This traumatizing story is such a classic that it deserves a repost from my very first blog in CR.
A little background: In Costa Rica, the country has a Social Security system, the Caja, which offers free medical care to any citizen/resident that pays their taxes. Except for the ungodly long lines and general confusion, the care you receive is pretty good.
My second year in CR, I came down with what was probably my fifth case of bronchitis during rainy season. I was eligible to receive care from the Caja, and since I’m always up for free stuff, I decided to try it out. My first mistake was that I went alone, because despite my lofty thoughts, I was not good at Spanish. Basically, you have to go before 7 a.m. to the clinic and wait in a line to get a ficha (a little paper with a number). Based on that ficha, you are given an appointment time. After waiting in the wrong line and not doing the right thing, I finally practiced my Spanish out in my head enough times to ask the people around me what I needed to do. I was profusely sweating, naturally. I finally received my appointment time; it was scheduled for 3:15 p.m. I walked home and went back to bed.
I drag myself back over there at 3:15 p.m. and finally get called in. The nurse asks me to explain my symptoms and I tell her about the bronchitis, fever, etc. We are understanding each other pretty well until she uses a word I have NEVER heard in my life.
It is definitely a question and she is definitely waiting to know if I want one. If you’ve ever learned another language, you know that context is everything. If context isn’t working, grab onto anything that sounds familiar and go with it. Well, all I understood was “papa” in this case.
My first guess: Papá = Dad. Who knows, maybe she is talking about something hereditary. I say, “Mi papá no está aquí” which means, “My dad is not here.” She looks at me like I am crazy, but politely asks me the same question.
My second guess: Papa = Potato. I can’t think of a good reason why she would talk about potatoes at this point, but I´m starting to panic, so I ask, “Porque estás hablando de papas?” which means, “Why are you talking about potatoes?” She seems frustrated now and tells me that we are not talking about potatoes.
Well, if we’re not talking about dads or potatoes, then what are we talking about? She explains that aforementioned word means that a doctor will revise my lady parts. What the ??? Why would I want someone to “revise my lady parts” if I have bronchitis? At this point, the sweat is pouring freely from my every pore.
Papanicolaou = Pap Smear (Come to find out later, Albin lets me know that they do routine paps when people come in if there isn’t any record of one on file?) Why the nurse thought now was a good time is still beyond me.
Anyway, I thought it over and since I’m the cheapest person alive and a multi-tasker, I thought about how I could kill two birds with one stone today and save money on a gyno appointment in the states. I get over the weirdness of the nurse’s proposition and go for it.
I get into the doctor’s office and it’s a he(!). I’ve never had a man gyno, so I start getting nervous. He doesn’t even look up but tells me not-so-gently to drop my pants. I follow instructions and slide onto the table because by this point, I am swimming in sweat. I’m super tense. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but 50 percent of you know how super tense works out during a pap smear. The doctor starts sternly barking in Spanish that I need to relax. I cannot relax. This is not a time for relaxing. Just as I am having second, third, and fourth thoughts about my decision, he tells me not to worry and shows me the metal contraption that they use to conduct the procedure. I’m pretty sure that I screamed. It looked MASSIVE to these virgin eyes. Traumatizing. I sucked it up and got it over with. The doctor was so annoyed but I didn’t care, I practically ran out of the room back to the nurses’ station.
All sweaty, I sat back down at her desk and she takes me over to a check-up table and tells me to drop my pants. Are you crazy? I refused. She told me she was giving me an injection of antibiotic for my bronchitis (so she did understand that I was there for the bronchitis). Fine. So I dropped the pants and laid on the table. She shoots me in the cheek and the proceeds to say, “Oops.”
“Oops” is like the last word you want to hear when you’re at the doctor’s office. I asked what happened and she told me that some of the liquid came out (or at least that’s what I understood). She apologized and said that I might experience some muscle spasms as a result. Ha.
You. Have. NO. Idea.
As I grabbed the antibiotics they had prepared for me, I felt a small twinge in my butt cheek. I started walking home and I now wish I had video proof, but I’ll just have to describe it. For you women out there, you know how you kind of waddle out after a pap-smear? I was already doing the slight waddle, then I experienced the largest muscle spasm I’ve ever had in my butt. They would come and go every few minutes. I had to waddle six blocks to get home, stopping every few minutes as my whole butt contorted in ways I didn’t know possible. It was humiliating. I can’t even imagine what the neighbors thought.
When I walked in to my Tico family’s house, my Costa Rican mom looked terrified and asked what happened to me. I was crying and waddling and coughing and spasming, and she just starts LAUGHING. Like, hysterically laughing. It’s the contagious kind of laughing, so I stop crying and start laughing hysterically. More hysteric than laughing, but whatever. I survived.The sad part is that I never went back to get the results because I was too humiliated. All that trauma for nothing.
So, for all of you out there who asked me why I paid to have my baby in a private hospital rather than to do it for free in the Caja, now you know.