Laid Up in LaPaz

Laid Up in LaPaz

WARNING: Blog content may be disturbing to some readers.

For 2 weeks I had been feeling more and more sick. I kept blaming it on the high altitudes we were at (although I’ve never had a problem with this before) and then thinking I just had a really bad cold. I should have known better having Lupus and being told repeatedly that if I feel bad I need to seek medical attention. That said, I know that if I had been back in the States I would have gone to the doctor. Unfortunately our situation here in Bolivia did not allow for that. So what exactly had I been experiencing? Extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea, headaches, dry mouth, extreme thirst, sleeplessness, sinus pain, runny nose, cold and light sensitivity, diarrhea, high fevers (99-102F), cuts and sores that would not heal, and a general feeling of crappiness. Fun times, huh? The last few days in Uyuni were extremely hard for me to handle and after traveling for 30 hours to LaPaz I was ready for a nice big, clean bed and spending the next couple of days just laying in it!

Things don’t always go as planned, by 6:30am I was at my wits end, and I woke Aaron up saying I HAVE TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL NOW!. He quickly responded and rushed outside to hail a cab and despite having a hard time communicating to the driver “hospital emergencia pronto!” we finally were on our way. He dropped us off in front of a set of unmarked metal doors and just said “aqui.” Aaron and I both look suspiciously at each other but I was in so much pain we decided to give it a try. We entered the emergency hallway of Hospital de Clinicas and at first only saw a few closed doors. We peeked inside one room we heard voices coming from and found a nurse typing on a typewriter (yup you read right!) next to a moaning woman on a ripped up plastic covered table. She waved us into the room and told us to sit down and wait despite It being freezing cold and I was visibly shivering.


NOTE: I went back a week later to have my stitches removed and took a few pictures of the hospital.

Here’s where things start to get a bit graphic so I am sorry if I offend anyone, but I think it’s important to understand the whole experience. I had been having bouts of diarrhea all night and when I asked if I could use the bathroom the nurse replied NO. What! I’m literally having an accident right now and I can’t use the bathroom. Oh my goodness, what do I do? I started begging and crying and she took pity on me and allowed me to go into the actual emergency room to a small bathroom in the back corner. Here’s where it gets fun. No door knob, no toilet seat, no toilet paper and no faucet. I stepped out and asked a nearby nurse for paper and they said there was none and by this time I had no option but to go anyways. I returned to Aaron in tears and with a look of horror on my face where he did everything he could do to comfort me.  Eventually I replaced the woman on the plastic table and the chivalrous man that Aaron is gave up his own coat to cover me up. Unfortunately I was beyond warming up at that point and we both just sat there freezing.

Finally a doctor came in and examined me by looking at my unhealed cuts, pressing on my stomach, checked my blood pressure and listened to my heart and then ordered a number of tests for me to go have done . We still did not really grasp where we were and slowly made our way outside and down the open air hallways to various departments. This was all done painstakingly slow as I could barely walk now from pain and exhaustion, was covered in diarrhea and shaking so bad. We stopped first for blood tests, then a urine and stool sample (of course again the bathroom facility was just a toilet) and then across the way to radiology for an abdominal ultrasound. Each step of this process required a lot of time, patience and  figuring out. This proved to be a bit difficult as we were both extremely stressed and scared. If only we spoke Spanish!


I continued to have accidents throughout this process, with no help from any nurses, and I was beyond mortified and embarrassed with how I looked and smelled. I can’t thank Aaron enough for his support through all of this. After completing the tests we returned to the emergency room and they admitted me into the actual bed area. Now don’t go thinking this is an improvement on on the situation. I was still wearing my soiled pants, laying on a ripped up plastic bed with no sheets, pillow or blanket. Thankfully Aaron was eventually able to beg a nurse for a blanket which helped a bit. The only funny thing about this situation was the woman in the bed next to me that sounded like Fozzy Bear! We shared a much need laugh over this. Around 2pm a surgeon paid a visit and informed me of my appendicitis and the need for immediate surgery. The one plus to this was they planned to do it laparoscopically if possible. This was quite a shock and not what we had been expecting to hear. In preparation for surgery they changed me into a paper-thin see through gown and struggled to get an IV in. This was so unbelievably painful as they used a piece of rubber tubing that I was pretty convinced was going to squeeze my arm off. Not too mention the multiple failed attempts as getting the vain so they just repeatedly stabbed me until they got it. I thought I was going to lose it. Finally around 7pm they took me down for surgery and it all happened pretty quick (at least for me that is) but it was a long 2.5 hours of waiting in a cold hallway (with no chairs) for Aaron.


Since this a pubic heath care hospital nothing, and I mean nothing, is included or easy to do. For every test, procedure, or supply that I needed Aaron had to make a trip first to the cashier with the prescription and then to the pharmacy to get my needed supplies and then back to the doctor. Unfortunately the hospital pharmacy was undersupplied and therefore he had to go outside the hospital to a pharmacy across the street to get the supplies. He even had to get all of my surgery supplies (medicines ,IV tubes, saline, needles, etc. and blood for a transfusion) and deliver it before they started. So different then in the U.S. Oh and you can only pay in cash which required multiple trips to an ATM as well. What a trooper he is.

