A Third World Hospital

Just what is a third world hospital like? It all depends on where you go. I’ve had quite a few experiences with the public hospitals in Guatemala, but most of those were years ago, when I miscarried our early babies and when the two older boys were born. Dorian’s later surgeries and Dominic’s birth were in private hospitals, so dealing with my mother-in-law being in a public hospital was a return to a familiar world.

Most people know that third world hospitals aren’t going to be that great, but what other option do people have if they don’t have money? Something I’ve learned is that the system has gotten far, far worse than when I was giving birth in San Felipe’s hospital. Or perhaps it was simply because I was there for something natural and normal, rather than needing special help. Either way, here’s a look at what a public hospital in Guatemala is like these days.

1. Bring Your Own _____

The hospital will give you food and a bed. That’s pretty much it. The food is very basic, as is to be expected. There’s no fancy JELLO here! You’ll be served a spoonful of beans, a piece of bread and a melamine cup of atol (a thick drink, like gruel). If you’re lucky, you’ll get a side of veggies or a piece of plantain. It’s not filling, but it will keep you alive. Let me just say that this tiny amount of food is NOTHING when you’ve just had a baby and haven’t eaten in 12+ hours!

Now, while this is provided, there is NO water offered in the hospital. You will need someone to bring you a bottle of water or you will have to drink from the unfiltered taps in the bathroom. Which I’ve seen many women do, since there is only one visiting hour in the day. If you have your baby or go in early in the morning, you’re kinda hooped until 2pm.

2. Call Buttons, Shmall Buttons

Don’t expect to be able to call a nurse when you need one! There are no call buttons here and if you do get up to find a nurse, you’ll most likely be scolded and sent back to bed without any real help. I suspect the nurses are jaded and underpaid here and are tired of being unable to tell a patient that a doctor is on his way or give out any concrete information.

3. What to Wear

You can’t take anything into the hospital with you. When you arrive at the ER, one person may accompany you and that person will be given everything you have on you in a plastic bag, including earrings, underwear, and shoes and socks. You will be given a gown that may be in pretty poor condition (my MIL wore one with a huge tear in the side and no ties).

During the visiting hour, family or friends can bring you flip flops and such. Until then, you get to show off your assets. ?

4. Need Meds? Buy Them Yourself

The hospitals here work on a very limited budget and have virtually no supplies. When Dante had to go into the ER a couple of years back, there was a child brought in who had drowned in a well. They were trying desperately to resuscitate this little boy and one of the doctors was pacing the hall, calling every resource she could think of to try and find a ventilator so they could try and save this little one. They were bagging by hand until they could get hold of one. Can you imagine? That’s a vital piece of equipment for a hospital that serves at least a dozen towns!

My MIL needs a metal plate in her shoulder. The hospital does not provide this. Instead, they give you a prescription for it, should you be lucky enough to get a surgical consult, and it’s up to you to go and buy it. If you don’t have the money, your loved one remains in limbo, waiting until the family can get the pieces and the medications they need. The blood tests she required were also extra out of pocket costs.

As Irving put it, “This is basically a public hospital now, because you have to pay for everything except the bed!” This makes it extremely difficult for families who are unable to raise the money for a necessary operation.

 5. Doctors Off Call

When I had Dorian, there were no doctors in the hospital. Since the hospital in San Felipe is a teaching one, it’s full of interns and residents who seem really resentful of their need to be there. When things go wrong, there isn’t always a doctor around to step in and that can be dangerous. Fortunately, I never had an issue with that, but there are people who have.

All that being said . . .

I am very grateful that there ARE public hospitals here. They aren’t the best and they have many, many faults, but they also provide medical care to those who can’t afford it elsewhere. There are some doctors, like Dorian’s surgeon, who are true to their oaths and are willing to help their patients and make life better for them.

While most of my experiences have been bad, Dante’s birth was a wonderful experience with the help of two amazing female doctors in the same hospital where I had such a terrible experience with Dorian’s birth. So, I think there are a number of people working in these poor conditions, trying their best to help, but without the necessary resources to do so. That’s sad, but it gives me hope that things can get better.

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