Monday, September 20, 2010

Calling for Help

Three weeks ago we couldn't get ahold of the police when we were having a terrible noise problem with some neighbors. Luckily it was not a real emergency, just a sleep and convenience problem. And I wont even get into my fears of the Chilean medical system in this post, but you´ll pick up on them as you read on.

I don´t remember if I posted a long while back about the time someone tried to break into our house and the police hung up on my boyfriend and then never showed up. It was a terrifying experience and I confirmed my lack of confidence in the police (which started with another story from an English student of mine who found a dead or almost dead man and called the police unsuccessfully for over a half hour. They never answered and my student left him there because he was afraid the system would screw him over and assume he was involved in the death). The story sparked me to get the direct line and cell phone of the police assigned to my section of the city, just to find out it didn't help any when I needed to use it.

In the U.S. I considered the phone a sort of life line for when you are in danger. You hear stories of people who call for help when they are in danger and someone comes to the rescue in minutes. Luckily the person who tried to break in just moved on to try the neighbor's house, and my boyfriend scared him away with a bat. This is not the rescue I´d prefer to rely on.

Obviously, I am terrified of needing to call for help. Both because it means something bad is happening, and because I'm worried about how much I can rely on this.

Unfortunately, this weekend has escalated my fears.

Long long story short, we went a few hours North for the week because my boyfriend and his friends put on a circus show. They each have various arts they specialize in, including many different types of acrobatics, clowns, magic, and other traditional aspects of the circus. During the day they teach classes, and in the afternoon and evenings they put on shows for audiences. I am always slightly nervous because, although they all know what they are doing very well, they don't have the money to invest in or transport a lot of things that might be nice or safe to have. I worry.

This weekend something absolutely frightening happened to a friend from the South. One of the guys fell from the trapeze, really hard, and hit the ground directly with his head. His neck appeared to crunch sideways, and there was a loud thud. The fall was terrifying to watch, and I almost threw up having from nausea having seen it, and I still am really traumatized about the whole event. Hey stayed down on the ground, though conscious and with movement in all parts of his body, though he had neck and back pain and trouble breathing.

Someone in the audience called an ambulance immediately. Although it was potentially a very serious injury, we didn't think it was a matter of life or death or a race against the clock. And, WOW, THANK GOD it wasn't because the ambulance arrived no sooner than about 2 hours later. TWO hours as our friend passed through various stages of pain and trouble breathing, lying cold on the ground. The police came in the meantime but had no idea whatsoever to do and basically took down his personal information then watched from a distance.

When the ambulance got there (other patients waiting on board) they ended up taking him to one of the nearest hospitals, which wasn't very near at all. They got there and decided to transfer him to a bigger hospital, though they wouldn´t let him take anything at all with him. So off he went again, this time alone, wearing his circus presentation outfit, without money or even a phone.

From then on we didn't know anything until recently. But apparently he was repeatedly moved around to different random places, poked an prodded in ways that didn't feel great, somewhat examined, and then shoved out on the streets in the early morning because the hospital needed the bed.

Yes, after severe head trauma, he was kicked out of the hospital freezing cold, in another city wearing his circus presentation pants, without even real shoes, wearing a black plastic bag with arm holes to keep warm, without a phone or any money.

Obviously, I'm a little terrified of having to deal with any major health or safety issues, and this weekend was probably a particularly bad one in terms of saturation of the need for emergency care. Even though I now have a pretty nice healthcare plan with access to some of the better clinics and things, it may or may not change my access to them, the time I can get there, etc. Who knows if I'll even be able to make choices? For example, when you are in public transportation accidents, you are often initially sent through the crowded public healthcare facilities anyway. Or like this weekend, even a willingness to pay a high price probably couldn't have gotten him safely to a hospital without a gurney and space to carry him on it.

Thank God he could leave walking; the worst of it appears to be various chipped teeth and a lot of pain. He asked for money on the streets until he got enough for a phone call and a bus ride, making it back to the place he rents in Valpo only to remember the rest of us were out of town with his keys.

