Madrugada : (n) The very dark hours before sunrise (amanecer).
Obra social : (n) Health insurance plan (also, Plan de Salud).
Cartilla : (n) Directory of doctors and offices of attention in each neighborhood.
It was around 4 o’clock in the madrugada on a warm night last fall when it hit me that emergencies happen, even when my parents aren’t around to help. My best friend, who had been madrugando with friends on the terrace, crept into my room and began to search through the piles of clothes on the floor. This would have been a normal event, but I heard moaning noises and squinted (without my glasses on) to see that she was bent over, clutching her stomach.
“Jana, que te pasa? ” I said, asking what was going on.
She responded, “Nada, nada me voy al hospital pero vos te quedás acá. ” (Nothing, nothing, I’m going to the hospital, but you stay here).
Never one to complain or acknowledge pain, I knew she was in bad shape and insisted on going with her. I remembered she had been feeling a pain in her abdomen, but hadn’t sought treatment because finding a doctor was difficult and because she didn’t have local health insurance. Without insurance, one visit would cost $100 pesos.
She fervently refused to call a taxi. So I supported her as she limped to the nearest hospital, just 3 blocks away.
Just as the sun was breaking through the sky, we entered the neighborhood municipal hospital that (from the outside) looked like a grand train station. What happened once we cleared “security” was more than a little disenchanting. The halls looked like those of a middle school. There were no seats anywhere and many little rooms that looked like cells in a detention center. We found the reception area and although my friend was crying in pain the nurse gave us confusing directions of where to go and pay. After we paid the $20 pesos fee, we had to walk to another wing of the hospital and wait. It would have been nice had they offered a wheelchair, considering at this point my friend was practically crawling on the floor. We found the waiting room we were destined for after 15 minutes of searching and gave the information we had filled out to the angry woman at the desk. She would call Jana’s name when the doctor could see her.
We waited two hours as the waiting room filled and emptied with sick people. Even though I had asked many times what the deal was, the receptionist ignored us. Finally when I explained to her that we had been waiting for hours, she said, “oops,” and let us see the doctor.
The rest of the visit continued in this manner: the doctor telling my friend she didn’t know what was wrong, that she’d need surgery, and that she couldn’t leave the country for months. Jana was due to go home to Germany in two weeks. Having never had surgery before, and only being 19, Jana was panicked. We asked the doctor to stop talking and to just tell us the best private hospital to go to.