Hospital Visit

After a week on antibiotics, Jane’s bronchitis is worse than ever. Her eyes have a dull glint, she’s breathing rapidly, and her coughing now has a weird gurgling sound.

“I’m so nervous,” says Carla, as she squeezes a bulb of medicine into Jane’s mouth.

I’m nervous, too. I envision her tiny lungs clogging up with fluid. I wish we were back in Los Angeles, instead of on this rainy, speck-sized jungle island thousands of miles from home.

“Let’s take her to the clinic,” I say.

Carla wraps Jane in a blanket, and I hold an umbrella against the downpour as we get into the car.

The clinic has a low ceiling and dim lighting. The floor is wet. Carla tells the woman behind the counter that Jane is sick, and asks if someone can look at her. The woman stares at us, as if Carla is speaking in tongues. Carla tries again. Finally, the woman tells us to take Jane to the hospital, since they have a real pediatrician there.

The Rarotonga hospital is on top of a mountain, on the opposite end of the island from where we live. An old-fashioned ambulance, the kind that looks like a hearse, is parked next to the entrance with its side door open, ready for action. It contains a rickety cot and antiquated medical equipment.

Near the entrance, a large older woman sits on a metal chair, wearing a church hat. Whenever the phone rings, she reaches inside an open window to answer it.

The walls in the lobby are covered in black grime, and the windows are cracked. Eight or nine people sit in molded plastic chairs. The low table in the middle of the room is covered with a faded piece of cloth, on which sit a few old medical journals and a report on vaccinations from the World Health Organization. While we’re waiting, a little boy keeps coming up to us, sticking out his tongue and gagging with his hands wrapped around his neck, as if he is strangling himself. His nose is running, so I try to keep my distance from him.

After 20 minutes, a doctor comes in and tells us to follow him. He lays Jane on a cot and checks her heart, throat and chest. He tells us that Jane has pneumonia “on the periphery.” He asks us how much Jane weighs so he can determine her medicine dosage. We don’t know — we haven’t weighed her since we left the States last June. The doctor leads us into another room. There’s an old bathroom scale on the floor. Of course, the baby can’t stand on it, so Carla holds her and steps on the scale. The scale’s readout doesn’t work, but the doctor knows what to do. He stomps on it, and then kicks it hard a few times, until it blinks into life. Then Carla hands the baby to me, and the doctor subtracts the difference.

The doctor prescribes an expectorant, and takes us to a room the size of a broom closet where we wait to pick up the medicine. He also tells us to continue the antibiotics that the other doctor gave us.

“But it doesn’t seem to be working,” I say. “She’s been on them for a week, and she’s getting worse.”

“Give it some time,” he says.

I don’t want to give it time. All I can think about right now is getting off this island.


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