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.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Feed a stray, get a fine

That's right. Valparaiso has implemented a new plan this week where feeding or sheltering stray animals is cause for a 1-5 UTM fine!!! (Each UTM is around 35,000CLP or USD $70.00...and you could get up to 5x that!). My feelings are mixed.

Valparaiso's strays are iconic.

Though I do agree we have a stray animal problem.

The problem is undenyable: overpopulation of stray dogs in the city center. Every visitor I've ever hosted in Valparaiso has been amazed by the quantity of dogs running around the center of town. But they are also taken aback by the fact that the dogs are friendly and appear well-fed. Despite my personal bad luck, very few dogs are dangerous or aggressive, and while they will happily scarf down any food offered, its more from the spirit of being a dog than from lack of food- the majority are not starving, or thin at all. They don't have rabies and relatively few have noticeable diseases.

One of the very few occations where I've seen sickly strays in Valparaiso's plan.

5 Dogs mingling with humans in the Plaza Victoria

This is why I'm weary of the plan detailed here. As far as I've read the plan consists of collecting stray dogs and taking them to a kennel, where their owners can claim them and pay a fine. People feeding and sheltering stray dogs will also get a fine. One HUGE aspect which is underrepresented in what happens to the unclaimed dogs, and how this will reduce the population of stray dogs in the long run. The kennel is already known for being overpopulated, so I cant imagine they're going to shove in hundreds or thousands of additional stray dogs to happily live out the rest of their lives there. This particular article doesn't even mention the issue of sterilization

The plan also fails to include (or the mention) any sort of public education campaign about responsible pet ownership, animal adoption, animal population control (I'll let Andrea tell you about that), etc... Are these not the KEY TO CHANGED BEHAVIORS???

At the University here we learned how a large percentage of the stray dog population consisted of dogs who had owners who either let them run free all day or threw them out on the streets after the adorable puppy stage. Many who look like strays in fact still "belong to" someone, or something of the sort, and do get food and (hopefully) some love from them. Many other people provide food and leftovers for the strays that hang around their house, sometimes even taking them to the vet or assisting in emergencies.

Someone helps out a stray mother

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Potato Face!

Once again, I've been days with a high fever and cold with body aches so bad I could hardly move. I'm not sure what's going on that I am getting sick over and over again but its starting to worry me.

Last night I went to bed with a fever of 102. I don't remember much of anything but I woke up talking about this dream where my boyfriend put potatoes all over my face, which is something typically done in Chile when one has a fever.  I thought it was one of my feverish hallucinations, but apparently it really happened. As I got out of bed I felt almost normal, so I picked up the thermometer and a minute later it was beeping with a solid 98.6.


Edit: False alarm. I have a fever again

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I love to read.

But yesterday I bought my first book in Chile. I have been warned since I got here that books are expensive, and have avoided making purchases here because of that. Even used books at the feria are expensive.

It didn't matter though. I was at the book store and I had to buy this one book. It cost around $22,000 CLP. Thats kinda a lot of money for a book, and I considered not buying it, but I went ahead anyway cuz I had my reasons...

When I got home I checked online just for giggles. How much would it have cost to buy online and ship the book to Chile? $12 US.


(edit: to get books shipped to Chile for free check out though it may take a few weeks and some patience).