Sunday, March 29, 2009

Here’s to being healthy

My apologies for not blogging much these days. Not only have things been busy with school (thank goodness the science fairs are done!) but we’ve been battling one illness or infirmity after another. Lauren and Dan both had colds, then me, now Erin too. I am still recovering after three long weeks of battling a bacterial lung infection which has sent me to the hospital twice for breathing treatments and has caused me to lose my senses of smell and taste for more than two weeks, which is depressing, I gotta admit. (I told Dan that I want to go out to dinner as soon as I feel better and can taste my meal.) Of course the dirt and dust swirling around in the air aren't helping things.

Last month I went through a bunch of physical therapy for a messed up shoulder. The PT here is terrific, but WHEW! I am so ready to feel healthy and normal again!

Anyway, I thought this would be a great opportunity to share a little about healthcare here in CR, which is markedly different from that in the US.

The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) is CR’s nationalized healthcare system. Known as the Caja, the system provides inexpensive health services to the Costa Ricans. While the Caja offers low-cost alternatives, wait times are often long for routine exams to vital surgeries. I’ve heard the red tape can be a nightmare as well, but in the end the healthcare is said to be cheap but high-quality.

We don’t participate in the Caja (though we could if we chose to) but instead have international insurance through CIGNA. We visit doctors at CIMA, the beautiful, nine-year-old private hospital about 15 minutes down the highway in Escazú. Here we can still get high-quality medical care for much less than we would in the United States. Many of the doctors here trained in the US, Canada or Europe, and most speak some English. (Yesterday I took Erin to CIMA for a sore throat and was speaking solely in Spanish with the doctor. She asked me if it hurt Erin to swallow and I couldn’t remember the word for swallow in English, but the doctor knew and blurted it out. Ha!)

We use the hospital’s ER as an urgent care center, but we also have our own personal physicians. Going to the doctor here is much more pleasant than at home. There are waiting rooms for many doctor offices, but once you are in the door to the office, you’re really in. For example, my doctor has his desk right as I walk in the door. The room has half a wall and on the other side is the scale, the examining table, a bathroom, etc. and there is plenty of space. No nurse is there to take vitals—my doctor does it himself. I love this because it gives me time to talk with him, and I have not felt rushed during an appointment for myself or for the girls (who have their own pediatrician). The patient gets undivided attention because the doctor doesn’t have to hop from room to room and the patient is not stuck waiting and bored. I’m really going to miss this when we move back to the US.

Medical tourism is very popular in Costa Rica—people from North America and Europe flock here for everything from dental work to cosmetic surgeries and cancer treatments because of the low cost of care, personal attention, and beautiful surroundings.

Prescriptions in CR are called recetas—the same word for recipe in Spanish, which I always find amusing. Recetas are not needed to purchase many medications in Costa Rica (for example those for blood pressure, cholesterol, birth control, to name a few), though several months ago pharmacies did begin requiring prescriptions for antibiotics. One of my favorite things about the pharmacies here is that they deliver right to my door for no extra cost. One of my least favorite things is that you have to ask the pharmacist for just about any medication—even those that you could buy over-the-counter in the US.

I’ve been a frequent customer at the pharmacy lately with all these crazy colds and infections. While I’m really grateful to have CIMA nearby, here’s hoping everyone in our house is well soon and we can quit wearing our path to CIMA’s doors.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dust in the wind

When the winds pick up in December and January, it’s cause for celebration: rainy season is on its way out and the sunny, beautiful dry season has arrived. (I blogged about this last year, mentioning how noisy and dusty life is during windy weather.)

Eventually the gusts subside and the valley is left with the gorgeous weather people dream about. Normally. This year, however, it's been much cloudier than last season and the wind isn’t letting up. It's been blowing like mad for weeks, making it hard to sleep some nights and frustrating on those bright, clear days when we want to play and swim outdoors but get blasted by blowing dirt and dust. I’d love to spend dinner out on our patio, enjoying the optimal temperatures and a beautiful sunset, but it would be futile. Too darn windy!

Not long ago a new billboard went up along the highway not far from my house—a big one on a fat, steel post. Enter the crazy winds, and after only a week the billboard had crashed. I got a few photos of it (evidence, you know) the morning after it happened.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this wind is that we can’t keep our windows wide open, which is something we normally love about living here. There is so much pollution in the air—dust, dirt, pollen, ash (lots of controlled and uncontrolled fires during dry season) and who knows what else blowing around—and it comes right into the house. I can dust the furniture, open the windows, and a couple of hours later run my hand over the table only to find brown dirt and grit on my palm. I’m serious about this—no taking literary license here. We can look out our back window and see stuff whirling in the air—and then I think about us breathing all that in. It’s disheartening.

The other day the DJ at a local radio station played Dust in the Wind by Kansas. I think he was having a poke at this crazy Costa Rican weather.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Bet you won't hear this at your grocery store today ...

MegaSuper is not my favorite supermarket in Costa Rica for many reasons, and I normally only stop there for the basics—milk, bread, and eggs. While I don't care much for the store, I do appreciate that the MegaSuper people play some entertaining music for shoppers, including plenty of stuff in English which I enjoy.

Yesterday was an exception to that rule. Erin and I were looking at hot dogs when we heard the first notes of a very popular song. An instrumental, nicely done, very pleasant but extremely out of place. Silent Night. Yeah, the Christmas song. In March! What's up with that, anyway?