Caribbean Hospitals: An American Perspective

I didn’t intend to write another island-themed post after last week, and normally this kind of topic doesn’t fall within the Grad Girl realm of solving postgrad problems… but health issues are postgrad problems, right? Read on anyway. You’ll enjoy it.

I kicked off Grenadian Thanksgiving weekend with my usual Saturday workout, followed by epic face-stuffing to observe the holiday. When I woke up the following Sunday, though, my abdominals were crying out in pain. Just the food and the workout, right?, I thought. I carried on with my normal routine, assuming the tightness in my stomach would subside.

An hour passed. Then two. And nothing changed. In fact, I felt worse—like, laying-down-in-a-fetal-position worse. My husband, the medical student, squished my stomach here and there to examine me, and hypothesized that I could have a gallbladder problem based on where the pain hurt most. He haphazardly put a diaper bag together for our one-year-old while I attempted to put on shorts and stifle nausea, and we drove to the hospital downtown.

When you're used to American medical care, Caribbean hospitals look a little (or a lot) different. Read about my hospital visit here. It was a Sunday morning, so traffic didn’t interfere because shops were closed and everyone was probably at church. Even the waiting room was empty, and the nurse at the front desk waved behind her plexiglass partition, signaling for us to join her.

As directed, I sat down on a chair in front of her and explained that I had abdominal pain. Her first matter-of-fact reply was that I could not see the doctor in “those” (pointing to the shorts that I barely managed to put on) because they didn’t cover my knees. Other government-operated places on the island command the same standards as signs of respect.

“Even for an emergency?” my husband asked. Yes, even for an emergency. But she continued to ask questions about my basic health (although she didn’t seem happy about it), which she wrote on a green card. Then she wrote “urine dip” on another scrap of paper, and said to find the exam rooms behind the office to get it administered.

We walked around the side of the building and knocked on a restricted-looking door, but when nobody answered we just stepped inside. A nurse told my husband to wait outside with our son; then she handed me a plastic cup wrapped in a napkin, which looked like it had just been rinsed out.

I made my sample in a bathroom with rusted doors, a broken lock, and no toilet seat. When I returned my cup to the nurse, she sent us back to the front waiting room.

The waiting was the hardest, not only because I was in pain, but also because my son wanted to touch everything and make noise. Granted, the waiting room was still empty, but it seemed disrespectful and the walls had little splotches of something on them: poop? Vomit? I didn’t want to know. Eventually the first nurse returned and guided us to an outdoor waiting area on the other side of the building.

At this point, I begin thinking that I’ve landed in some sort of Twilight Zone—unsurprising, given the sterile hospital conditions in the US I’m accustomed to. The chairs included old wooden benches and a small row of seats that probably came from the airport. Old wheelchairs and stretchers lay in disarray farther down the side of the building. Oxygen tubes and other medical supplies had been rinsed and were hanging out to dry to be used again. At the very least, the view of the ocean past the whitewashed hospital buildings was soothing.

Island waiting room My husband visits this place once a week for school, and said that he still comes home in disbelief every time. The facility does not meet international medical standards, and has very few resources for real emergencies. As we waited, we speculated what we would do if I needed my gallbladder removed or required another complicated procedure. Would I fly back early? Would our son come with me? Would I get us there by myself? I didn’t want to know.

Someone called my name, and I walked through an empty casting room where the attendant was looking at his phone—can’t blame him, since nobody was there. I found my room behind a curtain and sat on the bed to wait.

These ER exam rooms served many functions. I spotted a defibrillator, an EKG machine that provided readings on paper instead of a screen, an oxygen tank, and a hodgepodge of other things. It didn’t seem any different from the emergency surgery room next door—but it did seem cleaner than the waiting room, which was reassuring. I covered my knees with my hands, since I didn’t know who would walk through the door and think me disrespectful.

The doctor, not from the island, brushed through the curtain and kindly asked me a few questions based on what he read from my green card. Then he did the usual doctor stuff: broke out the stethoscope, squished my stomach like my husband did, and explained the results from my urine dip. Turns out I had a UTI, which required me to pee in another cup—a sterile one with a lid this time—and collect the results in a few days. Last, he wrote a prescription for antibiotics and sent me on my way (back through the casting room, where the attendant had fallen asleep).

We stopped at the front nurse’s station again to see where we needed to pay, but she said we didn’t need to pay anything (Grenada is transitioning into universal health care—score!). We were baffled, since the waiting room had a price list (including “surgery,” which didn’t cost more than a shocking $60 USD). And when we picked up the prescription, we only paid around $8 USD. Even including gas money, this will probably be the cheapest hospital visit for the rest of my life.

The lessons to take from this experience? Appreciate sterile hospitals, be grateful for affordable care, get medical help on a Sunday… and always wear pants to the hospital.

Have you ever received medical care abroad? What was it like? Leave a comment below!

When you're used to American medical care, Caribbean hospitals look a little (or a lot) different. Read about my hospital visit here.

Comments

  1. says

    Wow! What an interesting perspective. I love to travel and learn about different cultures and ways of life. I can’t believe your prescription was only $8! In America here I think we have SERIOUS health care issues…

    • gradgirl says

      It was crazy, Chelsea! Other health visits like dentists and pediatrician visits are cheap too–you just have to get used to a less westernized approach. It would be amazing to have such low costs in the US.

  2. says

    Oh wow what a story! I’m glad you’re okay! I love traveling to all kinds of places and seeing the real side of things, but hospitals and poor medical standards definitely are scary!

    • gradgirl says

      Thanks, Samantha! We were relieved when the diagnosis wasn’t serious. 😀 It’s just one of the risks when you live abroad.

  3. says

    I didn’t personally have to get medical work done abroad, but when I was studying abroad in Ghana, West Africa, I had to take one of my classmates to the hospital. It was definitely a different experience! Much different than a US hospital. It was super open, which I wasn’t used to.

    • gradgirl says

      Absolutely! Patients staying longer-term here don’t get the luxury of climate control either. Not sure if I’d be brave enough to handle that!

  4. Neely Moldovan says

    This was really interesting. My husband got really hurt on our honeymoon and the hospital was not that great

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