Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Typical Visit to the Farmacia Doctor in Costa Rica

Here's a simple, real-life story about how part of Costa Rica's approach to healthcare works. It's pretty typical in our experience. It's too bad that the U.S., with its struggle to provide decent healthcare for its citizens, cannot adopt something along these lines.

thermometer aspirin and water glass
Being sick is no fun but at least the doctor's free

Nearly two weeks ago, all three of us came down with the flu. The usual symptoms were present: fever, nausea, diarrhea, and so on. Two days later, the worst was over. In fact, Sean was back to normal and back in school.

Tamara and I, however, still were not quite our chipper selves. We had a lingering fatigue, a vague nausea that came and went, an upset and gaseous digestive system. We limited our diet to bland foods, drank a lot of green tea, and kept hoping for the best, but each day was about the same.

At the end of the first week, I decided it wasn't flu at all, but probably some sort of Costa Rican parasite we had all picked up from bad water or food or who knows where. I researched that topic and found it's not unusual for young people, with their strong immune system, to overcome such an infection, so that could explain why Sean recovered so quickly and we did not. Tamara took a ... ahem, ... sample into one of the local labs to get it checked out along with a small jar of our drinking water. The latter test I'd been meaning to do forever anyway.


That usually reliable lab was two days late with the results, which by that time I was convinced would show Giardia inhabiting my bowels. The symptoms of Giardiasi seemed to be a good match compared to other parasites that were possible in our area of the world.

The good news was that the sample came back totally clean of about 20 parasites that they check. The bad news, of course, was that we still did not know what was plaguing us. We were already downtown, so we popped into one of our favorite pharmacies, Betasaida, to see if the doctor was in.
weird parasite bug thingy
Who knows what lurks deep inside?

All pharmacies in Costa Rica are owned and/or operated by a physician, who will give you free consultations for the minor stuff like this. Doctor Natalia, as we call her, was indeed there. As I recounted the symptoms in gory detail, she began nodding. She knew exactly what it was.

She told us that it's a virus that is pretty much confined to the Tropics and that it often lays people low at the start of the rainy season. In young people, such as Sean, it passes quickly, but young kids and adults get to enjoy it for about two weeks, sometimes more. She also said that your body will not build an immunity to it, so you are subject to contracting it over and over. That was a new one on me!

In short order, she had all the medicines assembled for us to feel better: electrolytes, a tropical yeast, and an intestinal antibiotic. The electrolytes came as a nasty cherry-flavored liquid (would it kill them to make it taste like rum and coke?), but the yeast powder, mixed in water, is relatively tasteless. Already today, the day after, we both feel that we moved up a couple of points on the wellness scale, so we hope it's on the run.


What did that consult for the two of us cost? The consult was free, the medicines added up to about $68. We're in co-pay territory there for a typical U.S. health insurance policy, no waiting for an appointment, no waiting in a room with sneezing, coughing patients. To me, that's a bargain. If you add in the lab test I could have avoided, it's about a hundred bucks.

That's what I love about the healthcare system in Costa Rica: the tiers of care. Little stuff, do at a pharmacy, big stuff, do a private clinic (25% of U.S. retail), or spend a lot of time waiting to use the public care especially if you don't have a well-funded clinic in your area.

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