Monday was a record breaking evening.
Over 13 years of travel with children, from Hawaii to Africa and everywhere in between, we’ve never had an injury requiring more than a bandaid on the road.
At home, they were at the ER at least three times a year with the usual boyhood calamities, but never while we traveled. Naturally, it was Elisha. None of the other children have had any serious injuries. Elisha has been stitched, stapled, broken and glued back together regularly since he learned how to walk.
Monday was his night to cook. He helped me carefully bleach the lettuce and the tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers for the salad and then set to work chopping salad while I disassembled a cauliflower and got the pan ready for fish. “I can open those fish plastics for you Mama,” he offered, like the gentleman he is. He opened two before he hollered and blood spurted everywhere. Gabe grabbed his finger and dragged him up the stairs to Daddy, I was melting butter, after all.
Before long our hotel room was a hive of activity with the Mama who runs the place on the phone to the medico, her brother headed for the keys to his truck, and Elisha hovering over a sink full of blood. It seems the knife slipped and he took off two thirds of the tip of his left index finger, leaving a big piece of meat flapping in the breeze. We were bundled into a truck with a towel for the blood and all of the cash we had on hand and swept off toward the centro de salud, leaving Tony and the kids to fend for themselves.
It was our first experience with a third world medical facility.
The doctor spoke no English, but fortunately my Spanish has come up to speed. He looked it over and declared to his nurse, “Three or four stitches, nada mas,” and off she went to look for a suture kit. There wasn’t one small enough for Elisha’s finger, not in the whole hospital.
There was some discussion in rapid fire Spanish that did not include me. Then, “If you want to go into town and buy a suture kit we can sew this, but I think maybe it doesn’t need it after all… we can butterfly it and tape it up and it should be okay.” I considered this, looked over the finger again, which had mostly stopped bleeding, and did what my Dad would have done, went for the tape. (Of course my Dad would have used duct tape in the back of our old van and told us to suck it up, but I’m a softie). Off the nurse went in search of the “mariposa” strips. She returned. More rapid fire Spanish. No butterfly strips: in the whole hospital. Right. I’m feeling the third world groove now.
In the end, they washed his finger thoroughly; at least one of them was wearing gloves. Bloody gauze was pitched casually toward a trash can in the corner, sometimes it made it in. The sharps container was a 2L bottle. I was glad we didn’t go for the stitches necessitating numbing using one of their needles. Elisha cried a little, but was a tough little dude, as he always is. The nurse tore strips off of a wide roll of tape with her bare hands, twisted them in the middle and applied them across the flap of finger, both directions. “Mariposa!” she declared, brightly.
We were given a bottle of Amoxycilin, the old school kind that is powder in the bottle and is reconstituted before use and a bottle the size of eye drops. “This is for the dolor, the pain,” the doctor explained. “He is 76 lbs, so 35 drops under the tongue every 8 hours if he needs it.” “What is it?” I asked. He told me. I read the bottle. I still have no idea what it is. We dosed him up and signed the paperwork.
“How do I pay?” I asked. “Pay? You can’t pay,” the nurse replied, giving me a quizzical look. “Then how much for the medicine?” I asked. “Nada. You can’t pay,” she repeated. I guess when the medical care is free, one can’t complain too much about the lack of suture kits, butterfly bandages or sterile facilities. We thanked the Dr. and the nurse profusely as they ushered us out the door. “Now remember,” the doctor reiterated, “Keep the medicine cold and give it every eight hours for five days, 10 ml. And come back in two days for the finger to be checked.” I assured him I would as we made our way out into the warm night, bandaged and relieved. Ever the optimist, Elisha points out, “Well Mama, look at the good side, I won’t be able to journal for at least a week!”
This morning we returned, by tuk-tuk, to the medical center on the side of the mountain just outside of town. We were received with smiles and general confusion. “Well I don’t know why that Dr. would have told you to come back today, he’s not here,” the physicians assistant explained. She looked at the finger anyway, slapped a layer of mercurochrome on it that conjured my Mim and her treatment of many of my childhood cuts with her “red badge of courage” as she called it, and taped his finger back to the same stick the doctor had given us. “Come back Friday, that’s when the Doctor will be here,” she called cheerily, as we left. We’re not coming back Friday; the cut looks fine and I have a whole supply of butterfly bandages we’ve never used.