SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- I was out in a village in the countryside of El Salvador preparing for a night of armadillo hunting when a telephone rang out from a rectangular mud brick house. I was eating a meal of fried fish, tortillas, meat, and pineapple cores, I thought nothing of who could have been on the other end of the phone. Who would call for me now, on the brink of an armadillo hunt?
Apparently, my wife would.
Come home now, the baby is sick.
With much disappointment I abandoned the hunt, told my friends the news, and hung my head as I was transported back to town. There would be no hunting for me on this night.
“Don’t worry,” my cousin spoke, “in another 20 days the moon will be right for armadillo hunting again.”
Little Petra was sick for the first time in her traveling life. She has been traveling for nearly the entire time since she first began kicking and squirming on this earth — across the USA and to four countries. She has already seen more of the world than most adults — and she has done so with the stomach of steel and blitzkrieg immune system of a rough necked old traveler.
Though now a crack in her armor has been wrought, she came down with a fever.
102 degrees. A half hour after taking some baby Tylenol, 99.9 degrees.
She was burning up when I arrived back to the apartment from the countryside. My friends came up to the room with me. The two Salvadoran men became worried that there was a fan pointed in the direction of our baby.
“It seems as if people don’t put fans on people with fevers,” my Salvador cousin in law explained.
We turned off the fan until our guest made their exit.
The next morning we brought Petra to the local hospital, which was not an imposing structure in Suchitoto by any means. It was more or less an waiting room, an emergency room, a cramped consultation office, and some back examination rooms that had in it a little kid screaming for dear life.
We registered with the pharmacists. We had to spell out every letter of our names for him to write down on a sheet of paper. We returned to the waiting room, and, apparently, did not miss much: the screaming child was still screaming. The wails of severe pain from this little kid became the foreshadowing for what would come: Chaya and I knew that our little daughter would be next.
We were called in next. We followed a young man wearing a doctor’s white examination robe into the cramped consultation room. We were consulted. We told him what was ailing Petra. He wrote it down upon the paper that the pharmacist previously filled out our names on. The doctor nodded his head, jotted notes, asked questions, scolded us for not getting Petra all of her vaccinations — “muy peligroso” — and with a few more quick strokes of his pen, had a prospective list of possible diagnoses worked out:
We did not root for either.
Petra was then escorted by a nurse to an emergency room table. At my prompting, Chaya requested the nurse to wear surgical gloves before drawing blood from out baby. The nurse agreed verbally, removed a pair of operating gloves, but did not put them on. I chattered in Chaya’s ear to make the nurse wear them, but the action was already in full swing, the needle was stuck into Petra’s wrist.
The nurse pushed the needle in and out and in again.
She could not find the vein.
The nurse tried to squeeze blood out of the needle opening and into a collection tube. Petra’s hand was doubled over and being wrung out in the hunt for blood like freshly washed laundry being squeezed dry of water. But little blood dripped into the tube.
The nurse missed the vein.
I left the room to save myself from yelling at the nurse or puking on myself. My little girl was in pain right before me, and there was nothing that I could do.
But I needed to do something, so I paced the room, ran outside of the hospital, took in a breathe of fresh air. But this was no solace, the gut wrenching wails of my child called me back into their source.
There is perhaps no worse sound in this world than a child in pain. This sound becomes all the worse when the child is your own.
After a long five minutes of torture, the nurse gave up the hunt, and, with a shrug, removed the needle. She shook the tube that could only boast a light splatter of my daughter’s blood in front of us to reaffirm that it would not be enough. The carnage would need to continue.
An older, fatter nurse soon appeared. I asked her to wear gloves. She outrightly refused. She threw a tourniquet around Petra’s other wrist with her bare hands, and then plunged in the needle. She hit the vein like a pro, the blood squirted into the tube.
Petra still screamed.
But soon it was over. Gruesome. The nurse left the needle in Petra’s wrist — just in case she did have dengue they could give her medicine through it and would not need to stab her again. Also gruesome. The needle was reinforced with tape, and Petra received a new toy. A really, really shitty kind of new toy. It was the kind that hurts.
We now needed to wait for Petra to pee and poop. This is not something that can be ordered as though from a restaurant. Chaya and I received the instructions that we should just catch the poop and pee in two different cups, which we paid 80 cents for at a woman’s house window shop outside of the hospital. At my request for a strategy to catch the biological samples from a squirming baby, the nurses dug out a reception bag and stuck it to Petra’s yoni.
Apparently, she was suppose to pee into this bag that was sticker taped to her front parts.
We went home to wait for our 8 month old daughter to eliminate some waste. It was a good think that we have a diaper free baby. Chaya removed the piss bag from Petra’s privates, walked into the bathroom, and turned on a water faucet. Petra peed. Chaya caught the pee. We were half way there.
Rather than waiting for a new poop to come, I dug out the morning’s diaper. We were ready to return to the hospital. I proudly passed the samples over the desk to the nurses.
“We won,” I proclaimed with a base monotone in Spanish.
A few hours later the test results came back. I observed a lab tech come stutting up to the doctor with a piece of paper being waved victoriously in his hand.
Dengue — nope.
Parasites — yep.
We go over the the hospital’s pharmacy for medicine, and are provisioned with a collection of antibiotics, parasite repellant, and hydrocortisone cream for the insect bites on her arms.
Petra has her first batch of amoebas. I am almost proud of my little world traveler.
Total cost: 0 dollars and 0 cents to the hospital, 80 cents to a woman who sells biological sample cups outside the hospital.