I don’t know if you have heard of the current troubles in Venezuela with the electricity rationing, but I think a more dangerous problem is the health care system in Venezuela. A couple of weeks ago I saw a pic of an open-heart surgery performed in Caracas by cell-phone light. We all know that the Zika virus is taking over South America (most of my students wear long sleeve shirts and pants to protect against mosquitos because there is no bug repellant). What you don’t really hear about is what it is like if you have a non-emergency that needs medical attention. This is what I’m going to talk about today.
Last Thursday was my second attempt to see a dermatologist for a skin issue I’ve had for the last couple of months. The Thursday before I had waited for two hours before I grew impatient and left the office. This time, I came prepared with water & snacks, grading to complete, music, and a kindle full of books. I was ready for the long haul in case my “appointment” was pushed back again.
Why didn’t I go on another day you might ask?
The doctor only comes to the office on Tuesday mornings (during my work hours), and Thursday afternoon/evening. Despite having an appointment for four o’clock on both days, I was not able to see the doctor on time because some people got there to line up at 11:30 when the receptionist arrived and “they got in line before me”. By the time I got there, I was the fifth person who had a 4:00 “appointment”.
Finally, after waiting for an hour and a half I was shown to the doctor’s office. There I had to wait another 10 minutes while she finished up with someone else. I used the time to take some pictures and write some notes.
I’ve never been to a skin doctor in the US, but it seemed like a pretty normal doctor’s office. The only difference I noticed is that she had an LED lamp for the office hours during the blackout periods.
She checked out my skin with some kind of purple light, spent about 10 minutes prescribing meds and explaining their application and usage, and then sent me on my way. All of this cost me just under $5USD, so I’m not complaining too much about this part of the experience.
However, out of the six things she prescribed for me, and after going to three pharmacies, I’ve only been able to find two of them. I’ve had a lady in the office at my school calling around at other pharmacies and she has had no luck finding any of the meds that way either.
Venezuela has a severe shortage of medicines. According to this article, it is very difficult to get medicine here because companies “would end up paying much more for medicines and supplies than they could charge for them.”Many people use word of mouth and social media to source medicine here. My friends and I area all over Whatsapp when we find something we think someone might need. If all else fails and we really need something, we ask the moms at our school to pass the word around to anyone going to the US.
Thankfully the medicines that I need are not critical. I will continue to use tea tree oil and coconut oil and hope for the best until I can either find meds here or I can get home this summer where I can find them more easily.
If I had young children in need of vaccinations, or if were pregnant (Zika), or had family members who needed medicine to survive, I would think very carefully before coming to Venezuela. For those thrill seekers out there, I would also advise caution in a country where even Ibuprofen and antibiotics are nearly impossible to find.
Thankfully, I am happy to spend my free time here child-free, healthy, and safely lounging around on various gorgeous Caribbean beaches (I do have to watch out for mosquitos though!).
What is the longest that you have waited for a pre-arranged doctor’s appointment?