Being hospitalized in Ecuador

I try to look upon everything that happens to me as an adventure.  Not worrying, but only trusting that “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose”.  I believe these words and cling to this promise so with most everything that happens, I learn to flow with it and realize that although the road isn’t easy….it’s covered.  There is so much comfort in that!

When I found an abnormal spot on the side of my tongue over a year ago back in the states, I was told to watch it, however it was most likely due to hormone changes in the female body.  I accepted it as “great…nothing going on here” and pretty much dismissed it.  As to “watching it”.  How does one do that when you move to a 3rd world country, and are trying to learn to live day-to-day and learn the language and get through life?  I guess a spot on my tongue wasn’t top priority for me.  That is, until it start to bother me.  Around June or July I believe (after seeing a local doctor to treat for obvious infections etc) I was referred to Dr Leon who is an oncologist in Porto Viejo which is a city about 25 miles from Crucita.  He took one look at the tumor and said it was cancer. Dr Leon has over 40 years experience in medicine with over 25 years experience with treating cancer.  So he’s seen a lot.  He explained the first step was a formal biopsy, but then we would do surgery to remove the painful tumor.  Much to our surprise, the biopsy revealed no cancer!  However Dr Leon still had doubts and said that during surgery another biopsy would be taken to ensure.  He explained that they would be cutting out a tiny portion of my tongue and I would regain all feeling and have no problems with talking, eating, tasting etc.

Surgery was scheduled for September 7, but Doctor Leon had indicated he was going to move it up to get it taken care of sooner.  That never happened, but in retrospect, I now know why.  🙂  The surgery was to be between 1/2 hour to an hour-long and my total stay in the hospital was two nights total.  They want you there the night before surgery as well.

Surgery time was upon us and everything is so confusing.  Dr Leon speaks very little English and staff speaks no English.   We were blessed to have at times Matt from Fundacion La Vida and our friend Omar with us for some appointments but not all. IMG_9159So he remainder of everything that is done and said is left to my imagination.  Which isn’t always good, because sometimes I have quite the imagination.  I wondered if when they put me under if they would have me count backwards.  Would it be in English or Spanish?  These are the types of thoughts that plagued my brain.  They laid me on the very skinny table and fitted me with a properly sized oxygen mask and I saw a man insert a medicine in my IV and within seconds I realized, this is it.  No counting.  I was out.

I believe I went in to the operating room maybe around 8:30.  By the time I came out it was 12:30-1.  Slightly more than the hour they predicted, however they also dealt with “slightly more” than they thought they were.  The doctor said that he saw cancer cells under the scope and they decided to cut further to ensure that it was removed.  Another biopsy was taken and results will be back shortly.  In addition they went into my throat and I woke up to a 5 inch slice on my jaw line where lymph nodes had been removed as well as a drainage tube inserted in my neck.  I remember waking up to a horrible headache.  My tongue completely numb and my neck completely numb.  Pain was very minimal throughout the whole process other than the head ache when I woke up.   My surgery quadrupled in time and so did my stay in the hospital.  I was there 4 nights.

My experience at Solca was great.  The hospital is well-known throughout Ecuador with 5 locations throughout the country.  The hospital I was in was the regional hospital for the province of Manabí.  The staff is professional and friendly and I can’t say enough about Dr Leon who made some important decisions during my surgery to go more in-depth and take it to the next level in order to ensure my health will be completely renewed.

The hospital is very clean and rooms are constantly being swept and mopped several times a day.

We also saw some rooms without patients being completely disassembled with all beds in hallways to ensure a proper sanitation of the room.  My bedding was changed daily.   All equipment is modern and clean and from a lay person’s standpoint, all proper precautions are used to ensure that disease is contained and not passed to other patients.  The liquid diet I was on was fantastic.  I wish I knew what they served me (when I asked, of course it didn’t ring a bell) but one morning for breakfast I was served a delicious warm liquid custard type food with what tasted like a slight cinnamon seasoning.IMG_9184  It was almost like a light version of pumpkin pie before it was cooked.  Yum.  Their soups were wonderful.  I would have to say in spite of the fact that this was hospital food, it was some of the best darn hospital food I’ve ever had!  I’m extremely grateful for the care I received at this hospital and would have no hesitations of recommending this facility to anyone.

