For the most part we are living very well here in St. Kitts, enjoying beautiful surroundings and nice accommodations with lots of space, a dishwasher, clothes dryer, air conditioning, and cable TV, which things most people here don't have the luxury of. We are blessed in many respects to have all this, but still get the experience of living in another country. I usually don't have too many big moments (anymore) where I am surprised by what I see, but every once in a while we have an experience here that reminds us that we really are living in a third world country (or at least a 2 1/2 world country.)
Let me tell you the tale of our first trip to the doctor's office here in St. Kitts. First of all, I will say that we've been hoping and praying that we will not need to go to the doctor for any reason, because we have heard stories about the substandard medical care. But with 3 kids and 2 months here, Payton had gotten sick and Damon had a rash, and so we broke down and decided we needed to seek medical care.
After getting a referral for a doctor from a friend, I made a phone call this morning to get an appointment. Well, no appointment is needed- you just come in and are helped on a first come, first serve basis. So the 3 kids and I headed over to find the office (there are no addresses here). I found the location and the Dr.'s name on a sign, but was a little confused by the food being served outside. We went inside and there were large pictures of food all over the walls, and lots of those white plastic lawn chairs that you can buy at WalMart for $3.44. I was looking for some stairs thinking that the 1st floor might be a cafe of some sort, but there were no stairs, and there was a receptionist, and we were in the right place! Yea!
She pulled out a yellow card that said today's date and asked me for my name, the child's name, and her date of birth. Now all of this might sound normal to you so far, but it wasn't until I insisted that she write down our last name too that she would write it down on our cards. I had a piece of paper from our international health insurance program that was to be filled out for the visit, but because I had 2 children to be seen and needed 2 documents filled out to be reimbursed, and I only had the one form, that posed quite a problem. The office had no photo copier and so only one child could be seen until they made their daily trip to have documents photocopied, and they could then copy my form.
Well, it turns out that after looking through their things, they found some copies of the exact same form from previous Marriott patients, so now Damon and Payton could both be seen! After waiting for a while (we were the only ones there), I asked how long it might be. It turned out the doctor was gone on a "house call" so we would have to wait until he returned. Well we were hungry and hadn't eaten, so lucky for us we were able to step right outside to get something to eat.
When the doctor finally returned (which I was never quite able to confirm what kind of doctor he actually was) we were told we could head to the back. We walked back to the only door that wasn't the restroom and found a man sitting at a desk writing. We walked in and sat down and looked around the room, which consisted of his desk, some bookcases of books, some bookcases with boxes of medicine, lots of toys scattered around, 2 more lawn chairs, and a curtain with a table behind it. I sat down and waited for about 5 minutes for him to finish what he was doing, which was when he looked up to acknowledge that we were sitting there.
So, the doctor first looked at Damon's rash around his diaper area and said it was a yeast infection with also some sort of allergy rash on top of that. He said, "Some babies are allergic to their own pee, so has he had a wet diaper that he has been sitting in for longer than usual lately?" No... He then said, "It must be the different brand of diapers that they sell here vs. what he used to wear." No... we brought a few cases of our own diapers. "Well it's a mystery then," and he gave me a prescription for cream.
Next he "looked" at Payton, who has had stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea for 3 days. We were concerned that it might be something with her appendix, which in that case we would book a plane ticket to Miami because we are not sure what would happen to her with the 1 surgeon here at the hospital in St. Kitts, who performs surgery on anything and everything. The doctor listened to our complaints and then listened to her heart and stomach. He promptly wrote her some prescriptions for medicine that is manufactured in Barbados and Ecuador, where the writing on the box is in Spanish, and to cure symptoms that I never even knew a remedy existed for. I said, "So is it some sort of stomach flu?" and he said that everyone in St. Kitts had this in January and it is gone now, but she is not used to the germs here in St. Kitts so she got sick. No affirmative answer on whether it was a stomach bug- just a prescription for antibiotics (why?) and other "special crystals that will cure the vomiting."
So you may think this story ends here. No, not quite. We chatted for a bit and then he began to fill out my insurance paperwork. The cost for each child was $80. EC (about $30. U.S.) and so the doctor told me to be smart next time. He explained how my form was the St. Kitts paperwork, and so next time I should bring in the U.S. paperwork, pay him the $80. EC, then submit my paperwork to be reimbursed in U.S. dollars. I sat there for about 10 seconds trying to think of what I should say to this plan, but I was so shocked that I just thanked him and left.
Next I went out front to pay and the receptionist was confused because she said the doctor usually collects the money in the back (again, why?) So I got out my debit card from the local bank, but no, they only accept cash. They gave me all my paperwork and receipts anyway, and told me to bring the cash by whenever I had a chance. And then, before we left, Payton had an "attack" and we needed to use the restroom. There was no light and only a tiny speck of soap, and no paper towels or anything of the sort (in my opinion) for the medical professionals to wash their hands properly between patients (and after the Dr. collects the cash from patients).
I am now home after going to the ABM (St. Kitts style ATM) and bringing them their money and filling all our prescriptions for the "magic crystals" and other lotions and potions. I think that I trust the doctor to know that her "bug" is the same one that he sees all the time, and I hope that Payton will soon be feeling better and that our next blog entry is not to say that we made a last minute trip to Miami for her to have her appendix out!