Trip For A lifetime
By Jeff Tresselt
(January’16 Puerto Escondido, Mexico) A 14 year-old boy carving a rock hard piece of gnarled driftwood with a machete, what could possibly go wrong? I was soon to find out as I sat at the cafe enjoying a quiet moment with my afternoon smoothie. Here came my son Sandy with a worried look holding his right hand wrapped tightly in his favorite but now blood stained t-shirt. This can’t be good. A quick check confirmed a visit to the emergency room for some stitches was in our immediate future. With the hospital across town a taxi seemed to be the best option. The taxi drivers know how to part the red sea of traffic and maze of one-way streets but are also a wealth of local knowledge. The driver sympathized with the situation and took a sincere interest in helping us out. First stop, he suggested, was the closest paramedic clinic, assuring me that they had plenty of experience stitching wounds. Good idea I thought, being that we were in Puerto Escondido, hallowed land of massive beach break. I figured they had sewn up plenty of guys who’d come unstuck and opened up. Things were flowing well to that point. We arrived at a quiet moment and were greeted with a friendly medic eager to help us out. Sandy, no stranger to emergency room visits, knew the routine and stoically sat on the gurney bed with his hand in the sink. Upon closer inspection with the blood washed away, I wondered what the white stringy bit dangling out of his thumb was. I could tell the medic was concerned. He went ahead with the anesthetic shot to prep for stitching, but then paused. “I think you better head over to the hospital for an x-ray and Doctors opinion.” I was grateful for his methodical care and decision to move Sandy on to a more appropriate facility. “Quanto le debo” I asked, as we got ready to leave. “No amigo, there is no charge for what I have done, buena suerte”
Sandy, then looking quite pale, was not keen to prolong the experience. We flagged another cab. It was late evening and visions of a night spent waiting in an over crowded chaotic emergency room had me cringing on the ride over. Holding positive thoughts, we were again greeted with kindness and concern. Although the crowds were there, we managed to find our way into the doctors room with little delay. The X-ray showed everything in place so, more cleaning, another shot, a snip of the dangly bit, 3 internal and 4 external stitches later we were out the door.
Cost of the whole ordeal, including a 10-day dose of antibiotics, taxi rides and cool souvenir scar to show friends back home, was under $40!
Latin American Health Care System!
(June’16 Lima, Peru) It’s the “ying-yang thang” my friend Angel said after I’d told him what happened. Sandy and I were on the move south again, stopping in for an afternoon surf two hours from Lima. In the corner of the cove was a clean left point wave slapping off the rocks and peeling into the empty beach of the small fishing village, Cerro Azul. We had the place all to ourselves. Giddy with excitement we couldn’t get out there fast enough. For the next couple hours we surfed and laughed, but how quickly things can change. Proned out together in the foam, heading in for one more walk around and repeat, Sandy started to fade off the back of the wave as I shot ahead. He grabbed my leash to hitch a ride. The board stopped, I kept going, but the board sprang back. “Dad, my face!” came the panicked cry from behind. Shit, blood was already streaming down his cheek. The rail had caught him just under the left eye. “Why do I always do this to myself!” he said in frustration as we paddled for the beach.
Back at the car with the hero pic snapped, an ice pack and large gauze pad in place I scrambled to peel our wetsuits off. “Definitely more stitches” I mumbled as I haphazardly tied boards to the racks and stashed wet gear into the back. Sandy, then looking like he’d been tagged by a Tyson right hook, sat depressed waiting for me. Two motorcycle cops happened by at that time and were happy to escort us to the local clinic. Ok, maybe it was all going to work out then and there in this sleepy little coastal central Peruvian pueblo and we’d be back at the beach soon, watching the sunset, putting it behind us…. wishful thinking.
We were lead inside to the first aid room where several of the on duty staff gathered around to have a look. No kidding, just as Sandy sat down an ear piercing siren started wailing throughout the facility. The entire crew turned around and walked outside. We were in shock wondering what the heck was going on. Sandy’s looking worse for the wear at that point, feeling woozy and trying to cover his ears and still bleeding gash at the same time. We made our way out to the gathering crowd. It took several attempts to grab one of the staff by the arm to find out what was going on. With the siren wailing, Sandy had come unglued in the confusion and was screaming at me to do something in one ear while the nurse is yelling “It’s an earthquake drill, we’ll be back in an hour or so, you can wait here,” in the other ear. It was about as surreal an experience as I can remember. I expected the Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling to step out to narrate the scene at any moment. Thankfully, the siren faded as everyone turned their backs on us to leave for the designated evacuation zone. We must have looked a sorry site standing there dazed, confused and wondering what to do next.
After securing Sandy into the front seat with fresh dressings, I made a call to my friend Mico, who we’d left that morning in Punta Hermosa. “You must come back to Lima to get it properly taken care of,” he insisted before launching into directions to the hospital. He’d lost me at “come back to Lima,” thoughts of finding my way through that tangled mess in the dark of late evening rush hour crazy Latin traffic, with my kids face bleeding, had me spinning. Sensing my hesitation and concern he said, “Ok never mind, just get to my house, I’ll do the rest.” Back up the coast we went, relieved to have some help and direction but stressed knowing that we were still several hours from the care needed.
I met Mico, a classic character, on my first trip to Peru in ’91. He surfed big Pico Alto for the first time at age 14 in the late 60’s and had 20 plus years working in the race/rally car circuit. Conservative driving was not in his DNA. Get in, buckle up and hang on. The horn and gas peddle were about all he touched for the next 45 minutes of dodging, weaving and threading the needle through the chaos, which best describes the streets of Lima.
Happy to arrive in one piece and staying close to his heels, Mico then navigated us through the inside maze of the hospital as he had the crazy streets outside. Onto the waiting bed Sandy flopped, bravely anticipating the probing, cleaning and needles in his face that were soon to come. By nights end, 6 hours after the accident, the plastic surgeon had skillfully sewn him up with 12 stitches.
Cost of the whole ordeal, including a 10-day dose of antibiotics and cool souvenir scar to show friends back home, was about $300.
Thank you Mico…