PANAMA, May 28, 2017 – Just after the gurney hit the emergency room doors, the ceiling went white with double rows of lights racing above my head. It felt like I was personally living the opening credits of “ER” or “General Hospital” or some other American television hospital series.
“Sometimes it makes me angry,” said my guide who escorted me to the emergency room, “because tourists and foreigners get precedence over Panamanians when it comes to emergency healthcare service. You are in good hands now.”
Whether or not the guide’s frustrations were true, I would not complain about the speed and efficiency of the medical team at the Panamanian hospital. Before it was over I had an EKG, X-rays and all the other tests necessary to ensure that nothing more serious than a bump on my head had occurred.
I was traveling in Panama on my first international trip since being diagnosed with ALS. The trip had been scheduled long before I was aware of my condition, but even if it had been a last minute decision, I still would have gone. Travel is my passion and if I quit and no longer participate, then ALS wins.
ALS may take my dexterity and ability to do many of the things I enjoy, but as long as I am able to think and observe and write about this magnificent planet we inhabit, I’m going to continue to see as much of it as possible.
I had been on a morning excursion to watch a demonstration in the art of making the pollera, the traditional female dress in Panama.
A pollera is made of fine white woven linen consisting of about 13-yards of material. Colorful trim is added to the ruffled skirt so that it resembles a peacock’s tail when lifted. At this particular family operated business, a high-quality pollera can take as long as a year to complete.
Such craftsmanship is typical throughout Panama where local artisans apply their genius in a variety of skills such as drum making, hat weaving, mask making and rolling fine cigars among other trades.
I was eager to witness the demonstration because so much of our American craftsmanship is disappearing, while the Panamanians still thrive upon the quality of superb hand-made handicrafts.
As I stepped up to move to a chair where I could observe the program, my right foot clipped the top of the step causing me to fall forward and greet the sidewalk with a rousing thump to the right side of my head. (The Panamanian cement is also a thriving business.)
Before I could get up and get to a seat my head looked like “Knot’s Landing” and I spent most of the lecture drinking water and having my brains cooled down with ice.
Fortunately, there was no blood this time, however, the next morning produced a shiner that would make any raccoon in the world proud to call me brother.
On the way back to the next outing, we stopped at the hotel for a bathroom break. I was told to stay back and skip the afternoon presentation. Instead, I was about to get my second ambulance ride in three months and my first in another country.
My stay at the hospital was brief, only about an hour and a half, but I was well attended to and cared for quickly and efficiently.
The only other incident which occurred during the stay came when I needed to use the restroom. The tube in the saline solution besides the gurney pulled loose leaving my left hand free of encumbrances. While standing behind closed doors attempting to let nature work, I looked to the left and saw that my hand was dripping blood everywhere.
With only my right hand working due to the ALS I immediately tried to stop all bodily functions so that I could tend to the bleeding but found myself mixing blood and urine in equal quantities on the floor and my clothing as my head throbbed for a solution.
By the time I had everything more or less under control I realized I probably now looked like Spartacus. After a quick zip and dry as best I was able, I called for the nurse to plug my bleeding hand and restore some semblance of calm to the room.
Within ten minutes or so, the doctor came in, took my vital signs again and cleared me to leave.
A nurse brought a cost rundown as I wheeled past the “Exit”. Including the attention of five medics, the ambulance, X-Rays, EKGs, blood work and checking vital signs twice, the total bill came to “0”.
Yes, the bill was zero, zip, nada and nary a penny.
And so a word to the wise traveler, if you are going to take a trip within a trip, Panama may just be the ideal place to do it.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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