I also want to touch on the differences.  I call them differences because that’s simply what they are.  Our American culture is different from Ecuador.  What we find “unacceptable” is perfectly normal here.  So I want to talk about them as I find it interesting, but in no way is this meant disparaging toward this culture and country.

  • One thing I had noticed even prior to the hospitalization, during my doctor visits is that the woman’s bathroom does not have toilet paper nor soap.  You must bring your own, or learn to drip dry.   Also bring your own hand sanitizer.   While the bathroom in my hospital room did have a soap dispenser with soap in it, there was no toilet paper.  We needed to go purchase some at a local tienda across the street.  There was a sheet and very nice blanket (all in plastic…had been sanitized) however I did not have a pillow.  Thankfully I brought my own.  Towels are available upon request however there are no wash cloths.  Bar soap and shampoo must be brought from home.
  • Everything here is paid for in advance.  There is no billing per se.  You settle your debt immediately.  Prior to surgery, the doctor said I needed blood work, a chest X ray and I needed to see a cardiologist.  This is all done on your own.  You find the facility to go to get this done.  Sometimes it can be done directly at the hospital, but other times it cannot.  He may give you recommendations on where to go to get this done, however it’s up to you to go find a place to do it and bring the results back to the doctor.  All medicine that the staff uses on you during your stay in the hospital is purchased up front.

    The doctor will write an order and you go to the pharmacy (take a number like at the deli dept back home) and they will call your number and fill your order.  All medicine including syringes etc are in a plastic bag that you bring back to the medical staff so they can administer the medication.  Prior to surgery we were told I needed a diaper and a pair of support stockings. IMG_9167 How fun is that!!  Well the pharmacy didn’t just sell one diaper…go figure.  My roommate bought a pack and let me use one of hers.

  • Another huge difference (but then again maybe they DO do this in the states??) was that several times in the middle of the night, the staff comes in abruptly using their “outside voices” and flipping on the bright fluorescent lighting to do simple tasks.  There is no hushed whispers or gentle lighting.  At 11PM, they do their staff rotation and I swear it reminded me of a Wal-Mart oo rah-rah staff meeting as they all come in talking loudly, flipping on the light, giggling and telling jokes.  And almost as quickly as they come in, they leave.  I thought of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz when she said:  ” My, people sure do come and go quickly around here.”
  • Dave was asked on more than one occasion to help transport a patient from the stretcher to the bed, something you would not see in the states due to liability issues.  lol  Also…privacy issues are non-existent.  They don’t have HIPAA laws here and people will crowd around when you are making appointments or paying and able to hear all the details of your stay, the cost etc.  This is also true in the hospital rooms….no privacy as to what is ailing you or what needs to take place.  Your room-mate will most likely get a full earful of the exciting details.
  • We also found that the staff and even patients are good with having their pictures taken.  Dr Leon even motioned for Dave to come by and take a picture of the inside of my mouth.  They love this!  And often will pose!  You never know….maybe they are the next Ecuadorian talent that has gone unnoticed!
  • It seems that all patients have a relative or friend with them at all times also.  They encourage people to stay with you as they are the “runners”.  Any medications that are needed, they are responsible to go get them.  Helping with bathroom and showers falls on your  loved one as well.  Of course settling the bill needs to be done at the hospital and this will need to be handled by them too.  Although there were no cots or extra beds the first 3 nights, Dave was able to sleep in my hospital bed right with me.  Close quarters, but they allowed it none the less.  The 3rd night in the room, an Ecuadorian woman came in accompanied by her two adult daughters.  I’m struck with emotion as she was loved on and cared for by her girls.  Kissing her and stroking her hair.  Helping her to the bathroom and overall making her comfortable.  Not calling in nurses to assist, but doing their best with their mom on their own. IMG_9191  I’ve noticed that this is quite the norm here in Ecuador where children are extremely loving to their parents/grandparents.  It warms my heart to see the level of intimacy displayed.  This says a lot about the people of this country.

Earlier on I mentioned that Dr Leon was going to move up my surgery instead of waiting until the 7th of September.  Well that never happened and I was good with that, but now I know why it stayed the date it was.   As we were checking in, I saw a gringa trying to communicate with the office staff and was having some difficulty.  Our friend Omar who is fluent in English and Spanish was with us and of course offered his assistance.  He was able to give her some instructions including the fact that she needed to buy a diaper (we still laugh about that).  After completing our paperwork, we were told that the room was still not ready for check in and that we were free to go get something to eat across the road.  Upon eating lunch, we see Sandie there next door at the pharmacy trying to buy a diaper but having some difficulty communicating.  She just wanted 1 diaper but apparently you can’t buy just one diaper.  Omar helped.  She came by and said she obviously didn’t need six so she gave me one from her pack.  Oh joy!  I told Sandie….”just how a girl wants to spend a beautiful afternoon….diaper shopping….and sharing with friends who may be in need.”.  We laughed.