The only advice I can think of: Stay healthy, make good choices, be safe and aware. Tattoo the important contact numbers on your forehead and I guess, never ever wear your "laundry day" underwear, just in case you get dumped on the street wearing nothing but that.


  1. Oh my god, I feel absolutely sick just reading this post. I'm so SO glad that your friend is ok.

    I really shouldn't even start on my feelings on the Chilean health care system that foreigners trumpet from the rooftops as being oh-so-amazing and clearly way better than the US.. Ummm, have you ever been ran over and sent to a public hospital? Yeah, then STFU. I am not surprised at all that they sent him packing. I was left in the hallway for a solid hour bleeding from the head and screaming incoherently...only to be shoved into a room with a guy with swine flu and nobody gave a shit until my husband showed up literally to FIGHT for someone to give me proper care. And don't get me started on what a problem it was to try to get me transferred to the hospital where we have insurance.

    I would very much like to tattoo contact numbers on my forehead after that :)

  2. OMG, how awful, that whole story really scares the crap out of me, and I know what you mean about the feeling nauseous when seeing someone injured or in that much pain. I can't believe that he walked away from that, and thank god that he did, and Kyle, I can't even imagine everything that you had to endure...

  3. I hope they did some x rays on him or an MRI. A fall like that could cause severe neurological problems that might not necessarily be present immediately.

    I decided I never wanted to have to call an ambulance when I saw how many times an ambulance would be stuck in traffic in Santiago sirens blaring. No one moves. Grrr...

  4. Lydia, I'm seriously sick with this post!!! I can't f-ing believe Chile!!! I can't believe your friend went through all that with SEVERE HEAD TRAUMA!!! What the f is wrong with this country?? I seriously just posted your blog to my facebook page, appalled and calling out how horrible this situation (and many like it, I'm sure) was for you and your friend.
    And you are SO RIGHT. Sure, we may be "privileged" in that we have access to good clinics, but what good is that we if get into an accident in the middle of nowhere??!! I'm appalled. Seriously hating this country with your psot ... hating it.

  5. AHHH!!... el maravilloso sistema de salud publico chileno, siempre tan eficiente y rápido.

    Yo tamién le tengo un ENORME miedo. Felizmente he ido solo para tramites menores, como toma de muestra de sangre (en donde tengo que presenciar que usan una jeringa nueva recién sacada del envase) o para hacerme un checkeo general (que tome unos ridículo 15 mins) en el cual he tenido que esperar HORAS. Pero para tratarme de otras enfermedades, NO GRACIAS, prefiero quedarme acostado y esperar a que se me pase. Es decir, recurriría a ella SOLO en un caso de extrema urgencia, y bueno tendría que ir muy a regaña dientes. Viendo la manera de como atendieron tu amigo UF! Sinceramente me parece que se podría poner los centros de salud chilenos en películas de terror.

    Pero bueno es una más de las batallas eternas que lleva este país, mejorar la atención en la salud pública que parece que empeora año tras año. Onda entras con medio cerebro fuera y te dan una aspirina para ello o también existe la posibilidad que te pesques alguna enfermedad como gripe porcina o alguna otra mas grave, en fin en vez de salir mejor, sales peor.

    La recomendación es, si no cuentas con algún plan de salud pagado (AFP), llevar una vida saludable, comiendo sano y haciendo ejercicio físico al menos 30 mins diarios. Y bueno si de pasar alguna vez por algun accidente encomiendate a Dios, es lo mejor.

  6. I know, its still replaying in my head.

    Kyle your whole story was one of the anecdotes that had me frightened about the system before. The ambulance, then the flu dude, etc...

    Andrea - very true, a legit concern... you cant really speed things up. that;s what worries me, even a privileged situation and willingness to fork over big bucks might not speed things up at all getting them to you, then you still might get stuck in traffic ilke sara says. hahaha stat counter did show that I suddenly became popular in California today Lol!

