Costa Rica Costa Of Living Update: Three heads of garlic-90 cents

A lot has been going on behind the scenes at Happier Than A Billionaire. Unfortunately, there has been a few not so happy times. My husband needed hernia surgery and I chose not to write about it until I knew he would survive. I’m nice like that—I prefer to have my husband alive and well when I write about all the embarrassing things that happened to him while infirmed.

And since he is convalescing, he has less ability to reach the computer to read about it and less of a chance to yell at me for talking about him on my blog.  

So here it goes. A three part story on my introduction into the Costa Rica health care system.  Grab some popcorn and hug your Blue Shield card…it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Since moving here, I frolicked through a crocodile infested bat cave, came face to face with a kinkajou, and even watched my husband mace himself in the face.  But few things prepare you for when your husband walks up to you and says, “I think I need a doctor.”

Rob stepped out of the shower and walked over to me while gripping his abdomen. “I think I need a doctor,” he said before removing his hand and unveiling a bulging protrusion across the lower part of his stomach to his pubic bone. Apparently, my husband had a hernia.

After the initial shock, it really wasn’t a surprise this happened.  He admitted he had been nursing a hernia for the past 22 years. It started after a stint in the high school gym where Rob was going head to head with his stronger friend Vinnie Zamboni.  If Vinnie benched 200 pounds, my husband did 225. If Vinnie did 5 squats with a heavy barbell on his shoulders, Rob would do 6.  After one of the exercises, Rob felt a sharp pain in his groin area. Although he walked away the champion of the stupidest competition ever performed, he also walked away with a hernia. It’s amazing any teenage boy makes it past puberty.

Rob would feel it tear over the years but refused to see a doctor. “We have a ten thousand deductible,” he would say. “And I would rather spend that on a vacation than having surgery.” This procrastination had now brought us to this moment—him standing naked in front of me holding his guts in.

“Oh my god, I don’t know what to do.  You have to see someone immediately. How did it get so bad?” I said.

“Lately, I’ve been lifting really heavy weights. I felt some pain so I started wrapping things around my stomach to give it some extra support.”

“Is that why that rainbow belt is on the table? It’s meant for wrapping around our suitcase so it doesn’t explode from all the weights you insist on packing. It’s not meant as a medical device. What the hell is wrong with you?”  I wanted to kill him but I had to get him better first.

I wasn’t sure where to go for medical care in this rustic beach town. This wouldn’t be as big of a deal if we still lived in Grecia.  The hospitals—some of the biggest in the country—were less than an hour away. It was as if comparing the medical facilities of New York City to the rural outskirts of Kentucky. I felt like the coal miner’s daughter, ready to honky tonk my way to the nearest outpost that could stitch up my husband’s belly.

“We should go through the CAJA system,” said Rob.  “We pay for health care every month, why not use it. How bad could it be?” He makes a good point; however, I always imagined our first introduction to the government run health care system would be for something as minor as an antibiotic. It never occurred to me that one of us would require surgery. Needless to say, I was hesitant having Rob go under the knife in Central America.

“I don’t know, maybe we should just drive to San Jose and pay cash at one of the better hospitals. The ones all the gringos use.” I suggested.

“It’s an option, but why do it when they use the same doctors as CAJA. If we are going to get the same doctors, why pay more when we can get it done under our insurance? Let’s not drive the 6 hours to San Jose and see what we can get accomplished around here.”

While considering his suggestion, I went online and Googled the cost of a hernia operation in the states.  If we had to go home to do it, we would just pay the expense out of pocket. After a couple searches, I found the range fluctuated from $15,000 to $20,000. The decision was made; I was going to ship my husband off to a Costa Rica clinic. In fact,  I might have even planted him on a float and sent him off with a ticker tape parade. The budget insisted on it.  

We made a couple phone calls and found the clinic closest to our house was is in Brasilito, a fifteen minute drive away. It was equivalent to seeing your family doctor. You had to go there first to get a referral to see a specialist. So far, it didn’t seem as different as home.

The clinic turned out to be a small, run down building surrounded by a chain link fence with barbed wire on top. Aesthetically, it was about as appealing as a North Korean work camp. Rob was optimistic; I in turn said a prayer under my breath. With our limited Spanish, we explained to the receptionist Rob’s condition and she directed us to a back room to speak with the doctor. I was immediately impressed. 

“Wow Rob. That’s fast service. I was under the impression that we would have to wait all day.” But after meeting the doctor she shooed us both out of the office and told us to return on Friday morning. Before we walked out the door, she suggested we show up by five AM if we wanted a spot in line.

Two days later, we woke up super early and made sure we were at the clinic by five.  There were already 7 people sitting along the side of the road in front of the gate.  I had no choice but to join my amigos and sit down next to them.

“When do they open?” I asked. The crowd shrugs; it could be 7 or 8.  All depends when the staff decided to show up.

It had been a long time since I sat on the street for any length of time. But it does give you a fascinating perspective to observe what is going on around you. All in all, it was not the worst place to be on a Friday morning—sitting under a palm tree only 200 feet away from the beach.  In fact, my sister might just consider this a vacation when compared to getting her kids up and ready for school.

 If ever you want to get the feeling of a town, sit along the side of the road.  This morning people walked and biked to work at a leisurely pace. The guides gathered their horses and clients for the day’s beach tour while ATVs offered rides to pretty girls dressed up for work.  Happy stray dogs paused in front of the crowd and entertained us with their antics. It was a complete 180 of my old life.

When I worked back in the states, every morning I stopped at a gas station to get a cup of coffee. We were a sorry looking lot, stumbling around like a scene from Night of the Living Dead. I could practically hear my fellow zombies moaning in the Krispy Kreme aisle. It was just a matter of time before we all turned and ripped each other’s faces off.

Mornings don’t feel the same here. Everyone looked happy. Not jump up and down hysterical happy, just a calmness that radiated as they stopped to talk with others waiting for the bus. I believed where I lived before had a slow pace, but beach towns in Costa Rica practically turn back time.

It was an interesting way to watch the morning unfold—sitting on the side of the road with two stray dogs at my feet. Even if it was to see a doctor about surgery.

(Stay tuned for what happens next)