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Thanks Guatemala for the Free Healthcare

Wrote this several days ago. I’m much better now but the info is still interesting. For the last few days I have been pretty sick with the tourist’s disease which has lots of different names in different places but the worst diarrhea you can imagine by whatever you want to call it is still horrible [...]

Wrote this several days ago. I’m much better now but the info is still interesting.

For the last few days I have been pretty sick with the tourist’s disease which has lots of different names in different places but the worst diarrhea you can imagine by whatever you want to call it is still horrible so I’ll leave the details to your imagination. Anyway, I am recovering thanks to the Guatemalan Public Health Service. This is a few words about how that worked here in this so-called “third world” country.

In San Marcus where I was staying there aren’t any doctors (at least as far as I know.) The town is just too small. However, there is a government public health clinic. And, it is completely free. To everyone. That’s right – EVERYONE! Even Gringo foreigners.

I was asking around about where I could get medicine for my “problem” and was directed there. Not really understanding Spanish, I didn’t really know what the place was. I just knew I was sick and they might be able to help me. I went in and with Diane’s help, explained to the person in front about my symptoms. I was asked to wait. I was thinking in terms of a United States public clinic or something like that so figured I was in for a few hours of misery.

Surprise! About 15 minutes later, I was invited into another room. No questions had been asked other than about general symptoms. Not even my name. When I got into the other room there was a lady whom I assume was a nurse practitioner. She spoke only Spanish so Diane’s help was priceless. I was asked further questions about my symptoms.  After narrowing it down this way, the nurse went to a cabinet and returned with a package of Metronidazole tablets and two packages of a powder to mix with water.  She explained slowly and clearly how to take them in Spanish (I even understood her.) In addition there were directions were on the packages.

She then gave the medicine to me and asked me to sign a sheet to show I had received the medicine. This was the first time I had been asked for any sort of name. I signed but was still not asked for identification. I could have signed “John Smith”. I then asked “Quanta questa?” (How much?) The answer – “No charge.”

Still not understanding that this was a GOVERNMENT PUBLIC HEALTH FACILITY (I mean, forgive me, I’m stupid, I’m from the United States where you die if you can’t pay and as you are dying, people applaud.) I pulled a 100 Q from my pocket (about $12.50) and tried to give it to her as a donation. I was sincere. I’m just not used to the government giving me anything. She just smiled and shook her head at my Gringo ignorance.

Filed under: Guatemala, Health

About the Author:

Gar Williams liquidated his former life, sold all his possessions that wouldn’t fit into a 46 liter backpack, and left it all behind at age 63. He is now traveling the world, and, in his words, is finally doing what he wants to do. Gar stops by at VagabondJourney.com from time to time to offer his wisdom and advice on the Senior Vagabond series. has written 65 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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2 comments… add one

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  • John D. Wilson December 25, 2011, 1:59 pm

    Good Story, Gar.
    As they say, been there and done that. It will hit more then once in your travels, sanitary conditions – well you already know.
    New pic is great, by the way, on the header.
    Looks like you might be able to move over to wordpress.org and get your own domain. Getting this wordpress thing down well.
    Doctors care in all of Central America is like your experience in Guatemala – may not be free – like in Panama I paid $1.50 to have a doctor look at my bad leg. She spent about an hour with me.
    There’s a product I got, in powder form. Was good for the diarrhea and getting rid of parasites – which you will probably pick up down here. Supposed to take in 3 times a day. Someone at a pharmacy will know what it is if they speak a bit of English.
    If it didn’t kill you, it is just one of the wonderful experiences of traveling outside the USA.
    Cheers,
    John D. Wilson

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    • Gar December 25, 2011, 8:42 pm

      Hi John,

      Thanks for the kind words on the header. I think it kind of catches the essence of it all. I’m hoping I don’t need any more doctoring for a while but if I do all I can say is “so far, so good.”

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