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I awoke the next day in a large room lined with 24 hospital beds. This was obviously the woman’s recovery ward and I had made it through surgery. Phew! I was experiencing a bit of pain at the incision sites and I was still having a lot of diarrhea which again was a major problem since I couldn’t get out of bed without a nurse and still had no toilet paper. I had spent the night lying in my own urine and diarrhea. I never would have never expected a hospital to be so bare-bones. It was the family member’s job to supply the patient with all needed toilet paper, drinking water, extra blankets, food other then 3 small bland meals, toiletries, and soap. Of course we did not know this and visiting hours were not until noon (and only till 5pm) so that first morning I was left to just sit and wait for Aaron to show up. Thankfully the woman next to me named Marta gifted me a few squares of toilet paper and a “muy grande” pair of depends to wear. Awesome, I have officially lost all dignity. Not even in the hospital can you get away from the street vendors as once a day a woman would walk through the ward selling toilet paper, nuts and popcorn. Too bad I didn’t have any money.

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This place was like being in a 1920s insane asylum. Weird noises, metal beds, loud groans for across the room,  a loud flickering TV I don’t understand, florescent lights and other patients just shamelessly staring at you for hours. There even was this scary orderly straight out of a mad scientist movie with clunky rubber boots, elbow length black rubber gloves who just stomps around, grunting, banging things and constantly scowling. She honestly scared me! I have to give the hospital a little credit for being quite resourceful as they found a way to repurpose a number of items. For example, used needle sharps doubled as push pins, plastic bags were ripped into strips and used to tie things up or together, and the empty plastic saline bottles became drinking cups, puke trays, bodily fluid (blood, urine) collection containers, and lab specimen holders. One afternoon a nurse dropped off a bottle on my table and just walked away. Aaron and myself looked at it and questioned if it was a local bottle of Bolivian tequila with a worm in it? When he asked the nurse if I was expected to drink it she busted out laughing! Nope, that was my appendix and we needed to get it to the lab. Ha ha ha! Stupid Americans. Too bad the lab was closed for the weekend and it would have to sit next to me for the next 2 days. Something I found kinda disturbing about this hospital was the fact that the nurses locked up and left from about midnight to 5am each night. What were you supposed to if you needed help in the middle of the night? Such a different experience then in the States.

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I have to mention a special nurse that made my time so much more bearable. Her name is Nalita and I referred to her as my “spanish mamacita”.  She was so sweet, took extra time to help me and made sure I was as comfortable as possible in the horribly confining beds. She would caress my hand and speak soft gentle words to me when she could tell I was scared or lonely. She even invited her 15 year old daughter Vanesa in to talk with me for a while one day. She wanted to practice her english and thought we might be able to be friends. She was absolutely wonderful and it was comforting to be able to talk to someone and ask a few questions about what was going on. She was even able to translate a bit for her mom and me to talk. When I asked Vanesa about her plans for the future she told me she hopes to go to Canada in a few years and study engineering. She says it’s easier to get into Canadian schools then U.S. schools but just wants to study hard and do well in school no matter where she goes. I couldn’t help but wonder if she might be able to go to Grand Rapids Christian High School for the next few years through our International program??? Any GRCHS people reading this? She also has a younger sister who is 12 years old and hopes to follow in her sister’s footsteps. She is absolutely wonderful and I think she would thrive at GRCHS. Think about it….

One of the many doctors we came into contact with notified Aaron that this was the poorest of all the hospitals in La Paz. Great, glad we know this now! (We also later found out there was a nice private hospital even closer to our apartment!!! Ugh! ) I already mentioned the lack of anything included at the hospital, but a few other observations include the fact that the nurses hardly ever wore gloves, all documents were done on typewriters and their charted record keeping was all hand written. One major downfall to this was that they could never seem to get my name right. I have paperwork with all of the following names and patient numbers on them: Petersen Lindsay Anne #90403505,  Peterson A Linsay Annet #90403614, X Petersen Lindsay Anne #90403503, Peterson A Linsay Annet #318427. Hope my request for a medical record summary goes through all right. Not sure this is how I would have normally done things, actually I know that it isn’t, but I guess the upside to a poor hospital is that the cost of having your appendix out is super cheap. All said and done we figured it out to have cost us approximately $600. That wouldn’t even buy you a night in a U.S. hospital! And I got 3, lucky me. You know me always looking for a way to save a penny. Let’s just hope that all they took was my appendix!!





3 Comments on “Laid Up in LaPaz

  1. What an adventure! I think many prayers were answered for you. So glad to hear you’re on the mend.

  2. Are you a cat, Nine lives??? Come home. We have great health care and lots of moms who are missing you her in the USA. Linda Van Powell

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