You Need To Be Fit To Be Ill In Costa Rica

I had set the alarm for four in the morning….Leo had an appointment at San Juan de Dios, the main hospital in San Jose, at six and we needed to be off betimes in order to avoid the traffic jams which render the road to the capital impassable for hours in the morning rush.

I had been optimistic. Long before the alarm went off I had been roused from a deep sleep by something heavy and hairy breathing into my ear while sharp claws raked my head.

Sophie wished to go out and I had forgotten to leave the door open.

The door opened and Sophie released, followed by the other dogs who were now feeling the need to pee after being so rudely awakened I thought there was no point in disturbing Leo by going back to bed so washed and dressed, boiled eggs for the baby chicks’ breakfast and enjoyed a peaceful half hour with a book and a cup of tea. The alarm went off as planned and Leo was ready to roll by the time that Danilo arrived to feed the livestock by torchlight before setting off.

We were lucky with the traffic. The buses were picking up the workers with an early start as we headed for the capital and although we were half an hour early arriving, the streets on the approaches to San Jose were already becoming crowded with cars and commuter buses, their exhaust fumes knocking out the scent of the flowering trees which line those routes.

We had agreed with Danilo that he would drop us at the main doors…the nearest entrance to the department we wanted…and he would then go to a car park from which we could summon him once Leo was released. We rehearsed using his mobile ‘phone and all seemed well. We were organised.

I pushed Leo’s wheelchair into the Preferencial line…eye pads, plaster casts, crutches and wheelchairs…on one side of the entrance, while the mere walking wounded waited in line on the other side. The Preferencial are admitted five minutes earlier than the others to give them an advantage in the Gadarene rush to secure the chairs in the waiting areas before the late comers arrive.

The first roadside fruit seller arrived, paying off the porter who brought his load down from the market, and was soon doing a trade with his offer of eight mandarin oranges for aproximately a quid. Looking up through the branches of the roadside trees, the moon, which we had seen the morning before like a golden orb sinking over the hills into the sea, floated in the dark sky, silvering the clouds she wore as shawls about her chilly shoulders. For Costa Rica it was chilly at ground level too, and many in the queue wore those Peruvian hats with ear flaps making them look somewhat hieritic as they stood immobile in the half light.

The doors were opened and the Preferencial launched their asault. Through the general waiting area under its glass roof and off into the corridors which link the old buildings and gardens of its foundation with the various monstrosities of clinical blocks added over the years.

The department we sought was on the right as we we entered….but it was closed and a noltice announced that it had been temporarily transferred to the pharmacy building.

Fine, except that the pharmacy building was outside the hospital grounds, two blocks away, and Leo was in a wheelchair.

Others were similarly affected, but after a swift discussion it was agreed that the best thing to do was to head off down the low ceilinged corridor that led to the original part of the hospital, turn left past the laundry and out through the gates at the rear of the complex which gave onto a park used by Nicaraguan rough sleepers, then along the road to the next block

It was a spectacle worthy of treatment by Bunuel.

The halt and the lame, with wheelchairs and a flourish of crutches, surged through the hospital and out of the back gates…where we found Danilo. The car park had not yet opened and he had prevailed upon the security guard to let him park opposite the entrance to await our arrival. Just as well…the high speed hirpling through the hospital had exhausted me so Danilo was a godsend as the horde encountered the pavement which had not been repaired since the time it was built and invaded the cycle path alongside…yet another bright idea of the San Jose council to tick the boxes of eco virtue signalling while doing sweet Fanny Adams about the basics.

At the junction traffic stopped to allow us to pass…more from bewilderment than from obedience to traffic lights…and the horde moved on to the pharmacy building…an oversized garage on two levels with offices on its periphery.

Needless to say, our department was on the upper level….accessed by a ramp which needed oxygen, crampons and ice picks to assault. Those on crutches held onto the wheelchairs, rather in the manner of the infantry clinging to the stirrups of the Scots Greys at Waterloo while the helpers doubled up to push them up to the top where all concerned stopped to draw air into their lungs….and grab the seats.

The health service in Costa Rica has more ways than one of making you fit….