Care for Amoebas in El Salvador
After our two week stay in Guatemala, my husband, seven month old Petra, and I took a bus to El Salvador. I had been to El Salvador three times previously and have a cousin who lives there, so it was something of a homecoming for me. I feel comfortable in El Salvador. I know what to expect there. I have people there who care about me and were excited to meet Petra for the first time. It is also cheap to travel in El Salvador, which means less stress for us worrying about finances.
I love pupusas. I was happy to go to El Salvador.
We settled in quickly and easily; renting an apartment for $80 a month in the beautiful colonial town of Suchitoto, making friends with neighbors who had a baby the same age as Petra, and eating plenty of pupusas — the staple food of El Salvador.
A couple weeks after arriving, Wade went armadillo hunting with my cousin one Saturday night. As I was playing with Petra in our apartment, I kissed her forehead and realized with a shock that she was really hot. I took her temperature. It was 102 degrees. This was the first time Petra had ever been sick. I was slightly panicked. I gave her a dose of tylenol, feeling very grateful that we had prepared a medicine bag, and I didn’t have to run out and look for an open pharmacy and that my cousin had left his cell phone with me so I could call Wade. He was not happy to be called home — he was happy out in the bush hunting armadillos — but I really needed him with me the first time our baby got sick.
By the time Wade arrived, Petra’s fever had gone down and she had fallen asleep. She wasn’t showing any other symptoms so we decided to let her sleep out the night and make a decision about going to the hospital in the morning.
In the morning, we prepared to take Petra to the public hospital, as this was our only option as it was Sunday and the highly recommended private clinic in Suchitoto wasn’t open. Her fever continued and there was a little blood in her diaper, so off to the hospital we went.
Like all of my experiences in public hospitals, our first job was to register. This meant going to a second building, spelling out our name, and then returning to the nurse with a piece of paper proving not much more than the fact that we told someone our names. There weren’t too many other people in the waiting room at this time, and we only had to wait about ten minutes to see the doctor.
The young doctor asked us about Petra’s health history and symptoms and came to the conclusion that it was probably either dengue or parasites. It was probably a good choice to come to the hospital — it was also free.
The doctor ordered a blood test to check for dengue and urine and stool tests for parasites. I had to hold Petra while one young nurse tried to take her blood. She screamed. I felt terrible. The nurse failed at hitting a vein with her first attempt and had to do it all over again. Petra screamed. I felt terrible.
To do the other tests all we had to do was purchase an 80 cent container at a woman’s house who lived outside the hospital, catch the sample, and bring it back to the hospital to run in the lab. We had saved Petra’s diaper from the morning and so were able to recover enough sample for a stool test. I will remember this for the future: if you suspect parasites, you want your kid to feel better as soon as possible, and don’t want to have to wait for her to poop again.
When the results for the tests came in that afternoon, we were somewhat relieved to learn Petra had parasites not dengue. As bad as parasites sound, they are not uncommon in El Salvador — everybody gets them from time to time. Almost every long term traveler also gets parasites at some point along their journey.
Petra had just started eating solid foods and fruits and was exposed to parasites as well. She also spends a lot of time on the floor, crawling or dragging herself around. We resolved to step up our cleaning of the apartment, mopping the floor everyday and insisting that guests take off their shoes at the door as well as making double sure that all Petra’s food is washed really well.
All in all, it was scary watching my baby being ill and going to the hospital, but I feel broken in as far as having “a sick kid” experience. Babies get sick, this is a fact. Traveling babies are going to get sick while traveling, another fact. Traveling parents are going to have to take them to foreign hospitals, yet another fact. But after a round of antibiotics, Petra was back to exploring and we were a little wiser and more comfortable traveling as a family.
Read my husband Wade’s take on this event at Traveling Baby Visits El Salvador Hospital.