So I feel like I’ve earned some kind of Missionary merit badge this week. I have now successfully gone to a Bolivian dentist. This brings the sum of my accomplishments to visiting multiple Bolivian doctors, one dentist, having x-rays and blood tests taken, and taking drugs I didn’t recognize that are produced in Syria or Uruguay but prescribed by my doctor. I no longer feel the irrational fear of health care here that I felt when we first arrived. This fear, though somewhat well-founded, was only harmful and left me suffering in bed with 103F fever because I was too scared to go to a hospital, or painfully enduring sinus infections because I wouldn’t go to a pharmacy to ask about a bolivian equivalent of Sudafed. I am actually optimistic about having a much-healthier second year here, and when health issues do arise taking care of them without all the stress and panic.
It’s partly a cultural issue and partly basic science knowledge that fueled this fear. When waiting in a doctor’s office I’d see nurses treating patients without wearing gloves or washing their hands, or every patient examined on the same, un-sanitized bed complete with unwashed pillow, or a nurse giving me an injection without putting gloves on and I would have to muster all my composure to stifle the panicked “what ifs” in my head. This is not a germ-o-phobic culture, and the training of health professionals does not follow the same standards and guidelines of that in the U.S. But is that reason for me to say, “They don’t know how to do anything right!”? It’s hard not to judge what appears to me as clearly wrong, but I have slowly figured out which clinics are better than others. There are well-trained, knowledgeable doctors here and there are probably poor doctors in the U.S. that cut hygienic corners also. Really the best response is just to take a deep breath and think “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”
You might say but that doesn’t validate taking so much risk. Risk is an interesting concept in Bolivia, interestingly non-existent. A much-higher level of risk is just accepted as part of daily life. Our skies are polluted with smoke and ash, the streets are full of trash and dirty water, hot lunch is sold out of wheelbarrows on the street. I once saw a lady scooping her hot sauce into half an egg-shell so that she could take it to-go. They actually take the seat belts and air bags out of their cars before driving them. We have uncovered 220 volt outlets right next to the baby cribs in the Guarderia. There are no fire exits, smoke alarms, emergency-off switches, basically any form of safety precaution, you can assume they probably don’t use it here. (I should have mentioned earlier in the post, this is not appropriate reading for parents or anyone with custodial feelings toward us).
So besides an early Halloween scare for our parents, what’s my point here? Enjoy your cozy safety blanket in the developed world but don’t take it for granted. It’s not always a bad thing to remember how close one is death every minute of the day. It helps you appreciate that fact that you wake up alive every morning, and makes it easier to show that gratitude to God as well. As I think many times a day, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
I found this on St. Louis County’s Health website and it really hit home: “People often take public health for granted in Saint Louis County: our drinking water will not make us ill; our restaurants and supermarkets will not poison us; we and our children will not catch fatal diseases from neighbors or school friends.
A thin shield – a fine web of public health practices and personal habits – protects us from the nasty, brutish and short life that has been the rule for so much of human history. Two important facets of the shield are communicable disease control and health education.”
Don’t forget from whence we’ve come and how easy it would be to return. Vaccinate and educate your children!