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Day 18 – Flesh Wound (Adventures in Peruvian Medicine)

October 28, 2010

Location: Paracas Islands and hospital clinic in Ica, Peru

Date: Thursday, October 28,2010

“I  just don’t want to die without a few scars.”  ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

I should be writing about my visit to the Paracas Islands (the “poor man’s Galapagos”) today. You should be reading about the throngs of sea birds skimming the sea, pacing our boat as we skipped across the water. I should be bringing you onto that boat, describing the feeling of floating a few feet from sea lions lounging on sea bound rocks. The descriptions of the males of the species—young and old—jockeying for mating spots on the beach should make you feel that we are more like our animal cousins than we might admit. I should be making you soar with the wonders of nature and sit in awe of the simple, yet complex, and yet somehow still simple beauty of rocketing past flocks of birds, divebombing the water for fish. I mean, it’s totally, like, nature, man.

And I should be six foot two and look like an Asian Brad Pitt.

Let’s just say things don’t always work out like they should, which is why you’re going to hear about another of my adventures into foreign medicine and why I will forever bear a closer resemblance to Harry-f’ing-Potter. (No offense to the bespectacled one; I hear he does quite well with the ladies, so I guess there’s hope for me, yet.)

It started after Heather, Marie, and I returned to the desert oasis from our package boat tour of Paracas. (Today’s Package Tour Lesson #1: Given enough, you can smell bird poop from miles away.) It was cloudy amongst the dunes, but after a cold, drizzly morning, the sun cleared. Antsy for a swim, I changed into my board shorts, grabbed a towel and a 10 sole bill and headed for the pay-per-day pool.

A couple I’d met the night before—a med-school applicant and her law school applicant boyfriend—were already there. A quick chat and a few pages of my book later I was asleep in a lounge chair. When I came to, I realized the sun was dipping and that, unless I wanted to have wasted my money, I’d better get in the water.

I dove in. I was alone, which was perfect. It’s easier to get the sense of flight when there aren’t a million legs kicking around you. After a few laps, I decided to see how quickly I could cross the length without breathing.

I ducked down and pulled, kicked, and dolphined as hard I as I could. I was going to set a world record. I had my eyes closed to keep my contacts in and I thought I had one more stroke before I reached the other side. When I stroked my final pull, I discovered that I didn’t.

I heard a crunch echo in my skull and when I surfaced I felt for my forehead. My fingertips came up bright red. I’d had head wounds before so I knew what to expect: lots of blood (lots of capillaries, blah blah blah). I was out of the pool before the third drop of hemoglobin hit the water. I walked over to my chair, sat down, and whipped the towel to my head.

“Are you okay?” asked the med-student to be.

“Yes. Just hit my head on the pool.” It already sounded stupid.

Lovely woman that she was, she grabbed a bandaid from her and her boyfriend’s room.

“Keep pressure on it. Keep it elevated,” she said when she returned. Sweet girl, but this has got to be the least helpful medical advice I’ve ever received. How the hell was I supposed to elevate my head any higher than my heart if I’m already sitting upright. Perhaps if I tied a noose around my neck—at least that would have cured my humiliation.

When the bleeding subsided, her boyfriend lawyer-to-be applied the band aid, proving that bottomfeeders like ourselves at least know how to help our own kind (see also: judge-created lawyer liens).

When I got back to the dorm room, there was a brief debate on whether I should get stitches. After a brief consultation with Dr. Internet, I decided that it might be a good idea get sewn up and minimize a face wound scar. I mean, a writer’s moneymaker is his looks, right?

Marie speaks Spanish and she insisted she come along. Heather came along because—and I’m not making this up—every person she’s traveled with in South America has ended up in the hospital. If I’m honest, though, Marie and Heather came along because they’re nice people.

Peruvian medicine is not that different than anything I’d find in a clinic back home. At least not at the “best place in Ica” as told to Marie by multiple sources. I was weighed, asked a series of medically important questions (age, height), and had my blood pressure taken. The doc asked if he should speak English. Overcome with pride in my recent Spanish lessons, I insisted he speak Spanish.

Then doc asked me, “Did you lose consciousness?” to which I replied, “Si,” whereupon Marie helped me realize that, actually I hadn’t, and had just misunderstood his question. Friends are handy sometimes.

Heather took pictures of the doc sewing me up. My two favorite parts of being stitched together: (1) the giant circle of overhead medical lights that looked like the bottom of the flying saucer and (2) the doc’s cell phone ringing, him asking his nurse to answer it, then having her hold it to his ear so he could make dinner plans (I think), all the while not even bothering to stop sewing my face together.  The man’s a pro.

In the end, the price tag came out to $120. At the expense of two-and-a-half days of travel budget, I received thread in my face, a round of pain meds, antibiotics, and a tetanus shot. I also came out with a new respect for cement surfaces and a scar in the middle of my forehead that will probably look something like a lightning bolt (thus, the Harry Potter). When it comes to travel, it’s about as much as you can hope for: lessons learned and permanent souvenirs.

Many thanks to Marie and Heather. If you all hadn’t been there, I might have ended up in a veterinary clinic, hospitalized for a concussion. I also wouldn’t have all these pretty pictures. Life’s better when you have good humored witnesses to your otherwise private shame. I am ever grateful for your kindness.

GALLERY: Click through to see more pictures of the trip to Paracas, a pic of Mervyn’s head wound (no blood), and a shot of the Twilight Zone looking medical lamp.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Ashley permalink
    November 5, 2010 11:49 am

    This reminds me of a certain ice skating incident you had in college. I’ll try to dig up some of the pictures I have of you from that particular ER visit. (Will the scars be near eachother?)

    • November 5, 2010 12:11 pm

      It certainly does. The scars will end up bookending each other: one on each side of the midline of my forehead (the ice skating scar is quite a bit higher up, though).

      The lesson: I have problems with hard surfaces. Keep that in mind next time you invite me over.

  2. November 13, 2010 7:25 pm

    Forgive the OCD in me, but those are sea lions, not seals. They have external ears. And I’m sorry you were hurt…at least you got pain meds 🙂 (I do believe I would be addicted to vicodin if it wasn’t by prescription only.)

    • November 15, 2010 10:07 am

      Excellent point. I was guessing because I didn´t take notes on the boat. I´ll see if I can get this mistake corrected.

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