala can get free medical treatment. Tomas says that emergencies are handled immediately, but that other visits usually require waiting in line for several hours. I don’t know if one can make an appointment. There are also private hospitals, like the one Rachel went to, which are better equipped but are mostly for Los Ricos (the rich) and foreigners. At these one can make appointments.
Interestingly, medical treatment appears to be free at public hospitals even for visitors. Tomas recounted a story of one visitor who fell and injured her arm. They took her to the public hospital, where they X-rayed and bound up her arm. It was found to be fractured. She decided to fly back to the US for treatment, but I suspect they would have fixed her just fine down here. She paid nothing.
Juan and I described the cost of medical services in the USA, and the fact that more than 40 million people (including 8 million so kids) have no health insurance. Juan added that the very poor could usually get treated for free in an emergency, but that many people who were not destitute but who did not qualify for insurance through their work, could be bankrupted by a stay such as Tomas had. Juan estimated a stay such as Tomas’s would cost USD 30,000 to 50,000 – seems too large an estimate to me, but I don’t really know.
I described a young couple whom I know (no names). Both work but neither gets insurance though their companies. The cost to buy this on their own is $800 per month, which they can’t afford right now but are hoping to be able to early next year. For some time, she has had a lump in her breast. She has not dared have it examined before they get insurance, because if it is malignant, it will become a pre-existing condition and the insurance company won’t accept them. In the meantime, they are hoping it is benign.
I added that several years ago, a friend of ours died of breast cancer. It is a major killer of (mostly) poorer women in the USA, largely because they leave it too late to be treated.
Juan and I found it hard to explain how the richest country in the world could not afford to provide the same basic level of health care to all its citizens as could poor Guatemala. I also explained that the USA has the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world – nearly 3 times that of Japan. According to UNICEF, the US rate is about the same as in Cuba and Croatia.
Tomas and Rachel were amazed. Tomas said , No es Justo – It is not fair. He added that basic health care should be Un Derecho Humano, or a human right.
Maybe Michael Moore had it right, when he said, in the closing scenes of the movie Sicko, that the USA needs to change from a ‘Me’ generation to a ‘We’ generation.