Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sick in Buenos Aires

I sit in my bedroom, suffering mildly with strep throat, waiting for the amoxicillin, my immune system, or some sort of magic that emanates from the southern sky to heal me. On Saturday I started to feel sick. Sunday night I took a bus across the city to a milonga where I danced but 2 tandas before realizing I had no energy, only to find that I didn't have enough cash to pay for a pizza I had ordered. Monday night, I finally decided to walk through the downpour to the Italian Hospital.

And it was the easiest, most comfortable experience that I have ever had at a medical facility. And I don't speak their language - well.

First, on a national holiday the regular clinic was open at 7:30 PM. They asked me 3 questions: What is your name? Have you been here before? And what seems to be the trouble? Then the woman took great care to inform me that because I have no insurance and because this is a private hospital, I would have to pay 82 pesos (about 23 USD). I would have kissed her except she would then acquire my strep.

There were no forms to fill out, they did not care where I live, or who I work for, or who my primary and secondary provider are. They did not want to know if my great-grandfather had diabetes. They did not waste time by putting me on a scale.

I went to a hospital in the U.S. 2 days before leaving for BsAs. I was there for an immunization shot; the appointment was pre-arranged and specific. They measured my height and weight, my blood pressure, and my temperature. Meanwhile, people sat in the waiting room.

After paying 80 pesos (They don't make change well in Argentina, so paying 100 pesos for an 82 peso bill often yields 20 in change.), I waited about 12 minutes, saw the doctor and left. Down the street to the pharmacy, and soon I was back in bed.

I contrast this with an experience I had a few years back in Seattle. I was dating a wonderful woman who happened to be sick with strep throat. She didn't have insurance or a lot of money. So I called around to find a doctor. No one would give me any reasonable detail about how much a visit would cost. Finally I spoke with a woman at Harborview and, after I explained the basic situation to her she said, "Look, if you come here you may have to wait awhile but it is essentially free healthcare." Once there, my friend had to fill out a pile of forms, including what appeared to be a sworn affidavit about every detail of her personal finances. And yes we waited many hours for her to be seen.

She came out of the consultation in a chipper mood. "Yep, strep throat, he gave me penicillin and a pain killer. The doctor was so nice," she said, "He said he didn't really need a throat culture, but he did it anyway."

I stopped in my tracks. "You know they are going to charge you for that." I said. That didn't bother her at the time. A few weeks later the bill came - and it measured in the hundreds of dollars, including a charge for a superfluous throat culture.

That health care wasn't so "essentially free" after all.

1 comment:

Daisy said...

Are you feeling better? Totally recovered? I hope so :)
It would be similar in Portugal. When I got here I was shocked to find out that the insurance companies and medical providers, clinics and hospitals needed so much information about us. I went once to the Emergency of School of Dentistry, here at the UW, in pain, and I had 3 forms to fill out about almost everything, my family included. They didn't do nothing on my tooth, just X-rays and I paid almost $100. The US has a long way to go in health matters, mainly because is not accessible to everyone.

How are the milongas there? :)