I had a big day planned yesterday: lunch and a movie in the city (Escazu, Costa Rica) with girlfriends. We may be seniors, but we’re still girls, right? But I begged off, due to a headache and upset tummy. The drive into the city involves a long, winding descent through the mountains. Not a trip to do queasy.
Sometime around noon, I decided on a tiny nap. Jack brought me out of my sleep with a cry of SHIT! SHIT!
“What’s the matter?” I asked. I figured he probably hurt himself with a tool: he’s a guy, and he has a lot of tools. Sometimes he hurts himself and cusses.
“I got stung by a wasp!” he said. This would make the second sting within a week. The first time, Jack picked up a gourd that had fallen from a tree out back. Out zipped a wasp and zapped him right above his eye.
He looked a mess for a few days, with seriously swollen eyes, but in a show of true manliness, wouldn’t even think of going to the doctor. I had to wrestle him to get him to take an allergy pill. But that was then.
Yesterday, he came into the house and announced he was taking a pill— of his own free will. Um, I said, drifting back to sleep. Then he yelled, “Myra! Are you awake?”
He’d checked his symptoms on the internet and thought he needed medical attention, so I called the doctor from the local clinic. She had given me her cell phone number– imagine that. She said, “Call 911.”
By this time, Jack was having serious difficulty breathing; the color had drained from his body entirely; he had broken out in hives; was soaked with sweat, and couldn’t even see: he was in anaphylactic shock.
Doctor Anna had said she’d call the ambulance for me when I told her I didn’t think I could articulate directions to our secluded house in Spanish. The problem here in rural Costa Rica is that there are no street names and no addresses: it’s all about landmarks.
When the ambulance arrived, about fifteen minutes later, I tried to tell the driver the whole story in my not-so-brilliant Spanish until he said, “Speak English!” He gave Jack a couple of shots, got him hooked up to an IV and told us, “that was really close.” Like we didn’t know it.
The ambulance drive was fraught with peril. A truck driver raced towards us in our lane around every blind curve. The possibility of rolling down the mountainside also occurred to us. I said, “It would be so unlucky to have an accident in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.” Jack agreed. We held each other’s hand in a death grip until we arrived.
It’s a new hospital, but small; nonetheless, a group of at least six medical staff waited for us at the door. They rushed Jack into the emergency room and sent me to give his ID to the secretary, who admitted him within minutes.
I hear lots of complaints about the Caja, the government health system here, but we’ve never had anything but the best care from dedicated doctors.
It turned out we were lucky. A half hour after we arrived, a busload of vomiting kids invaded the place. Nobody knew, for a while, what was wrong with them: bad cheese, it was later diagnosed.
We learned, when we searched Google, that Jack needs to wear a medical alert bracelet, and that he should always carry epinephrine. Where can we by it? Nowhere, it seems. Oh yeah, we can get a prescription and send it to Canada drugs, where each EpiPen costs seventy eight dollars. Or we can hope we’re close to a hospital next time.