    Studio Valparaiso - I would prefer to stick out my illnesses in bed without any help, but unfortunately the job Im at right now requires medical licencia every time I miss a day so I have to go to the doctor for that anyway if its a weekday. Most of my experiences with healthcare here have been disappointing, but not frightening or horrible. However I havent dealt much with emergency, just doctors and specialists. I hope i don;t have to...

    sara- i do thnk he mentioned getting something, but i dont think he got all the necessary tests yet. they told him to come back in a few days for more tests too. hes already in a money crunch and worried about paying for the teeth though so i wonder if he´ll convince himself its unnecessary

  7. That is horrifying! These are the things that freak me out about moving there with kids, honestly... What kind of a response there would be with some kind of emergency... scary to think about!

  8. I've had almost entirely positive experiences with the quality and efficiency of routine healthcare in Chile (including a couple emergency room visits for minor stuff where I was taken to the clinica by Rodolfo), but it seems like once you involve an ambulance all bets are off.

    What a scary experience - I hope your friend is ok in the end!

  9. Annje- yep yep. And two of the incidents mentioned happened in stereotypically upper class places, so its really not explainable thinking that this is entirely driven by resources/lack of. It may or may not be better. I think non-emergency use of the medical system can be especially a zillion times better if you plan well, i think you just have to hope nothing happens, and if it does, that you'll have some good resources available

    Emily-I dont think its just ambulances, but its one aspect that seems to really struggle. You even saying "almost entirely positive experiences" makes me scrunch my eyebrows a bit [lucky!]... though do you think the doctors and clinica you go to are representative of the healthcare system in Chile or that you've had the means and ability to really pick and choose some great ones?

  10. I now go to a nicer clinica (not the absolute top, but one that is definitely upper middle class), but I've also had good care from public consultorios. Obviously the wait times were longer and technology and surroundings were more outdated in the public system, but I've felt like the doctors I've seen had a solid medical background and helped me as I would have been helped in the US. I don't know if this is a difference between Santiago and Valpo/other areas though or whether my experience has been on the luckier side or pretty true to average.

  11. Wow, what a sad state of affairs. I feel terrible for you friend, and I hope that he has no permanent trauma resulting from the accident.

  12. that is so terrible! I echo Emily's wondering if that's a difference between Valpo and Santiago or perception of money or lack thereof. Man,that is so terrible. Please follow up with any more info you have on him. I hope he can get the treatment he most likely needs.

  13. Not surprising. A few weeks ago we were in Lider and a man had a seizure, foaming at the mouth, shaking, screaming etc. Someone called an ambulance within 30 seconds and it was a full 25 minutes before they arrived.

    After that I was freaked out and after asking around a lot, apparently it is best to call an ambulance directly from your clinica (obviously only works if you are in the area) as opposed to 131.

    What happens if someone is having a heart attack or a stroke and needs immediate attention? Hopefully I'll never have to find out.

  14. I haven't been to Chile yet, but I plan on retiring there. After reading this story I wanted to add one of my own. I was involved in an industrial accident in a suburb of Chicago, IL. I was brought to Christ Hospital along with my severed finger in the early afternoon, as I worked the second shift. I laid on a stretcher until the next morning waiting for a doctor to treat me. By that time there was no hope of re-attaching my finger, so the doctor sewed up what was left and sent me home. Further treatment included therapy to induce blood circulation, but that was cut off because the company I worked for refused to pay for it. That was more than ten years ago, and I still have trouble with my finger getting cold because of poor circulation. BTW, I quit working for those people and went to a competitor who is now doing great. Payback's a bitch.
    As far as regular health treatment, I have health insurance through my employer and pay about $120 a week for the family plan. That's about $6000 a year. But get this, the deductible is so high that having the insurance is almost useless unless I get some serious life-threatening disease.
    You can bet I won't change my mind about moving to Chile because of the horror story I read above.