Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The trouble began in Belize

A couple of weeks ago, we took this speed boat /water taxi from Puerto Barrios, Guatemala to Punta Gorda, Belize. The trip took a little over an hour and thankfully, we had perfect weather and very smooth seas. It was so great to be back on the Caribbean again and smell that salt air. Punta Gorda is not a tourist area of Belize. The shoreline is lined with mangroves and there are no sand beaches.

But, our little 3-day "vacation" to simply re-set our Guatemalan tourist visas (they were expiring after 90 days) didn't go as planned (do things ever?). That first evening, I had a very painful gallbladder attack and ended up in the local, rural hospital. All they could do for me was to give me pain meds, antibiotics, and who knows what else - 8 injections in the rump!

Eventually, they put me into a sleepy/drowsy state as the pain meds weren't strong enough, and admitted me for observation for the night. The "Female Ward" as it was called was painted in a tropical pink color and had 8 rather narrow beds with crisp white linens. No air conditioning, but it is right at the waterfront of the Caribbean sea so the breezes came in the large open windows. Plus they had lots of fans rotating around the room. Seriously, I thought it was perfect at the time and blissfully snoozed away (OK, maybe it was the drugs).

All the nurses are Creole and speak a Creole language to each other, and a pidgeon English to me. My doctor was from Nigeria and spoke English and he was so calm and kind. The whole atmosphere was very Caribbean - no hurries, no worries, tranquil.

Breakfast in the morning was soda crackers, room temperature vienna sausages and hot water with sugar in it. I was told it was my "special diet". The other 2 patients also got scrambled eggs and large fruit smoothies. I can't eat the crackers (wheat kills), so I managed 1 vienna sausage and you know what? The hot sugar water actually tasted good after an evening of vomiting and pain.

The morning "shower" was interesting...a nice orderly put some warm water in a galvanized steel bucket in a bathtub. Nobody told me what to do, but I'd seen women bathing in the rural villages, so I knew that I was to squat, use the plastic bowl to scoop up water and pour it over me. Actualy, it felt very, very nice after a rough night.

Jonesy had brought my "things" - towel, soap, toothbrush, comb, sleepy clothes (and knitting what a sweetheart! but my brain was too garbled) as he was told to do this by the doctor. Later, they gave me all 4 of my prescriptions filled in little bags with hand-written instructions. We paid the bill ($7 US total with the most expensive items being the blood & urine testing) and left to go back to the hotel and recover. I slept for 48 more hours straight. Only waking up enough to drink water & fruit juice as ordered by Jonesy and take meds.

So, the doctor told us that I needed "an operation" but first I needed an ultrasound to be sure. All I can say, it hurt like childbirth labor only high up under by rib cage and there was no prize in the end.

We stayed at the funky & arty Sea Front Inn pictured here with the sea behind me. The doors to the rooms were painted with colorful pictures of the animal the room was named after. Each room at the inn is named, rather than numbered - we were in the Angel Fish room. The continental breakfast was waiting for us each morning upstairs in the dining area. So on our tray was a painted wood tag with that name on it. Yes, this inn faces the sea and we ate our breakfasts with the warm breezes coming in the open windows. Very nice.

But, the best thing about Punta Gorda? The Cotton Tree Organic CHOCOLATE - real, made on the spot organic locally grown cocoa bean chocolate. We watched as they fed the beans into a grinder and saw the long rope of pure chocolate come out the other end. Not a fancy operation or building by any stretch of the imagination, but just pure chocolately heaven indeed.

After our mandatory 72-hours out of the country of Guatemala, we returned to our boat. Immediately, we were supplied with references for English-speaking doctors and suggestions of the best hospitals in Guatemala City. So, 2 days later we took the 6-hour bus ride up to the big city and met our new doctors in the Emergency Room of the unversity hospital. I was probed, questioned, and scanned all in the first hour and sent to a room to stay overnight. Laparoscopic surgery was scheduled for the next morning. FAST!

Total cost was US $5000 - for 3 nights/4 days in this upscale and modern hospital. This cost included the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and primary care doctor fees, all tests, medications and follow-up care. It was one of my best hospital experiences with all others being in the United States. I was pampered by the nursing staff who were always cheerful and unhurried. The food was perfect; fresh vegetables, fruit juices and all absolutely gluten-free as I require.

But, I was glad to be released and back with Jonesy at the hotel to recover for a few more days. After my stitches were removed we were free to head back down to our boat (after some shopping of course!). As you can see from this photo above of us taken just yesterday, we are both happy and healthy and glad to be alive. Now, back to the good life!

I am glad you have had such a good outcome! I do know exactly how painful a gallbladder attack can be. I hope your trip goes smoothly from here on.
All together a good experience. It was very interesting to me, as I am a retired RN. We studied nursing in different cultures, and this sure added to my knowledge bank!
Wow - so glad you are okay and go through that so in-expensively! Been through kidney stones - NOT fun, hugely painful and absolutely knocks you down. Amazing you were able to knit me a monkey hat during all of that...
You know, that is always a huge fear of mine, to be traveling and get sick and have to into a foreign hospital. You hear so many horror stories. It sounds like you had a positive experience, I am so glad that everything worked out for you. You were lucky they took suck great care of you!
So glad that you are ok!!!!
FYI my blog is different is
Glad to hear that your on the mend. Stay that way ♥ Darrell
Wow, glad you have a good story to tell about foreign health care. Take it easy, I know you feel much better now than you did a week ago. (Heather... I'm getting yarn for the hat this weekend.)
Oy! Glad you are doing okay now.

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