April 21, 2013 by jiejie768
So it’s been a while since last we posted about our adventures with Mikey. In the interim, Meg has posted some leftovers and intruder alerts, and together we’ve welcomed my mother to Peru. I even accompanied her back to the U.S., where I spent a few days taking in a baseball game, and interviewing and testing for graduate school. Now that we are both back in Ayacucho for a bit, I will return to documenting our time with Mikey.
When last we left you, Mikey had just redeposited his green beer (it was St. Patrick’s Day, after all) into the plumbing at the bar which had served it to him. The lesson: green beer is NOT made with creme de menthe. Given Mikey’s digestive pyrotechnics and Meg’s less-than-stellar state of being (stomachache and headache, unrelated to St. Patty’s Day festivities), we figured that was a good time to call it a night and headed back to our hotel. Mikey’s visit to the restroom had been motivated much more by a gag-worthy drink than overindulgence, so we were in good spirits anticipating the first day of sleeping in our trip had yet provided. Oh, if only.
Not long after lights out, Meg’s intestinal discomfort manifested itself in a most unpleasant way. Beginning at about 11 p.m. that night, and carrying straight on ’til morning, she was beset by virtually non-stop vomiting and, well, other digestive discomfort which leaves through the other end. Though unpleasant, Meg was fairly certain she had just contracted a parasite of the standard travelers’ variety and decided to tough it out through the night before seeking medical help.
Come 6:30 a.m., she was absolutely miserable, having not slept and completely evacuated her body of everything she had ever eaten or drank. I, likewise, had spent most of the night awake, though fortunately my only ailments were sympathetic pains and a feeling of helplessness as Meg continued to suffer. As for Mikey, I imagine he got a bit more sleep, but not much, as it was a small hotel room with just the one bathroom: Sorry, buddy.
With the sun finally out, and the hotel’s owners awake, we went downstairs and immediately arranged for a taxi to take us to ProSalud Medical Clinic on the other side of Puno. The clinic itself was OK, but it was located in a more local (read sketchier) neighborhood than the tourist haunts we’d seen to date. We arrived at 7:08 a.m. and were crestfallen to learn the clinic did not open until 8. Fortunately, the staff was there, and once we explained Meg’s predicament, they quickly summoned a doctor and did not force us to wait until the official opening ceremonies.
Though she was severely dehydrated and thoroughly miserable, we still pretty much assumed that Meg would be OK once some tests were taken and pills prescribed. She was likely going to skip out on that afternoon’s planned tour of the Sillustani ruins, but would hopefully be feeling better by the 7 a.m. departure of our bus to Cusco the following morning. This line of thinking suffered a severe blow, however, when the doctor delivered her test results to us at about 10 a.m. Meg, it turned out, did not have a simple case of traveler’s sickness, but rather salmonella poisoning. At first diagnosis, the staff informed us that Meg would have to be hospitalized for the next 48 hours while they administered antibiotics and several IVs to get her hydrated again.
This was deeply disturbing news on many levels. First and foremost, as a veteran of food service jobs, I had a deep-seated fear of the word salmonella. We were assured that Meg would be OK with treatment, though, so that fear abated quickly. Next up, however, was a tangle of anxiety borne out of our now-disrupted travel plans.
In addition to pretty much being over Puno and its (lack of) charms, we NEEDED to be on that bus to Cusco the following day (Tuesday). The bus to Cusco, while featuring a handful of tourist-friendly stops, was largely meant as a means to deliver us to our flight from Cusco to Lima on Wednesday. This, in turn, was a vital step on our travel agenda as Mikey was leaving from Lima on Thursday morning to return to the United States.
Missing the bus to Cusco would start a chain-reaction that could (likely would) lead to Mikey missing his scheduled flight home. Meg had fewer than 18 hours in which she could conveniently be hospitalized before some uncomfortable and stress-ridden decisions had to be made.
Adding to the problem was the fact that Mikey spoke little to no Spanish whatsoever. As such, I could hardly send Mikey on his own to Cusco and expect him to navigate a night there (reservation in my name), followed by catching a flight to Lima, a night there (reservation again in my name) and making it to his flight home. He had come to Peru with the reasonable expectation that Meg and I would serve as his translators and hosts throughout. There were too many steps between him and home to cut him loose in good conscience. I was similarly uneasy about the idea of leaving Meg on her own in a Puno hospital — in a neighborhood I was less than thrilled about — to recuperate and find her way back to Ayacucho on her own. This, however, seemed like our only option at the moment.