After lunch, we headed back up to Solca and the room was ready.  They directly me all the way down the hall to the last door on the left and who do I see waiting for me in there?  Sandie!  She was my room-mate for the next two nights.  What a delight!  Her and her husband Tom live in Bahia (about an hour up the coast from us) and have been here for several years now.  It was wonderful having someone to joke with and laugh with.  Some of these things you just have to laugh about.  Like the diaper thing….still kills me.  Sandie has a great sense of humor which I love, but the most precious of all is that she is a believer in Jesus Christ!  Woo hoo!!!  Instant bond!  She mentioned that her pastor and a couple of others were stopping by to pray with her and I felt the Holy Spirit feeding my soul and comforting me and saying “it’s all good!  I’ve got this covered!”   What a time of fellowship….I couldn’t stop smiling.  The most touching part to me was I felt God hugging me.  The odds of having a gringa in my room with me were not good.  But have a strong Christian sold our for Christ room mate was only icing on the cake!  So I took this entire September 7th date as a divine date of the Lord who knew all along.  In the mean time, I’ve met some more beautiful Christian believers from Porto Viejo and feel blessed beyond measure.  God gave me the perfect room mate who I will know for all eternity as a sister now!  God is in control….Our ways are not His ways.  Wait on Him.  These are truths that I cling to these days.

Bottom line…no one wants to be sick.  But, would I trade my Solca experience for a different one?  NO WAY!  Life is wonderful when God is in it and I don’t have to worry about the details.

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This is Ecuador

Our friends Jill and Sy asked if we would like to go to the Botanical Gardens, get some Chinese food and do a bit of shopping on Friday (day after Thanksgiving).  With a slight twist of my arm, I readily agreed.  After all, our internet was still down from Thanksgiving and the power was out now.  With the power out, showers are not possible due to the water pump operating on electric.  So a sponge bath it was!  It wasn’t the first time nor will it be the last I am sure.  And in a pinch when my hair isn’t at it’s best, I just put on a hat and some cute earrings and pretend like I planned it that way.  Such is life in Ecuador!  There’s a word we use here (usually along with a smile) when things are a bit off.  That word is TIE meaning “This is Ecuador”.  Once you’ve experienced life in any 3rd world country, you understand completely. 

They picked us up at 10 and we headed into Porto Viejo to begin the day’s adventures. 

Since traveling to Porto Viejo is not a daily occurence, we try to do as many errands as possible as well.  So the first stop was to buy Dave a bus ticket to Guayaquil for Monday to continue the Visa process.  As soon as  Dave got out of the vehicle, we saw immediately that there was a problem with the right front brake because it was smoking.  As Dave went into the bus terminal to purchase his ticket, Jill motioned for some help from across the street.  We just happened to be parked across from a Yamaha store.  A little old man came and tried to help us release the brake since it had seized up, it seemed to loosen up a bit but not totally. For his efforts he was paid “enough for a coke” per his request. img_5698 Sy decided to get it to a mechanic as soon as possible through a recommendation of a taxi driver they know from the area.  The mechanic took a look and since it wasn’t seized at the moment determined it was fine but “just don’t put aqua on it to cool it down”.    Good to know, I guess.  Bound and determined to carry on with our day as planned we were on our way to the Botanical Gardens.  After going through the front gate of the gardens, we again smelled and saw the smoke coming from the right front of the car.  Sy decided that we will go ahead and enjoy our walk through the gardens but after lunch he would need to have a different mechanic take a serious look to avoid other potential serious issues. 

The gardens, which are part of the technical university located next to the gardens, were beautiful.  We saw many interesting and colorful plants, flowers and even some animals.  Our private tour guide showed us a large termite nest, a boa constrictor (free to roam throughout the gardens), several smiling turtles, as well as a variety of birds. 

Jill was not a fan of the snake being allowed to roam free, but she as well as the rest of us managed to make it out all in one piece.  Overall the gardens are a beautiful, tranquil place to visit and there was no admission charge.  I would love to go back during the summer season which is coming up here in the next few months and see what changes occur. 

