Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Great Dominican Hospital Adventure

In which our heroine confronts curiosity, impractical underwear, and terrible nurses. 

Disclaimer: This happened a few weeks ago, and I am feeling much better now! Except that I climb hills like a weak old lady and am in desperate need of pizza. 

Do you know what Dominican public hospitals are like?

I do, because I had a lovely two-day visit in which I experienced the exciting sights, sounds and smells of a former cholera ward and its friendly workers and inhabitants. 

Probably the highlight was when I was hit on by the male nurse. I was hit on, by the nurse, while wearing an adult diaper. After two days in the hospital, no shower, I WAS HIT ON WHILE WEARING A DIAPER. I’m not sure if this is the greatest compliment I have ever received, or a testimony to the incredibly sexualized and often sexist culture here. I think the latter.

My Great Hospital Adventure began when my neighbor found me losing all of my fluids from both ends in the bathroom. I was starting to lose consciousness and shouting for help.  She helped clean me up, put on my first of many diapers, and ran to change her own clothes so we could get to the hospital. I waited from the safety of the floor for her to return. And waited. And waited. Finally she appeared with her make up done, her Dominican “bright and tight” uniform on (bright blue skin-tight jeans, low cut red top, sparkly red shoes) and her weave on. Now we were ready to go.  Not even extreme diarrhea will make a Dominican go into public looking a mess.

She helped me walk to the carrito. I sank down to the side of the road to wait for it, realized everyone could probably see my diaper and the ridiculously impractical lacy undies my neighbor had provided, decided I was dying and didn’t care, and vomited everywhere. Finally we got a vomit bag and me into the carrito where my neighbor proceeded to tell all of the other riders the story of my discovery in the bathroom.

We arrived at the hospital, where the triage was a young man in a preppy polo with a night stick. (Is that what you call those sticks policemen use?). Luckily for us, the combined powers of my curvy neighbor and my inability to stand up got us moved to the front of the line in no time. A doctor asked me what was wrong.
 “Yo nesecito un IV!” (I need an IV!)
“Ok, we’ll get you one…”
“I need an IV! I need an IV!”
 I kept repeating this command until I found myself on a plastic, uncovered narrow bed with a nurse poking all over me trying to find a vein. He found it, but my body decided that it was going to keep pushing out my weight in fluids, so a second IV was added.

“Where is her mother?” asked a concerned Dominican man. I must have been the only gringa in the hospital because soon a crowd of locals was around my bed.  “She needs to call her mother.” “Where is her family? What is she doing here?”
“She has no one but me,” my neighbor responded with not a little dramatic flair. “I found her in the bathroom….” And the story began again. I vomited up the few Gatorade sips I had taken.

I spent that night on a narrow high bed with my towel as a pillow being visited by a nurse named Pablo. He was a nice one: he invited me to church, instead of asking why I didn’t have a boyfriend.  I was all alone in a big open room, no curtains, open windows. My neighbor warned me to put my valuables under my head so they wouldn’t get stolen in the night. Great – not only did I have to focus on not vomiting, but also not getting robbed.

The next day visitors were in and out – two fellow teachers from my school, my roommate, my neighbor again, a coworker. Random locals who had been at the scene the day before came in to ask how I was doing and comment on my dramatic arrival. “She was really bad yesterday!” one Dominican man I didn’t recognize commented to my nurse.  When my roommate came to ask about the white girl who arrived the day before, the woman at the front desk said “Oh, Mari?”
A lot of people in this day and age get fifteen minutes of fame by going viral on the internet. I got mine by being the only white girl in a Dominican hospital. Unfortunately, other than the curious visitors, there weren’t any perks.

My second night I had a pillow, but I also had sickly neighbors, a nurse who refused to turn out the lights until midnight, and only one mattress (that morning I had been yelled at for stealing an extra mattress the night before). All of my bones hurt. I was on my last diaper. I had had nothing but Gatorade and some hastily snuck crackers. The creeper nurse kept calling me “dear” and trying to speak English with me. I wanted to punch him, but my hands were both swollen and slightly green.  The water was shut off some time in the night, and there was blood in the shower.  This glamour of this whole “famous in the hospital” thing had worn off quickly.

The next day a friend was supposed to pick me up, but for some reason the number wasn’t working and after multiple tries I gave up and decided to just get to the carrito myself. I packed up all of the goodies my roommate had brought me – two pillows, multiple books, extra clothes, and a going-out dress. (The last one was my neighbor’s idea – no surprise there.) A young Haitian guy who had been there for my arrival (and had handily placed a trash can to catch my Gatorade spray) popped up and offered to help me carry everything.  So maybe there were perks to this fame after all.  As we walked to the stop he asked me if I knew Jesus. I said yes and we walked in silence for a bit. Then he said, “he loves you” but I misheard and thought he said “I love you” and everything was a bit awkward after that.

I finally made it into the carrito and slumped against the window, my arms bruised and bandaged. “You’re not doing so great, uh?” the large man next to me asked. I was a little sorry my neighbor wasn’t there to tell the whole story and satisfy Dominican curiosity.

Finally I was home, and I spent the next few days showering the hospital off me, eating homemade soup and relaxing. That is only half a lie – the shower was a bucket, the soup was Ramen and visitors constantly interrupted my relaxation. My roommate said he couldn’t leave the house without the entire batey asking how his “mujer” (woman) was, and recommending something for a special tea. “This won’t be a tea much longer, this will be a sancocho (stew)!” He exclaimed, as he bravely took on bouncer duties, telling visitors I was sleeping or too tired to talk. 

I like to call myself a traveler, to carry this as my brand. This means that any experience I had was of course a “breathtaking” “insightful” “life-changing” one, and this hospital stay was no exception. Except for the fact that none of those adjectives are applicable, unless you call “not dying” life changing.

Maybe it was a little. After the doctors said that if I had waited two more hours to seek treatment I could have died, I sat and grinned for three hours. Yes, while in the loud, uncomfortable, sea-foam green painted former cholera ward. Just me, grinning like a fool and giggling when I thought of the absurd yellow lacy panties I had been given for my diarrhea crisis, or the looks on the faces of everyone in the emergency room when I came stumbling through the door. I grinned until I fell asleep, because life is a lovely thing and travel is still worth it. 


  1. You are crazy. And also admirable.

  2. So from what the doctors said, I guess it's a good thing your neighbor was able to put all her makeup on and weave in in a timely manner, huh? I'm glad you're feeling better now. :)

  3. "Where is her mother?"
    So now I am worried about my rep in the DR... haha!
    I was here! Trying to not totally freak out and calling for prayer! Thanks for making me laugh now as I read your account. Love you!

  4. The story of how you almost died in the DR. Definitely something you will never forget! I agree with floatingboy, you are crazy.

    Love you, glad you are alive and returning soon so I can fatten you up with American cuisine :)

  5. I'm glad you didn't die Mares, just sayin'. That sounds like a terrifying and very traumatic experience! Don't worry, I can counsel you when you get back :) Love youuuuuu!!!

  6. Thanks guys! It was scary, but as a blogger, I go through these things just to bring my wide audience (....5 people...) laughter and life lessons.