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Traveling Baby Visits El Salvador Hospital

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 [...]

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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:
1. Dengue
2. Parasites

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.

She screamed.

The nurse pushed the needle in and out and in again.

She could not find the vein.

Petra screamed.

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.

Petra screamed.

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.

Petra screamed.

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.

Poor girl.

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.

The result:

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.

Petra getting her temperature taken.

The public hospital in Suchitoto. Apparently, all medical care here is free.

The shop outside of the hospital where we bought the biological samples cups for 80 cents.

All the medicine that we received at the hospital was also free of charge.


Filed under: Central America, El Salvador, Health

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

13 comments… add one

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  • Gloria April 19, 2010, 8:20 am

    I recently discovered your blog and enjoy it very much. I hope your baby is feeling better. I understand the agony and distress, having 3 children of my own. I spent two nights in a Russian hospital once – nightmare – and am happy to be alive.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 19, 2010, 9:29 am

      Thank you Gloria,

      She is doing a little better now, but that was a real scare a couple nights ago. For the most part the hospital visit was pretty much what we could have expected anywhere in the world.

      Sounds like you took a good story out of your visit to the Russian hospital!



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  • Mike Crosby April 19, 2010, 11:58 am

    Sounds like a tough ordeal Wade. It looks though that you, Chaya, and especially Petra are doing better.

    I’m not sure I’d have too much faith in a medical system while at the same time the culture believes one can get the evil eye by just looking:-)

    But you gotta do what you gotta do, and it’s nice to see your love for your daughter.

    I’m such a wuss. I have to take my dog for shots today and I don’t even like that. I pray for Petra’s speedy recovery.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 19, 2010, 1:31 pm

      Thank you Mike,

      We really appreciate your good wishes.

      It is interesting to observe the differences of health perceptions between cultures around the world, but it is also amazing how, in the light of these differences, standard “modern” medicine is. During this hospital visit we received pretty much the same car and treatment that we would anywhere else in the world.

      Even the nurse who couldn’t get blood is a usual occurrence — the same thing basically happened to Petra at a doctor visit in Maine.

      The big difference was the nurses refusing to wear gloves, but we later found out that this was because they were two sizes too big for them and hung off their hands like five rabbit ears.

      The visit, tests, and treatment were also free, which is a radical idea in the USA.

      It is tough watching someone you love being hurt for their own good. Wish you the best with your dog.



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  • Michael April 19, 2010, 1:09 pm

    Hi Wade,

    Glad Petra is better. HOw do you think she picked up the parasites?..Is she eating solid food now or is Chaya breast feeding totally . Petra is probably putting everything in her mouth now and it’ll be more of a challenge as the months go by as she begins to crawl around and explore her world by chewing on it one bite at a time !!

    Take care,

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 19, 2010, 6:24 pm

      Hello Mike,

      We have no idea where she picked them up from. She has been eating solid food along with breast milk, and I must admit that we have been a little haphazard about what she eats. If we are eating a banana, we give some to Petra; if we are munching on a mango, then we let Petra take some licks.

      I think that we are going to instill a little stricter practice of what Petra is exposed to — so we are going to cook her food and wash our floor regularly.

      It is my impression that getting these amoebas from time to time is a standard part of being here, everybody gets them. We are just going to have to try to limit the possibility of this happening again — though I don’t think we are going to get too crazy about it, as a clean room environment is also not too good for babies either.

      But you are very right, Petra is moving around now, is all over the floor, and is putting everything in her mouth. This is getting fun.



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  • Caitlin April 19, 2010, 11:27 pm

    Aw. Hope she’s feeling better. What a trooper.

    I saw this in a store the other day, would make a great commemorative present of her very first parasite:


    hahaha. I’m thinking of getting the “typhoid” one myself.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 20, 2010, 1:09 pm

      That had to be the cutest amoeba we ever did see.

      Wow! You had typhoid! Way cool haha.

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  • Debbie Goss April 20, 2010, 3:09 pm

    Your story brought back vivid memories of me screaming “STOP IT, STOP IT” at the doctor who was trying to put an iv into my grandbaby.

    btw – they don’t want to wear gloves because it makes it very difficult to feel the veins and/or pulse. Kind of like trying to read braile with gloves on. I have consistently seen nurses at Maine Med tear the fingers out of the gloves that they are wearing when inserting needles.

    best, Debbie

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 21, 2010, 9:44 am

      Hello Deb,

      That is a good story. I could picture you yelling at those doctors. As Chaya said, “All nurses do all day is draw blood, how can they not do it right?”

      I suppose that is just the way it goes.

      We think that Barbara and Sol may be coming down to visit us in Guatemala (big maybe). We took some jobs at a jungle lodge, it is real nice there, so if you want to come and visit to it would be great.

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  • Genny March 25, 2011, 2:38 pm

    Wade, as a traveller and a mom I am happy to hear that your daughter is doing better. I love your blog and read every post you and your wife write. Inspirational to know that you can be a responsible parent and show your children the world all at the same time! Kudos to all of you!

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 26, 2011, 12:39 pm

      Thanks Genny,

      This is much appreciated.

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