Souvenir from Bluefields

The injury didn’t hurt like I thought it would. The pain came later when I was getting it stitched up in the Bluefields public hospital.

“How did this happen?” the doctor asked me in Spanish as he began jabbing my palm with a syringe, each stick hurting less than the one before. “Estuve jugando en el parque,” I replied in broken Spanish. “And I jumped to swing around a tree but didn’t see the nail sticking out.”

I had filleted my hand on that nail; I was amazed at seeing the white-striped red muscle tissue as I examined it on my way – by foot – to the hospital. It was about 9pm when I walked in clutching my wrist. The hospital staff were not surprised to see that kind of wound; everybody who lives on the coast has scars from being sliced, chopped or cut by something or another. Putting 20 stitches in a hand was a cakewalk.

I was brought to a 20 X 20 room curtained off like all the “rooms” in the hospital. There I met the doctor who had me sit on an blood-stained examination bench. He held out my hand and doused it with a bottled cleaning solution that stung like nothing I had felt before. It poured, tinted red, directly on the floor as a nurse without gloves mopped it up. I explained to him how it happened as he shot me with anesthetic. When I saw the sutures come out, I had to turn away and try to focus my attention on something else, anything else.

The hospital room looked like it was straight out of the cold war Eastern Bloc. It was sparse, and what it did have was antiquated and worn. There were oxygen bottles with chipped green paint in the corner. Some cabinets had doors that wouldn’t shut, others lacked doors altogether. Nobody wore masks and only the doctor wore gloves.

He was about 15 minutes into stitching when I felt the raw stick of the needle inside my hand. I gave a muffled shout and he shot me with more anesthetic. That happened about every 10 – 15 minutes and, an hour after I arrived, they sent me on my way. I had 12 stitches on the inside, eight on the outside, a pocket full of pills, a tetanus shot and a first-hand look at how the government-run health system works.

And I didn’t have to pay a dime.

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