Xela Bites

by Seudonimo Anonimo

What I thought was just a typical morning on the way to the Despensa Familiar became the day I tempted fate. While casually sauntering down the street—at Guatemalan pace, of course—a perro de la calle came around the corner, bit my leg, and bolted past. Fast food, you might say.

As I stumbled home with potential rabies germs coursing through my veins, my main thought was that I was bummed. I hadn’t made it to the Despensa. This seemed like a shitty situation but nothing some strong Guatemalan antibiotics couldn’t fix. However I would soon forget about the Despensa.

At home, my roommate went into panic mode, which, retrospectively, I’m glad one of us did. She quickly ran and got a friend from our condominio who is technically a doctor. I say “technically” because being below the US legal drinking age and calling yourself a doctor seems a bit incompatible. He told us to go ahorita to the General Hospital and get the rabies vaccine. Little did I know that this ahorita attitude would come to plague this entire experience.

The General Hospital has none of the connotations that the soap opera gives it. Instead, it’s best compared to the heart wrenching clips in late-night Save The Children commercials. Upon arrival, it became apparent that the triage room was akin to a kind of purgatory. As my wound was cleaned, last rites were said over the woman in the bed next to me. While I will give them credit that I received the vaccine quite quickly, that’s about where the credit stops: For example, I shared my bed with some previous inhabitant’s bloody gauze. After realizing that we might get rabies—or worse—by staying in the hospital, we left in a rush.

On Monday, I went to the Center for Public Health. I skipped the 2-hour line (I didn’t want to be seen “ahorita”) and went straight to the sign-in desk, where I received six pieces of paper—all of which had the exact same purpose of confirming I had been bitten. (I’ll never say this country doesn’t have paperwork down to a science.) I was ushered to the check-in desk, where they weighed me and took my temperature. Also, you can forget medical confidentiality — my weight and temperature were yelled across the room to someone writing this data down on yet another piece of paper. Apparently they need to weigh you to confirm you were bitten. As if the massive bloody gash in my leg wasn’t proof enough.

I was then ushered along to another office, where it turns out they offer rabies vaccinations for dogs. So, I waited in line (“ahorita”) along with a few large, menacing and definitely unvaccinated dogs. Putting the recently bitten with the potentially rabies-infected. Great idea.

I was told to return ahorita (translation: in a couple days) for my next rabies vaccination. When I arrived, I was told that they didn’t have any vaccines that day. Nada. After expressing my concerns about this, they chuckled and said to maybe come back tomorrow, when, quizás they would have some.

Fortunately, by now, the bite has nearly healed and all I’m left with are fond memories of the Guatemalan healthcare system. I’m proud to say I am rabies-free. At least, for now — maybe I’ll get it ahorita.


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