Friday, March 30, 2012

$1116 to Save a Little Girl's Life

Shortly after the holidays three-year old Michelle was taken for the second time to the National (public) Hospital with a severe case of chicken pox.  Right, no vaccination. The 27 pound child had about given up, was put into isolation and set up with an IV and feeding tube.  Every day at 2pm the entire family (minus Alex of course) would report for the visiting hour and, though seeing the child was not an option, they would all sit quietly in plastic chairs until the announcement came that the visiting hour (singular) was over.  Michelle's grandfather always came over and shook my hand and thanked me for coming. Michelle's mother, Marielos, was expected to stay and no one in the family was permitted to give her a break.  For three weeks she sat in a plastic chair by Michelle's bedside 24/7.  A sister moved in to look after her other children. The chicken pox eased but Michelle developed a terrible fever and several very painful skin infections. She refused to get out of bed or walk for days and days and days.  One day I challenged the guard at the entrance and brought her a Guatemalan "happy meal" (fried chicken and fries) which brought a smile to her face.  Progress was laboriously slow.  Her only signs of enthusiasm were when I arrived for the visiting hour with my iPad loaded with toddler apps.

Out of isolation but still poxie.
I called a private physician who went to the hospital to check on Michelle and he was refused admission.  So much for the Hippocratic Oath. A few days later Michelle and her mother were released from the hospital after more than three weeks.  I called "Dr. Oscar" who came to my house and what he found were four life threatening abscesses that had gone under the skin and a high temperature.  Oscar put on gloves and took some swabs from the abscesses.  The following morning he called quite concerned and asked me how long it would take me to bring the child to a nearby private hospital.  Thirty minutes later Oscar was waiting outside the hospital when I drove up with most of the family in my car.  There was, Oscar said, a very real risk of blood poisoning, septicemia, even death.  Amidst lots of screaming more samples were taken for more lab tests and another IV was inserted and Michelle was started on a new, much stronger antibiotic. The directors of her pre-school came to see what support they could offer.  Oscar warned me that the private hospital (private room, intensive care) might cost as much as $2000.00 for the expected ten days.

Books from school.
The private hospital had unlimited visiting hours and allowed the Michelle's aunts to stay with her so that Marielos could have a break and see her other children. Cousins and friends came. Nutritious meals and even sheets were provided. There was much more time with the iPad. Five days later the lab results showed no systemic infection nor organ damage so Oscar and a pediatrician friend, who came twice a day while Oscar was out of town on a medical mission, determined that Michelle could go home and finish her course of antibiotics orally.

On the mend in the private hospital.  Sheets provided.
A week later, though a little lacking in strength, down to 24 pounds and a bit disoriented, she was back in school after missing the first month of classes.  The bill for five days of a private room and all the medications and hospital care was $632.  The bill for two doctors who came twice a day to the hospital was $417 including their lab work.  An ultrasound of the child's liver was $20 and the antibiotics $47.00 Where else could you save a child's life for a bit over $1,000?  How many didn't make it because they didn't know anyone with $1,000?

On her way home with flowers from school.
While Michelle remains concerned whenever she sees me that a doctor will show up she had a great time just a few days after leaving the hospital at a picnic at a nearby finca.  When Dr. Oscar came over with his family to say "hola" Michelle would neither look at him nor speak to him. After all she is not yet four.

Alive and well after one month in hospitals.
Imagine being able to pay for decent health care out of pocket!