Health Care

In early 2010 we’d been living in Argentina for a few months and I developed a cough. I wasn’t sick, I felt fine (anyway when you’re drinking that much yerba mate you don’t feel anything). But the cough was loud and deep and persistent. And our Argentine friends started suggesting, and then insisting, that I go to the hospital.

“For a cough?”

“Yes, you should go. It’s free.”

“For foreigners?”

“Yes, you should really go. That’s a bad cough.”

I think out of curiosity as much as anything else, we set a day to visit the hospital. Sunday was the most convenient for us. The emergency room was busy, but the receptionist spoke with us right away. We had enough Castellano to get through the conversation.

“How long have you had the cough?’

“About three weeks.”

She looked at us horrified and stern, “You’ve had a cough that bad for three weeks and haven’t come to the hospital?”

We responded meekly, “In the United States it’s very expensive.”

“Do you have your passport?”

I hadn’t thought to bring it. And assumed that would be the end of our visit.

She rolled her eyes, but passed a piece of paper to me. “Well then write your name here.” Apparently, they weren’t going to refuse to provide health care, just because I didn’t have any identification. I was a person with a very bad cough, after all.

We sat in a dingy blue and grey basement hallway for a while, but not too long, waiting for room B, which turned out to be a small windowless room furnished with a military desk and a handsome young doctor who spoke perfect English. He asked me a number of intelligent questions but couldn’t diagnose the cough. He recommended that I come back on Monday to see a specialist, and in the meantime I should have an x-ray.

A specialist? For a person providing no money, no identification, and who for sure wasn’t even a citizen? With a cough?

He jotted down a note on a scrap of paper for the x-ray technician. No forms to fill out, no paper trail that hundreds of bureaucrats would spend months passing back and forth between various institutions, no bills to be printed. Nope this place was not set up to deal with money, but to deal with people.