In – genie – ous

The one big highlight of my y-ear. The one time, no matter how far it may be from the glory days, that I get to put on a character and give my diction a run-out. The one time I get to dress up funny, learn some lines and avoid the furniture for the season of good ch-ear, and it is all brought down by an ear-ily last minute unfortunateness. I felt qu-ear for some time, but finally succumbed last week to a nasty cold, which app-eared to spread sideways through the sinuses until my greatest f-ear was realised.

Yes, it has become quite cl-ear there will be no panto for me this Christmas. I will get to see my fellow thesps as I’m well enough, after 4 days at home on a battery of drugs, to leave the house again and go see the show, which of course, goes on. One lucky or unlucky soul got an instant promotion to Genie of the Ring (yes, you heard it right – and these people don’t even know why that’s so funny) on the night of the dress rehearsal. And I, like Cinderella before her fairy godmother appears, am not going to go to the ball.

On the up side, after months of radio silence, I can finally write a page for you, my dear reader. I jest – there are at least two of you out there.

It has been an interesting week in healthcare. Of the many things that are different in the third world, medicine, access to medicine, prices of medicine and how the system works is a big surprise in many ways, often more pleasant than not. So far my experience has turned up an on-the-spot medic in the pharmacy who feels your forehead then asks you what drugs you want. Luckily, I know my most regular weaknesses and what has treated them. There are also a number of places where they don’t even ask for a prescription, you just order away. And then there is the super-sized drug warehouse where anything and everything is available for rock-bottom prices. Of course, I’m still talking prescription pharmaceuticals. There is no place anywhere I’ve been that has a sanctioned, public crack warehouse. Yet. But there’s nothing like seeing yourself through a thirty hour bus journey with a pocket full of blue pills.

With my usual aversion to doctors and total conviction that anything can be solved by enough steam baths and garlic, I was loathe to seek medical attention until it was too late for me to go of my own accord. Crying with agony on Sunday, a quick online search revealed call-out doctors who would turn up to my swanky Miraflores apartment within half an hour for s/.150. That’s just under £40. From the point of view of someone blessed to have grown up with the NHS, it’s the kind of price that shivers my timbers. For those busily defending the benefits of a private health market with ‘choice’, I believe that sounds like a reasonable price. But that’s another issue, and living in a country where taxes do not equal public services, I’m not in the position to argue it at the moment. For the average joe here, that’s half a week’s wages, or more.

Anyway, Doc came, Doc saw, doc wrote a prescription as long as my arm and went on her way. I rolled around in continued agony, threw up, and passed out. Monday, Tuesday and a lot of Wednesday went by in a haze of drugs, muffled pain and marking. Yep, the marking never stops, not for anything. I’ll die and Satan will hand me a stack of essays to mark for eternity. And they’ll all be written in terrible English by people obsessed with love stories and Twilight. Four days into the tunnel, with only the haziest sniff of light at the end, it was time to go back to the doctor. It took a whole morning of dithering, trying different natural techniques which just brought extreme pain back, before I did it.

This time it was back to a tried and trusted local hospital, Lima Solidaridad. This is fairly public health in that you still pay, but it’s affordable for a lot more people than the call-out doctor was. A consultation is s/.8, which is around £2. You tell the cashier what kind of doctor you want, and they print you a receipt which you take to that area. You may have to wait around, but you always get seen on the day. I’ve always been seen very quickly. It’s busy, the waiting areas are not the cleanest, but the consulting rooms are. And you don’t have to worry about the equipment. You buy it yourself at the pharmacy downstairs. Imagine my surprise the first time I went to the Solidaridad for some regular, run-of-the-mill tests to be asked if I’d brought the speculum and gloves.

This time was a simple affair. The doctor looked me over, looked over Sunday’s prescription, declared me cured but still with some awkward physical issues to resolve and prescribed some further, helpful aids to clear up what’s left.

At that point, the visit is over and the work begins. You take your prescription around the vast array of pharmacies and price up your meds to get the best combination for your pocket. This process, almost Brazil-like in its bureaucratic process (get your quote from one assistant, take your slip to the ‘caja’ or cash desk, pay your money, take your receipt to the dispensary, who hands it back to your original assistant who puts all your drugs in a bag and away you go) is at least keeping a number of people in gainful employment. And it’s not office hours only. I’ve recently discovered a well-priced late night place where you ask for your pills through the bars at the front door. Like Booze R’ Us but for your late-night Immodium needs. Today’s ‘receta’ or prescription (interestingly the same word used for ‘recipe’, suggesting good health is something you can cook up, which fits comfortably with my eat garlic, be invulnerable ethos) included an injectable anti-inflammatory, so having purchased the solution it was back to the Solidaridad. 40 centimos (10p) for a syringe and s/.1 (25p) for a nurse to administer the injection and it was in and out in 10 seconds, with me clutching my arse, my drugs and my dignity and heading for home.

So. It’s been almost a week off work, most of that unable to speak above a whisper or listen to loud noises, much of it in pain and very dazed and confused, two doctors visits, a number of fun medications, and the most effective remedy I’ve managed to cling on to from my Big Book of Home Cures, a sock in the face. That’s right. Having run out of flannels, I’ve been microwaving wet socks and steaming the offending area. Works a charm.

So here I sit. Feeling better than I have all week, and it’s time, I f-ear, to disclose the source of all this charade. Yes, an ear infection – if you hadn’t guessed from the awful word play. Who’d work with bloody kids, eh?

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