We arrived in Manta, Ecuador the first week of September and spent the first couple of days settling into our new apartment on the 11th floor, stocking up the kitchen and looking at the Pacific view from our kitchen window (we’re in the lower rent unit which faces the city rather than the beach). And then… one of us (let’s use the Spanish word for sick, “Enfermo”, for our patient) was down with fever, chills and a gut-wrenching, racking cough that was accompanied by a growing sense of fatigue, malaise and a slowly increasing shortness-of-breath. And, not just for a short period of time but for days…
When you’re traveling, health comes before everything else. Exploring a new environment or meeting other people just isn’t practical or even doable when you don’t feel well. Luckily, so far, when one of us has been down the other has been healthy and can run errands, track down a doctor or medication, heat up the chicken soup and generally act as a stand-in for mom, a cheerleader when the whining starts or an advocate when navigating a foreign medical system.
While we have a few health issues we’re generally fairly healthy but we’ve needed to find a doctor and /or dentist several times and in several countries in our two years of travel. When in need of medical care we’ve availed ourselves of our contacts to gain access to proficient heath care. We’ve asked the people from whom we were renting, reached into the expat community for advice and inquired through language schools or NGO’s where we were volunteering. It boils down to relying upon the knowledge of those who live in the community.
Once it became clear that Enfermo was not going to become well using our emergency supply of medications we reached out to find assistance. The fastest response came from our apartment manager who found a doctor who specialized in respiratory diseases; a pulmonologist by training. An appointment was set up for that afternoon and a taxi took us across town to the Clinica Americana, which, while only a block from the Malecon (the walkway along the beach), looked rather rundown on the outside and, while clean, old-fashioned looking on the inside.
Upon our arrival we were warmly greeted by the doctor who introduced us to his wife seated at the reception desk. The doctor spoke some English but called in his daughter, an outgoing second-year medical student, to join us and assist with the translation during the examination. We spent an hour in the doctor’s office during which he examined the patient and we all discussed Enfermo’s medical issues. We also engaged in conversations about the Doctor’s travels in the US to attend medical conferences and our travels in Central America. Before leaving, the doctor provided us with a prescription for medications we would need to pick up at the farmacia (most are available for the asking without a prescription). He most generously gave us samples of medications which we would need or were currently using. With a follow-up appointment in hand we willingly paid the nominal $40 consultation fee and departed.
The following week found us back for the scheduled appointment with the daughter again in attendance to assist with any translation difficulties. Poor Enfermo’s cough had improved but the feeling of fatigue and shortness of breath had become worse. A breathing treatment with a nebulizer was administered and the doctor doled out more samples of different antibiotics used in a combination one-two punch against the offender, bronchitis. He also graciously loaned us a nebulizer to continue a few more breathing treatments at home. Enfermo left the office a half hour later with new prescriptions, a third appointment date in another week and a more positive outlook about the prospects of a future recovery. We, again, gladly ponied up the nominal fee.
There is an old saying that, “When you have your health you have everything” and at no time in our lives has that saying been more true than when we’ve been traveling. Being of the baby boomer generation we are much more aware of our health than, say, a traveler in the twenty to thirty year-old range. Realistically, we know that this is the best our health will ever be, right here and now. Additionally, we travel as partners sharing the fun and also the not-so-fun times that come with traveling as a lifestyle. We’re fully cognizant that pursuing our travel dream could come to a standstill if one of us becomes seriously ill.
Enfermo is much improved and, after being holed up in our apartment for an interminable period, we’re now looking forward to exploring Manta and Ecuador and sharing it with our readers.
By Anita and Richard September 2014