Once the diagnosis was made, Meg was given a private hospital room and we started the long waiting game. Boy, was Tom Petty ever right. We told the staff that, if at all possible, Meg HAD to be out of the hospital in time to make the bus the following morning. Our real hope was that she could get two courses of IV antibiotics and three or so courses of IV electrolytes during the day so that she could return to the hotel late that night and stay with us. By 11 a.m., however, we had little to no assurance this was possible, and at that point, Mikey was still at the hotel waiting for us to return with news of Meg’s condition.
I left Meg with a promise to return shortly with Mikey and hailed a cab for the cross-town trek. I was very stressed and operating on no food and about one hour of fitful sleep. Nevertheless, I managed to retrieve Mikey and return to Meg’s bedside in about 45 minutes. Whilst the three of us convened, Mikey now fully aware of the predicament, it became clear that there was little that we could do for the next several hours. The hospital staff had indicated there was a slight chance Meg could make the bus, but that it depended on how she responded to the treatment over the course of that day. This gave us hope, but still left Meg staring down the barrel of a 10-hour bus ride to Cusco while possibly battling spells of vomiting and diarrhea — and that was the “best-case” scenario.
As there was little to be done at the moment, it was decided that Mikey and I would leave Meg to get some much-needed sleep. Our afternoon would consist of a quick lunch followed by the aforementioned tour of the Sillustani ruins which left at 2:30 p.m. While at the hotel waiting for the tour bus to arrive, I did some research to see if Meg could fly from Juliaca (about 30 minutes from Puno) to Cusco for any kind of reasonable fare. There were a couple of hopeful options, but to make a long story short, no, she couldn’t. Basically it was make the bus to Cusco with us, or get a (very expensive) flight to Lima and meet us there on Wednesday.
The trip to Sillustani was interesting, but unsurprisingly marred by the cloud of anxiety surrounding Meg’s situation. The ruins are a series of funerary towers that reach as high as 12 meters (40 feet) on a hill overlooking picturesque Lame Umayo. The towers were created over several hundred years ago by tribes predating the Incas. The Incas also built their own towers, and even today, the locals use the towers to honor and bury their deceased. There are pictures of the site throughout this post, as it is the only thing we photographed that day, but I really don’t remember a whole lot about it. I do know, however, that Mikey was saddened to learn whilst standing astride an 11-meter tower, that he is not, in fact, 11-meters tall as he had long believed.
On the way back to Puno, our tour bus — which, big surprise, was a Mercedes 20-passenger van — stopped at a family farm in the countryside. There we were able to pose with llamas and alpacas, sample some Andean cheese and see how the local farmers went about their daily lives. A funny moment occurred while we were checking out the cuy (guinea pig) pen. The two small, American children who were part of our tour group cooed at the little rodents and the girl, about 6, exclaimed, “Oooooh, how cute!” Our tour guide, who reminded me strongly of my stepdad, Chris, didn’t miss a beat before deadpanning, “Cute? Yes, I suppose, but they’re food.” Mikey, myself and the girl’s dad all had a pretty hearty chuckle at that.
Meg here. While Ryan was in Sillustani, I was battling the Peruvian medical system. Let me tell you a bit about it.
First, know that I don’t really trust doctors, in any nation. I’m sure they know what they’re doing, I just wish they would tell me, so that I know what they’re doing. Peruvian doctors proved no different. As they injected things into my IV, I would constantly ask what it was exactly they were planning to put into my bloodstream. My questioning got more insistent when I experienced side effects like extreme cold, or sweating, or a tightening in my chest that forced me to really concentrate on my breathing (Thanks, yoga!). They seemed really complexed with my concern over the course of treatment.
Food was another issue. Ryan was supposedly “forbidden” (according to a sheet of hospital policies they gave me) to bring me any outside food or drink. This rule was quickly broken when we learned the hospital was out of Gatorade. They kept trying to shovel bland chicken, potatoes and rice down my throat (okay, not literally), as I protested that: One, I was a vegetarian, and two, as I had spent the previous night projectile vomiting rice and potatoes, I wasn’t really interested in eating either. When Ryan came back, they told him that he could bring me some crackers (rule breakers, those nurses) but there wasn’t anywhere nearby to purchase them.
