Minga, Lily and I were up at 6am to dress and have some breakfast before being picked up by Eduardo at 7:30am for the drive to Hospital Arnulfo Arias Madrid. The traffic heading into the city was heavy; the drive of a few miles took until 8:40am.
This is a free public hospital for those who have paid into Seguro Social. There is another free public hospital, Santo Tomas, for those who have no Seguro Social — the wait there is even longer, Lily says. Gloria’s youngest son Luis was treated at Santo Tomas over the years for his club foot.
We walked through a large waiting room already filled, down the hall, and waited for one of the two creaking elevators. There was an elevator lady managing the move from floor to floor — we went to the 3rd. The elevator was ancient, and the control panel with wires hanging was open. I think we had an elevator lady because it’s simpler than fixing the elevator. She seemed to know how to manage the balky controls to get us from one floor to another.
Dialysis was already underway, primarily for patients brought there from other floors in the hospital. Panama is rife with untreated diabetes as well as untreated hypertension. Some of the hospital-based patients, who were wheeled to the dialysis floor in the beds, were missing limbs, or were blind. One woman, rather young, had legs that ended under her thin blanket about halfway down her thighs — both legs were largely gone. One man who arrived in a wheel chair was mostly a torso with four appendages abbreviated at various points. He had no single arm or leg intact.
The narrow corridor where we waited was noisy with the chatter of waiting patients and those who had accompanied them.
The 10am group began to be called around 11:45am. We got there early, so Minga had a low number: #14. She was called with the first cluster.
There is no food or water for those waiting — you have to leave the hospital and go out onto the street if you want something. You can bring food back and eat it in the corridor. There is one bathroom for people waiting, with no toilet paper, water or soap.
We got into conversation with an 86 year old woman who was waiting on her 64 year old son undergoing dialysis. Everyone undergoing dialysis has to bring someone, in case something untoward happens during the treatment.
Minga’s son Angel, Lily’s uncle, came to see us during his lunch hour. Angel calls me his Little Mother; he was two when I was in the Peace Corps. I was very happy to see him.
Minga came out around 3:45pm.
We went back down the elevator, with me holding her because she felt a bit dizzy.
Eduardo picked us up. Yesterday was Lily’s birthday. Eduardo took us from the hospital to the center city to the bakery where Lily had ordered a cake. We picked up the Corredor del Sur, and got back to the hotel around 5:45pm. A long day for all of us, but for Minga most of all.