On to the next part of our day which was lunch at the Chinese restaurant called Ming Yuan.  The food was delicious, the portions were large and the atmosphere was nice.  The bathrooms were some of the cleanest I’ve seen since moving here which is always appealing to me especially in a restaurant.  Weather true or not, my theory is if the bathrooms are clean perhaps they keep the kitchen equally as clean as they prepare my food.  The atmosphere was similar to back in the states with real furniture (not the plastic chairs which are typically seen in restaurants), air conditioning and the usual Chinese decorations like a fish aquarium and bamboo plants.  Chinese food here is definitely not quite the same as back home, but this was  close enough.  I enjoyed fried rice, soup, chicken and veggies and Dave had a pork dish.  One thing that was different was there wasn’t the usual Chinese banter in the kitchen, I’m pretty sure everyone there spoke Spanish.  The owners went out of their way to make us feel welcomed and comfortable.  I’ll be back again I’m sure!

Next on the agenda was getting the vehicle to a mechanic prior to shopping.  The mechanic shop was very modern and comparable to US standards with a small air-conditioned office which all four of us sat in while waiting for the diagnosis and repair.  We were there for a couple of hours while the mechanics would hop on their motor bikes trying to find the right parts at the various tiendas (stores).  Porto Viejo was hit bad in the April earthquake so many of the tiendas have been displaced and are located in different areas temporarily and in some cases permanently.  The verdict finally came in that the correct part for the Blazer was in Manta (which is about an hours drive away) but they would put on a temporary part that would work fine for the time being.  You have no idea how hard it was for this simple solution to be  communicated to us in Spanish.  While we all know some Spanish, the words or maybe the pronunciation of the words were just not clicking for us.  The people in the shop were not very animated either and kept repeating the same thing over and over again pretty much the same way.  They did try writing it out for us, which helped some.  Sometimes a bit of animation, drama or gestures helps to ease communication,  which is what Dave and I often resort to.  In the end we learned that the temporary fix would take about an hour, but they would need to come back next week once the part was available to permanently fix it.  The good news is that labor is very cheap here so often times a day’s worth of work at the mechanics shop will cost the customer about $20 or so.  The parts can be the pricy items, but in this case, their part will be around $25.  Jill, Dave and I decided we would take a cab over to the SuperMaxi shopping area where we do the bulk of our grocery shopping.  They also have an office supply store, a hardware store, toy store, pharmacy and a home store in a modern indoor mall setting which is very handy!  Sy would come by to pick us up when the vehicle was done.

We were able to check some things off our shopping list such as new pillows with colorful pillow cases for our new chase lounge chair, dust mop, extension cord,  pots for plants as well as a couple of sweet little flowers to bring home. 

I’m a sucker for pretty plants, just like my mom and sister!  The plants in the hardware store were imported from the US and maybe are considered seasonal here, although I’m not quite sure.  I bought two small marigolds hoping they will hold up outdoors even with the high salt content in the air.  I also bought a colorful pepper plant and an African violet for indoors.  I would have purchased a poinsettia, however a small plant was around $13 so I had to pass although I love having them during the holidays.  The other plants were very affordable and I’m anxious to see if they will thrive this close to the beach.  Many plants/flowers cannot live close to the ocean due to the salt air as it burns them up.  So far I know that periwinkle and geraniums hold up quite well and I’m hoping that the marigolds do the same. 

The shopping center was bustling with people for black Friday shopping which they have a small version of here in Ecuador.  The mall had a beautiful nativity set and Christmas tree set up as well as some fun activities for children with a painting area.  I would say it was a perfect amount of décor, pleasant really.  The commercialization of the holidays has always been way too much for my taste back in the states, so not having it here has been enjoyable.

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Sy picked us up after shopping and we were on our way home although the traffic was crazy.  It was probably because of the busy shopping season, but also because it was Friday night.  Driving out-of-town last night was just another reminder of how I’m not too keen on having a car here at this point.  Driving in Ecuador is similar to other foreign Latin American countries we’ve visited.  The biggest hurdle being that there are no lanes and even if there were, no one uses them.  You drive wherever there is room on the road and use your horn quite often!   We made it home safe and sound though and although the day wasn’t exactly as we planned it, it was an adventure none the less.  Thanks to Jill and Sy for letting us tag along!