Costa Rica Cost Of Living Update: 8 ounce package of imported mushrooms-$6

After a couple hours of waiting on the side of the road, a woman dressed in white scrubs opened the gate and we all filed in. We started forming a line directly in front of the reception window.  I glanced at a piece of paper taped to the wall which said the doctor would only see six people today. Our lack of Spanish made it difficult to understand why there were 35 people sitting here totally unfazed by this news.

“That can’t be right,” I told Rob. “What doctor treats six people a day?” I pointed to the sign and asked the person in front of me if that was true. The woman nods her head in agreement. “That sucks, there are already six people in front of us.”

“I don’t care, I’m not going anywhere. We’ve been through stuff like this a dozen times. You can’t give up right away,” said Rob. And he is right. It’s amazing how often I want to wave the white flag. But people immediately like my husband and hopefully the doctor remembers she told him to come back today.

We waited on line for another hour until the receptionist propped open the window and took everyone’s name. The doctor was nowhere in sight so we all sat on long wooden benches under the aluminum covered patio. I could already feel the cool morning air lift; the heat of the day taking its place. It was going to be a scorcher.

One hour passed…then two…then four. I tried sitting on the bench, only to get sore, then stood for a couple hours. In the end, I decided that sitting along the side of the road was the most comfortable spot for me. As we were all waiting, a delightful older man entertained the crowd with a stand-up routine. I did not get the jokes, but judging by the audience reaction, he was a Costa Rican Chris Rock.

After five hours, Rob talked to the receptionist to remind her we were still waiting.  She smiled and nodded her head.  Meanwhile, a man rode up on his scooter with a large, padlocked container secured to the back.  He reached into it, grabbed multiple boxes,
and walked into the clinic. I watched as a window on the other side of the building opened. A bunch of people walked up and waited in that line.

“Should we be on that line too?” I questioned Rob. Times like this made me feel like an awkward 6th grader waiting to be picked for dodge ball.  It turned out he was the pharmacist and most of the people waiting were here for their monthly supply of
medications.

As each person approached the window, small talk ensued with the pharmacist. Everything in Costa Rica is centered around community interaction. The pharmacist spent time with each client before giving out their medication. All the pills come in sealed strips; he never had to count individual tablets into a bottle.

This continued until a pretty girl was next in line. My friendly pharmacist quickly transformed into Antonio Banderas. I’ve seen this before, how fast the Latino men slide their hands into their thick black hair while laughing at something an attractive woman says— they all take on the seductive voice and mannerisms of the actor. The girl blushed, took her bag, and throws a kiss back to the man.  I told Rob he better turn on the charm for the doctor. Antonio might be out of his reach, but he can do a pretty good Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back Carter. Unfortunately, I think that makes me Horshack.

Finally, after six hours Rob talked with the receptionist again. He leaned in and chatted it up with the lady, making funny faces, and doing a John Travolta imitation that could had landed him a Golden Globe. The lady giggled and waved us through to see the doctor.

While in the doctor’s office, Rob described his injury, using a uniquely patented combination of Spanish and charades. He goes into a performance of a bodybuilder, flexing his muscles, doing squats, before reaching his groin and making a face that looks less like a man who ripped open a hernia but more like someone who’s mildly constipated. The doctor leaned back in her chair and watched as he repeated his performance, sometimes doing lunges, while other moments doing shoulder presses. All dramatically concluded with him grabbing his gut.

The doctor wrote some notes (probably a grocery list), and told Rob to stand and take down his shorts. One would assume Rob would have prepared himself for this but his eyes bolt out of his head like he’s been electrocuted.

“What…okay…but….”

“For Christ sake Rob, drop your shorts,” I chimed in.

Rob pulled them down and I watched as the doctor gave him the cough and squeeze test. Once again, dodge ball comes to mind while I watched her aggressively fondling my husband. She nodded her head. We were right—apparently, my husband’s nuts are broken and he needs to have hernia surgery.   She wrote a script for us to see a specialist at Nicoya Hospital but we had to go there in person to make the appointment. The hospital was over an hour away. It had been a long day but we head out, knowing the system takes a long time and we wanted to try to get the ball-no pun intended-rolling.

It’s a beautiful day in Costa Rica and I tried to stay upbeat as we drove to the hospital. “You looked a little nervous in her office. If you had any idea the indignities woman go through when they have to see a doctor. What was the big deal?”

“It was weird. She was all over me, digging in there, I didn’t expect that. Did you think it looked okay?”

“What looked okay?”

“My stuff, it was really cold in there.”

“You can’t be serious? Yes, it looked okay. And she wasn’t all over you, she did an EXAM. She’s a doctor Rob, not a blind date.”

“Just making sure.”

It’s comforting that even with the fear of going under the knife, my husband wants to make sure he is looking his best at all times.

The hospital initially looked beautiful. Palm trees swayed in the breeze making a nice first impression. We walked into an area that was completely empty except for one woman behind a computer. There was no AC and it had that open air feeling you get everywhere you go in Costa Rica. However, as nice as it looked on the outside, the inside looked worn and dark. The walls were covered in chipped paint—it did not install confidence.  We showed her our script and she scribbled down an appointment for two weeks.

“Not so bad,” said Rob. “I thought we would have to wait months for an appointment.” It was a little too easy, which became evident when we returned for the appointment and the place was standing room only. At least seventy five people were waiting to see the doctor.

A receptionist, busy putting on a hefty layer of black mascara, instructed us to go to another office to get our file made. Her careful application of makeup would suggest she had a considerable amount of time on her hands, and perhaps she could make the file herself. But, like always, no one asked my opinion.

When we returned with our manila file, we found two open seats.  There were five doors in front of us for different categories of care. One looked like it is an OB-GYN doctor,
whereas another one treated the elderly. The door we were watching was for surgical consults. I stared at it nervously, hoping not to miss it when they called my husband’s name.

It always amazes me how calm and patient Costa Ricans are. In this hot and inhospitable environment, we all waited our turn. There was no television to watch or any magazines to read. We just sat there. The only diversions were the vendors selling candy and popcorn that were balanced on their heads. It was as if we were all waiting for a matinee to start. Sadly, that wasn’t going to happen.

After three hours, we heard a nurse shout ROBERTO. I was so excited they didn’t
forget about us! We entered the room and met a short roly-poly doctor. He asked
Rob numerous health related questions, some in Spanish, while others in
English. He gave him the cough and grab test, much more gentle than the
previous female doctor. He was almost romantic in his approach. I wanted to dim
the lights and give them some privacy.

“Si, you need surgery,” he said as he opened the desk drawer and whipped out a Winnie the Pooh notebook. He opens it up and scheduled Rob’s surgery.

In the.

Winnie the Pooh.

Notebook.

I tried not to be judgmental. I’ve lived here long enough to keep an open mind but having a major surgery scheduled in a notebook with Piglet and Eeyore on the cover did nothing to ease my fear of Rob getting cut open in a foreign hospital.  However, I looked on the bright side, at least he didn’t write down the appointment with a glitter pen.

“I can’t believe we have a date set in three weeks. I was under the impression I’d have to wait at least six months. It’s all going to work out.” Rob said as we left the hospital.

I, in turn, made a mental note to buy the doctor an appointment book that was not adorned with Disney characters.

(Don’t miss the last installment…does it work out?  Does Rob walk out of the hospital? Check back and find out.)