It started innocently enough with a couple of blisters I noticed on my foot after diving in Utila, Honduras. They seemed to be healing up fine, but a few days later I got
another bum pair of fins, and my blisters opened up again. Coincidentally, that night I got caught in the rain, and lost in a swampy area while walking to dinner with some friends. We had to ford some nasty puddles, and I think that’s when things started going down hill. A few days later, I was ready to leave Utila, I wore shoes, rather than flip flops and had a long walk to catch the ferry. By the time I reached my destination, Leon, Nicaragua, 15 hours later, my foot was swollen and painful. I knew it was bad.
So I self medicated for a day and when there was minimal improvement, I went to the pharmacy. In Central America, pharmacies can dispense some drugs without a Rx. So the pharmacists sold me some ciprofloxacin. I mentioned that I’d had an allergic reaction to the drug 10 years ago, but the pharmacist said it would be fine, since it was so long ago.
It wasn’t. All evening I could feel myself breaking out in hives and my breathing getting labored. I stopped the drugs, and in the morning went back to the pharmacy to see if I could get something else. They took one look at me and sent me to the doctor. An hour later I was in a hospital bed for a few days in a Leon Hospital.
It was a very different experience than any hospitalization I’d had in the US. Here’s how it went.
A Few Days in a Leon Hospital
I walked into the reception of the hospital and the receptionist asked what was wrong. I told her I had an infection on my toe and she said. “You have a rash too”. I told her it was from the antibiotics I took the night before and she immediately got up and led me back to a doctor, who immediately checked me out. That has definitely never happened in the US, even with an appointment, which I didn’t have!
He looked at my toe and looked at my rash and told me I would need at least 3 days in
the hospital, that both the allergic reaction and the infection were bad and I needed to be monitored. This was all happening in Spanish, and I started freaking out. I kept saying “No no no, what? I don’t understand” not because I didn’t understand the words, but how this could happen. But they thought I couldn’t understand the Spanish so they went to find an English speaking doctor, who relayed the information all over again. They told me to get my bags, check out of the hotel and head to the hospital ASAP. Within an hour I was checked out of my hotel
and back at the hospital. The receptionist saw me and immediately got up and took me upstairs to the private wing of the hospital. She told the nurses “this girl needs a private room”. And I was immediately taken to one. It had cable TV (Spanish and English), two beds (one for a friend who was welcome to stay and keep me company – for free) a private bathroom, area for my luggage, a comfy wooden rocking chair and two guest chairs. Sweet!
I should mention that I signed nothing, filled out no paperwork and answered almost no questions – not even a medical history! At some point after I was hooked up to an IV, someone asked me my name (no one asked to see my passport) and a doctor came in and asked me to e-mail my insurance company so he could bill them directly. Easy.
So here I sit for a few days in a Leon Hospital. It’s comfy, the food is good (although not a lot and there’s no where to buy snacks!) and I’m bored out of my mind. I am sadly missing my chance to see Carnival this year and I won’t be able to travel until Thursday since Ash Wednesday is a national holiday here. But on the upside, my foot is healing up nicely and hopefully I’ll be out soon.
As for the care I’m receiving, it is a little more casual than in the states, where the nurses seem to have everything under control and can get an IV port into my vein in under 3 seconds (vs. 5-10 minutes here in Nicaragua). But everyone is friendly and helpful and I have two doctors, that visit regularly! For something reasonably minor, I do feel like I get good care, but it worries me that there was no medical history taken – AT ALL. I have several allergies to meds, and came in with an allergic reaction to medication . . . shouldn’t someone ask? I might get a medical bracelet in Spanish that has my allergies to medicine and perhaps some medical history on it just to make myself feel better. Maybe they’ll read it?
Stay tuned for my next installment and the big reveal . . . how much does 4 days in a Nicaraguan hospital cost!