The last thing I’ll tell you about ProSalud Puno before I turn it back over to Ryan, is that my hospital room is the coldest room I’ve ever been in. We’re talking four heavy wool blankets on my bed. The night nurses had jackets as part of their uniform and walked around with blankets wrapped around their waists. ProSalud saves a lot on the heating bill.
Mikey and I made it back to Puno at about 5:30 and I quickly returned to the hospital to check on Meg. I told Mikey I’d try to be back by around 8, so we could grab dinner, but he showed great foresight in telling me not to worry, he’d figure out dinner on his own if he needed to. Before heading out, I packed up all of Meg’s and my things so as to be ready to grab them and go should we not make it back by the morning. I left thinking I’d be back for dinner, but promising I’d be there by 6 the following morning at the latest, to make sure we made it to the bus.
When I got to the hospital at about 6:15, Meg was looking and feeling quite a bit better. She wasn’t healthy by any means, but she’d gotten some sleep and was considerably better hydrated than before. She’d also managed to go the whole day without vomiting and with minimal other digestive fireworks. Meg and I passed much of the evening waiting for more news from the doctors. At the earliest, she wouldn’t be allowed to leave until 11 p.m. when her most recent antibiotics and IV hydration doses were finished. At that time, we’d learn more from the doctor and potentially be discharged. During this time, we chatted, worried, watched TV on the computer and tried to determine exactly which parts of Meg’s hospital dinner were in fact edible (turns out, just the pineapple jello, and just barely at that).
When the doctor returned at 11 to take out the IV and replace it with more electrolytes, it was determined that Meg would have to spend the night in the hospital, but that barring any unforeseen complications, she would be let out at 6 a.m. Tuesday, with just enough time to make the bus. This was good news, indeed!
I considered going back to the hotel at that point, but decided that hailing a cab at midnight in an unfamiliar and fairly sketchy neighborhood was not a risk I wanted to take — especially after the night and day we’d just had. So it was that I grabbed the tiny couch (about 3 1/2 feet long) in Meg’s room and pulled up alongside her bed. I spent the night curled up in a tiny ball on the couch with my head resting on the foot of the bed (which was about a foot-and-a-half higher than the couch upon which I lay). It was not a great night’s sleep for me, but I did manage about five hours, and I know Meg was glad I was there.
I awoke the next morning at about 5:30 and immediately began to stress about the doctor arriving in time for his final check up and to let us out. In a rare stroke of Peruvian timeliness, the doctor showed 15 minutes later and gave us the all clear. He simply had to write up the medical report (necessary for our travel insurance reimbursement) and get Meg’s IV removed.
Of course, this being a Peruvian hospital, and time being of the essence, we weren’t out of the woods yet. The doctor took his sweet time writing the report, while the nurses told us only the doctor could remove the IV from Meg’s arm. I paced and fretted for about 20 minutes as the clock ticked closer and closer to our drop dead time of 6:20 (that is, the time at which we would not have time to return to the hotel, get our bags and make it to the bus station for the 7 a.m. departure).
At about 6:13 a.m., I finally told the doctor, who was in the pharmacy downstairs, that we NEEDED to go NOW. He looked at me quizzically and said that of course we could go. Panicked, I informed him that my wife was still tethered to the hospital by a fairly large and painful IV needle (The needle left a scar on Meg’s wrist which she calls her Peruvian tattoo). He gave a look of shock, and sent a nurse up to remove it ASAP.
At 6:20 on the nose, we climbed into a cab outside the clinic and sped toward the hotel. We arrived just as Mikey was beginning to wonder if we were coming at all, and grabbed our bags in a hurry. Fortunately, the bus depot was less than 10 minutes from the hotel and we pulled in at 6:41 a.m. I breathed a sigh of relief, retrieved our tickets, and boarded the bus to Cusco. Meg still had a long, but hopefully uneventful, day of bus riding ahead of her, but she was feeling better, and all three of us, together, were on our way to Cusco, happy as could be to finally see Puno in the rearview mirror.
Catch up on all our travels with Mikey: