For about a week, I’d been hearing an echo in my right ear, so on Thursday I went to the nurse at my work. The nurse used one of those little lights to look inside my ear and told me that I had a plug of wax in there. Actually, she said I had a “tapón de cera” which, due to my plugged ear, sounded like “wax tampon”; not to sound gynophobic,* but that’s a pretty disgusting thought, frankly.
Fortunately, the nurse immediately gave me some drops to dissolve the wax. I know that I do a lot of complaining in this blog, but one thing that’s pretty great about this country is the free drugs. I didn’t have to pay for the ear medicine, and I also didn’t have to pay for any of the other drugs that the nurse has given me in the past. I occasionally go into the “Medical Services” office and simply tell them what’s bothering me, and I walk out about two minutes later with assorted free medications. On different occasions they’ve treated my congestion, my cough, my post-cafeteria gas, my post-cafeteria upset stomach, my headache, my sore throat, and now my plugged ear, and every time I’ve gone it’s been free.
I do know that the country’s socialized medical care system is far from perfect, though. The state clinic in Berlín is only open one morning a week, and due to draconian practices and idiotic restrictions, people line up for hours to get a place in line. But if/when the people are attended to, it’s all still free. I’m just lucky that I can pass by the nurse’s office on my way from my desk to the cafeteria (or, as is more often the case, on my way from the cafeteria to my desk).
All of this is to begin a gradual series of things about Costa Rica that drive me nuts, but which also have a great, positive side. Or vice-versa. As I said, the healthcare system here is nice because it gives me drugs like pseudoephedrine for free, and all I have to do is ask for it; to get the same medication in the US, depending on the state, it may be displayed behind a drugstore counter like some boxed porn, I’d have to show identification, and I’d be limited to two boxes… and all of that would be before I paid 5 or 10 dollars for the simple, generic version. (Although I guess we’ll have to see how long it takes before Costa Ricans follow American Midwesterners’ example and blow up their garages and toolsheds when their shoddily-built meth labs start exploding.)
Another piece of anecdotal evidence of a healthcare system that deals with patients by treating them instead of avoiding them: about a year ago my brother-in-law’s wife had some sort of stone removed from her; I can’t remember if it was bladder or gall or what. In any case, the consultations, the surgery, and the hospital stays were all free.
On the other hand, you can occasionally find newspaper articles about patients trying to see a specialist, and then being given an appointment in 2012. Or patients chaining themselves to the main public hospital in San Jose to demand an appointment with a neurologist. Or citizens in areas away from the capital protesting to get a doctor stationed in their city.
So like I said, the system here definitely isn’t perfect, but as long as my ailments can be cured with the administration of a 10-pill blister pack of some random medication instead of through major invasive surgery, I should be sitting pretty down here for some time to come.
*If “gynophobic” is a word