12am, Wed, 2 Feb 2011. La Paz
(Broken record alert!)
La Paz cares. Most places do too, but damn, today I’m feeling the love.
At home I’m accustomed to feeling like an insignificant citizen, a burden on an over-bloated system, one who cares-not for the medical needs of its people, offering timely aid only to those who feed the fat pig of a healthcare system with obscene “health insurance” payments, something I never seemed to be able to afford, or more accurately, a racket I could never debase myself to humor (as it seemed too much like paying-off the mafia for contrived security.)
(Okay, I think I got it out.. no wait, I’m going to talk about the US Embassy in a bit.) No, I never went to doctors, unless it was a clinic reservation that took anywhere from a week to five months to be seen (in the case of its dental department). Seeing a medical specialist of any kind, or even worse, getting a prescription (which inevitably came to pass after my usual five-minute once-over) was always a daunting, time-consuming, wallet-busting affair. Even just finding a doctor was nearly a mission impossible.
But in every other place I’ve visited, I’ve found the help I needed quickly, cheaply, and with 100% satisfaction. It continues to blow my mind to this day how accessible and fair health care is abroad.
Today I went out to see some ruins with my French friend Delphine, 72km out of the city. The poor girl got to see my rare turn of face, into a Mr. Hyde (I’m the grumpiest when under the weather!) My foot, which I’ve been trying to will back to health all week, was killing me, turning me sour, and into a rant-machine. My frustrated energy turned cynical mood actually spawned some fun philosophical musings on history, roles of men and women in traditional and modern life, and reflection on some cross-cultural relations here, ending on an uplifted note, especially since we terminated in a part of town where I resolved to find a medical clinic to squash this pain once and for all.
Traffic was grid-locked, so we hopped out at the Plaza Estudiantíl, bustling with rush-hour madness and hordes descending on the siamese cinemas for 2-for-1 Wednesday. Through the crowd I saw a sign for the medical clinic Don Bosco (adjoining the cinema), and walked right in. I paid 30 B’s ($4.29) for an appointment with the GP, and waited under the enormous portrait of my patron saint de jour, for just long enough to read a comic book (and finally elicit the practical help of WordLens, a real-time iPhone translator which uses the video camera to magically turn Spanish into English), until I was seen. She looked at my infection, poked it, went-in, and removed a BUG from my purple swollen foot! It hurt like hell but she did it quick, nice and clean, and I felt born again.
First two days worth of anti-inflammatory meds were on the house, and she advised that with the Dicloxacilin – hate that stuff, same I used as an anti-malarial in Asia – I shouldn’t drink soda, eat fried food, or drink booze for a week. This came as awesome news, as I’ve been falling into bad habits lately anyhow, and even though I reckon I’ll bypass the drugs, I’m going to keep the fast this week.
Another thing that’s been making a feeble man out of me since the weekend is a badly strained tendon in my upper-leg – too much dirty dancing with short Bolivian girls! She said I should see a physical therapist, promptly pulled out her mobile and texted one, and said I should go right over there. I called Ms. MónicaMosuso, and she said to be at her address 9pm sharp (wth?) I hopped onto a minibus to the stadium and, as directed, walked a good ways down the increasingly desolate avenue until, finally I came upon the brightly illuminated doorway of the Physiotherapy Clinic! A bubbly woman warmly welcomed me with a cheek-kiss and asked me to take off my pants. I had to ask first, how much? 30 B’s!! (another $4.29)
The next hour was an experience. After identifying where it hurts, she hooked-up 4 electrodes to my upper-leg and turned up the juice, which felt like a thousand ants dancing around the hotspots. Next, and for a long while, she performed ultra-sound therapy on the strained tendons, complete with the famously chilly lubricant. Finally, with an icy-hot liquid: massage. With all that and great conversation on top, I happily agreed to come in for the next couple days. Upon fishing through my backpack for a sweater, I found a package of Kuky, which immediately went into her hands, a sign of my extreme gratitude. Turns out she loves Kuky too, but who doesn’t!
(Funny shit alert!) At one point in conversation, when we were talking about how I love Bolivia, she asked “Has conquistado una Boliviana?” Who asks you point blank in a first professional meeting if you’ve had sex with the locals yet? Yes, I love Bolivia.
I glided home, up and down the beautiful hills across town, finally harnessing my day three whereabouts in La Paz. (It always takes me three days to settle-in to a city, when I can confidently navigate with an acquired sense of direction and principal geography/landmarks, and flow with the new current.) My foot and leg felt amazing, and so did I. It’s amazing how an imbalance (of any kind) can completely throw you off, and once it’s back, so are you.
So I decided (again) that I love the hell out of this city. I could really go on and on about it, but with only three weeks left on my visa, and a list which grows longer every day of stuff I need to cram-in, here in La Paz and beyond, all I know is it’s going to be whirl-wind and I’m going to be sad when it’s over. But does it really have to end? That’s what I keep wondering…