Saturday, February 7, 2015

Doctors without Borders? Cuban Physicians Make Chilean House Calls

Every autumn, in California, we start hearing about the upcoming flu season and the need to get vaccinated before it starts. I normally haven’t done so, not because I’m an anti-vaxxer, but because I usually leave for southernmost South America, where summer is starting and flu treatment is a low priority. That was the case again this year, except that I returned from Buenos Aires to Oakland for most of December and January before returning to Chile last week.
So far, my time here hasn’t worked out exactly as expected because, just a couple days after arriving, I got slammed by a vicious bug that left me nearly prostrate. I am guessing – call it informed speculation – that my airport odyssey from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Lima to Santiago exposed me to something that vaccination might have fought off. I managed to see a few necessary contacts before it really overpowered me, and I’ve spent most of the time since in a reclining position – even sitting at the keyboard has exhausted me.

I didn’t really want to go the hospital, but after waiting it out for a few days, I let my friend Marializ Maldonado arrange a house call through Médicos a Domicilio Cuba Vida, an organization of Chilean-licensed Cuban doctors operating in Santiago. The very existence of the service surprised me, as physician house calls are a thing of the past in the United States – I don’t recall one since I was a child in Washington State, though I did get nurse’s visits after heart surgery a few years ago in California.

It was barely an hour from when Marializ phoned until the doctor and her assistant arrived, with state-of-the-art gear for measuring vital signs, and asking all the relevant questions about my medical history – even though she gave the visual impression that she might have interrupted a shopping spree at Victoria’s Secret. The diagnosis was bronchitis, and she wrote several prescriptions, including antibiotics, a strong cough syrup and an inhaler. The cost was a modest 30,000 pesos, less than US$50 at the current exchange rate; the prescriptions were another 22,000 pesos (roughly US$35), but it’s reimbursable through my travel insurance.

Fortunately, at home in California, I live only a few blocks from my regular health care provider’s hospital, so house calls are hardly necessary. It was a pleasure to learn, though, that such services are still available at a reasonable cost. I would recommend the service to anybody visiting Santiago, though it’s unclear whether or not they have English-speaking doctors.

On a tangential note, the Cuban presence in Chile has become palpable in recent years, especially on the music scene. Only yesterday, as I went to board the Metro in the central Plaza de Armas, there was an excellent son-style group playing in the bandshell (pictured above). The crowd of spectators was small but appreciative.

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