I was reluctant to share the following, as it was not exactly the highest point in my life, and it was admittedly a little embarrassing. However, I feel obliged not only because it was a significant event in my travels thus far, but also because of the many thoughts and emotions that it has stirred within me.
I took a fall about ten days ago. It was a rather hard fall, from a small concrete bridge without railings, and I landed on a rock directly on my side around where my ribs lay. How I fell off the bridge I must admit I am not quite sure; in retrospect I would say that it was a combination of things with the biggest factor simply being carelessness. It must have been quite comical while happening and I probably would have laughed if such a thing befell someone else. It happened to me however, and I am now the guy that fell off a bridge while walking. There, that is the embarrassing part.
The direct aftermath was quite bad, and I was lucky to have friends to help me out that night. I went to the doctor the next day and he told me that my ribs were fine but that there could be other complications and I should go to the nearest city for an x-ray. I am rather stubborn at times when it comes to my health and I am a firm believer in the power of the mind and body to heal itself, so as I slowly felt better I decided the x-ray was unnecessary. It took some pushing from friends and some words of wisdom from my uncle who is also a doctor back in Canada for me to go and get it done.
Everything happened quite quickly after that. I found myself in a little backroom of a clinic with an x-ray technician telling me to go to the hospital immediately; then in the emergency room with a doctor telling me that they needed to perform a procedure, but with an assurance that it was quick and easy. I thought at that point that I could still make the 5:00 ferry back to my place. It wasn’t until I was already on the operating bed and a nurse told me that I would probably be in the hospital for about a week that I really realized the magnitude of the situation. Now, the sad part of this is that the first thing that came to my mind when they told me this was not that my life was in danger but rather that I did not have the money to pay for the procedure. My travel insurance had expired sometime ago and I hadn’t really thought about it until I took the fall, but now it became my number one concern. Now I know how so many people around the world, even in the United States, feel when their health is in jeopardy. This is what capitalism has done to us: we have commodified our bodies; we have let that ubiquitous dollar sign haunt us even in our most vulnerable of times.
I panicked and tried to back out of the operation for some time to think about what I was going to do, but the doctors insisted that I had no choice, that my life was worth any price. They started cutting away at my side while I was still anxious about the whole money situation, calming me in whatever way they could. I recall at one point while they were attempting to jam a tube in between my ribs one doctor telling me “pura vida”.
A bit later as I lay in a bed numbed on drugs I broke down. All I could think about was that with every hour that I lay there my future slowly disappeared - I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my life. Perhaps I felt, just for that short period lying on my bed, what so many people here in the poor world feel all the time, and it is not something that anyone should have to feel.
As it turns out, I had nothing to fear. The reason the doctors were not worried was because Costa Rica constitutionally recognizes the right to life, and that the State is obligated to care for anyone who needs it, whether they have money or not. Money in Costa Rica comes second to health, and several people told me that Costa Ricans always take care of their fellow humans – they certainly proved this true. They did give me a large bill in the end, but they said I have to pay it when I can, and I will, eventually.
Although I would rather have avoided the entire situation, the experience itself was quite interesting. I felt like being in a hospital for three days, and being the only foreigner there, really helped me gain an intimate understanding of Costa Rica and the way life is seen here. Everybody was so sympathetic and helpful, professional and reassuring. They made me feel safe, and they made me feel like they were pleased to care for me. I was staying in a hospital in an area of Costa Rica that foreigners tend to avoid, and because I was the only one there I think I was a bit of a novelty. I was the Spanish speaking Canadian who fell off a bridge, or the “Mal Caminador” as one person put it. In the room where the patients were observed directly after surgery I met a fellow named Elrey who seemed to be in severe pain. He looked at the tube in my side and then lifted his shirt and showed me his scar from the same procedure he had years before. He assured me I’d be alright and then let me use his phone to call my friends. When we were being moved up to permanent rooms he demanded that we be put together. I’ll never forget him for his kindness and the comfort he provided. I stayed in a room with five other people who were all in various conditions, and we all gained a seemingly deep connection in the short time that I was there. I’ve never really been a patient in a hospital before, but I can confidently say that since it had to happen, I’m glad it was there. When I was first wheeled up to the room an old fellow named William came bouncing over to me, he told me whatever I needed he’d take care of it. He was a patient who had been waiting for weeks for some sort of prostate surgery, he reminded me of a Latin Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, able to brighten the darkest of situations. My recovery was rapid and I was out in three days, even the nurses were surprised when I told them that the doctors had let me go.
I suppose if I were to get seriously injured it couldn’t have happened at a better time. My plans were to head away from the coast for a while anyways, so it all worked out in the end. I had a conversation with a girl from Honduras the other night, she told me that the world is wrong and that the majority of Hondurans support the coup government. I chose not to get into an argument with her, instead I just asked her what she was doing here in Costa Rica, already knowing the answer. She, a girl from one of the poorest countries in Latin America, was here in one of the most expensive countries in Latin America, on vacation. I’ll leave it at that, and simply go see for myself. I’m on my way to Honduras to take part in a human rights delegation during the upcoming controversial elections. I’m anxious to get back into the struggle, and I intend to keep constant updates on what is happening there. I have decided that this is a good opportunity to take my writing into two different directions, and so I invite you all to follow a new blog that I have begun at www.riseuplatinamerica.blogspot.com.