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I'll See Your Amoebas, and Raise You a Bacterial Infection

In the "Cult of Escapism": I'll See Your Amoebas, and Raise You a Bacterial Infection

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I'll See Your Amoebas, and Raise You a Bacterial Infection

The nurse pushes my wheelchair past the waiting room and I self-consciously adjust my hospital gown to cover my shoulder.  A fellow Peace Corps volunteer sits in line and as I roll past, he looks at me, looks at the wheelchair, and then cracks up.

“What the hell happened to you, man?”

For the past ten days or so, I’ve been coughing like a lifelong chain smoker and spitting up yellow phlegm.  While I might normally consider this a bad sign and get it checked out, I kept comparing it to the wide spectrum of exotic illnesses that Peace Corps volunteers (PCV’s) contract and decided that since I didn’t have dengue fever or stomach parasites, I wasn’t actually sick. 

Before I go on, I should say that in my site the weather is extremely humid, everyone cooks on an open fire and burns trash in their backyards, all of which flows directly into anywhere your face happens to be.  And I’m coughing?  That’s weird. 

Monday, I was supposed to do a five hour hike up and down mountains with the ex-president of the coffee group to visit a neighboring town and meet more members.  Sunday afternoon, I got to the top of my little mountain and almost fell over I was coughing so hard and for the second night in a row, I had trouble sleeping.  I figured it might be best to skip the strenuous hike and see a doctor instead. 
Fellow volunteer and site-mate Laura had a cough last week that turned into bronchitis; she went to the clinic in the city, got some pills and was on her way.  I figured I was in for something similar so I packed my laptop and some money, with a leisurely city day in mind – after a quick hospital visit of course.

Four hours after arriving in the hospital, I presented my x-rays and blood tests to the doctor.  Glancing at my watch, I was thinking more about what time the post office closed and whether or not I could still get matinee price at the theater.  But instead of handing me antibiotics and pointing to the door, the doctor handed me nothing and pointed me to a nurse, who escorted me to a room and needled my hand into an IV machine. 

I hate needles.  And I hate being kept overnight in hospitals.  I protested all I could, asking if I could just go out and grab some dinner, maybe a book from the nearby hostel (PCV’s have a little book dump there, which I was planning on perusing after my brief hospital visit).  Instead, the nurse turned on the TV, fixed a breathing machine to the front of my face, and left the room.  The TV was set to a music channel, which was playing the new Creed song.  I laughed out loud. 

However, I got extremely lucky in that the hospital has cable, which has ESPN, which had Monday Night Football, which featured the Patriots against the Jets, which is my favorite team against my least favorite – and the Pats beat the snot out of them.  I’ve also been able to watch movies, which is something I miss a lot.  I’m also able to write this blog post, though I wouldn’t recommend anyone do the same with a needle in their hand.

It turns out, I had severe bronchitis in my lower chest – i.e. a bacterial infection.  It is now day two in the hospital and I have been waiting for a doctor to come give me the ok to leave.  The problem is that Peace Corps sends all of its regional volunteers to this hospital and foots the bill, with minimal questions asked.  As a result, the hospital tends to over-test us and loves to insist that we stay the night.  

Classic example - I had a friend who threw up 30 times in 12 hours and the hospital insisted that he get a stomach x-ray; he tried to remind them that x-rays are generally used to look at bones but they did it anyway.  The x-ray revealed nothing but other tests showed that he had worms.  That’s weird. 

About 20 minutes ago, the nurse wanted me to take some follow up x-rays of my head (despite the hard evidence from the day before that the infection is in my lower right chest) and came into the room with a wheelchair.  I looked at it, looked at her, and laughed out loud.

“I can walk, you know.”

“Yes, but you should sit in the chair, it will be more comfortable.”

With a huge smile on my face, I adjusted my gown, sat in the wheelchair, and then adjusted my gown some more.  She saw me adjusting my, ahem, lower regions of the gown and folded my bed sheet and laid it over my legs.  I laughed again and shook my head as we exited the room.

En route, I saw a fellow PCV in the lobby.  I had seen him the week before at our Thanksgiving get together and he laughed before even saying anything and we had a quick conversation, him leading with classic volunteer to volunteer encouragement.   

“You look like shit!”

I laughed.  “I have bronchitis but they’re treating me like a paraplegic.  I didn’t even know bronchitis necessitated a hospital stay!  What’s up with you?”

“Yeah, they just want the money.” He said as he rubbed his fingers together. Then he shrugged, “I probably have amoebas.” 

I nodded understandingly and we exchanged well wishings as I was rolled away. 

The experience here has made me reflect on two interesting aspects of Peace Corps life, one being our fantastic medical coverage, which requires us to simply show an ID and sign a form.  And while the hospitals exploit the little things, the unquestioning support of the office no doubt prevents a lot of illnesses from getting worse, if not out of hand. 

I am one who generally lets things draw out too long, hoping they will take care of themselves.  Part of this is my loathing for waiting rooms and needles and the general atmosphere of hospitals but I also stress the paperwork and the parade of bills that follows each visit.  With this medical coverage though, the stresses are lessened and the cost simply isn’t a factor, which makes it a lot easier to motivate yourself to the clinic.

Secondly, I have been thinking about PCV’s general attitudes towards sickness.  Like my conversation in the waiting room, saying something like, “I have worms!” or “A fly borrowed a hole into my skin and has been nesting there for weeks!*” just simply doesn’t have the same punch that it does in the States.  Yes, those things are bad, but we all go through them eventually and have become adept at looking at them as something to laugh about.  Who knows, maybe a year and half from now, I will return to the hospital and find a fellow PCV in the waiting room and have the following conversation:
“Hey man!  What are you in for?  I have fungus growing behind my ears and a twelve inch parasite lunching on my lower intestine!”

“Yeah parasites are rugged man, had em’ last year… A squirrel laid eggs in my nasal cavity and produced two flesh-eating babies, which have been chomping on my brain stem and I have this four foot sharpened stick impaling my shoulder.  You want to catch a matinee after this, maybe get some pizza?  I haven’t had pizza in months…”

Note – since almost exclusively family and friends read this blog, I feel it is necessary to say that while I wrote this from the hospital, I am posting it from a hostel in the city and am feeling better and am heavily armed with antibiotics.  Also, I will be setting two more blog posts to go up in the next few days, so be ready.  

*I’m not making this up and surprisingly, this doesn’t necessitate a hospital visit, just a piece of duct tape and a pair of tweezers (the duct tape suffocates the fly, causing it to come out for air, at which point you grab it).  It’s called a bot fly.  


At November 15, 2012 at 11:04 AM , Blogger bama said...

Well, it is now 2012. We have Obama care which should be a single payor plan instead, thus making medical experiences less stressful for everyone. And I assume in the long run everyone stays less stressed and healthier, resulting in less spent on medical care in the long run. Not meaning to be political but . . .


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