Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cuban X-ray Machines

I clipped gear to my harness while Pat put me on belay. I complained jokingly about getting the only slab pitch on the route as I clipped the first bolt and traversed a slabby face to start. The terrain almost immediately got steep and juggy.
I remember reaching with my right hand into a big hueco, looking down, stepping high up to a small nubbin for my right foot, and then flagging my left foot under and swinging with all my weight on that right hand, and looking up to reach towards the next hueco jug, the bolt at my ankles to the left.
Then I was flying through the air past the bolt, past Pat and Ray at the belay, bouncing off the slab, and the finally being stopped by the rope, swinging about ten feet below them.
The huge right hand hold exploded on the ground 60 meters below and somewhere from deep within me came the F-word, about five times, as the reality of the situation hit me.
(Anne, who was on the same wall but out of eye site, said she was sure it was Ray who had been yelling, it was so guttural)
Two simultaneous thoughts came to me – “I am hurt” and “I am in Cuba”.
My right ankle had hit first and it was already ballooning. I peeled my climbing shoe off and looked up at Ray and Pat, crying. Boys never know what to do with a crying girl.
Tears clouded my vision as I rappelled toward the ground. Alone, sliding down the rope in space, blood rushed to my foot intensifying the pain.
Below was a farm and I heard the click-clack of horse hooves on the road, pulling a carriage. Beyond was the impossibly blue Caribbean Sea.
A few piggy-back rides and a cab ride later, I gathered all of my money from Oscar’s house where we were staying and headed to the hospital.
Oscar pulled the car up to the gray cement structure and he and Tino jumped out to lend their shoulders. The entryway had no door, and latticed cement walls. The large waiting area was just inside the open entryway, with polished floors and a handful of people sitting on wooden benches propped against the whitewashed wall, watching TV. There was a hallway and private (ish) rooms on the left, another hallway leading to the ‘ortopedia y traumatologia’ areas straight ahead, and the x-ray room on the right.

Oscar led us down the hall on the left and we waited while he went into one of the rooms. I made eye contact with a woman, apparently in labor, in the room opposite where Oscar had gone in. The door to her room was wide open and she didn’t seem to care.
Oscar led us back to the entryway waiting area and we sat on benches next to the other folks. Within a minute two good-looking men in white uniforms shouldered me to the x-ray room.

I’ve had my share of x-rays, on that foot especially due to a previous injury and surgery, so the process was more entertaining than intimidating. The machine was clearly from the early 70’s, but they really don’t appear to have changed that much in 40 years.

After taking a few images, the strong white-shirted men helped me back to the waiting room, returned to the x-ray room, and soon re-emerged, holding my x-rays. They brought them directly to one of the other TV-watching people in the waiting area and I laughed, thinking they were just randomly showing them to another patient. Turns out she was a doctor too.

She did in fact have the teal green cotton pullover top that is telling of medical personnel, but with skin-tight jeans, pointy-toed matching teal flats, long polished fingernails and lots of gold jewelry. Even doctors have style in Cuba!
She held the x-rays toward the light flooding in from the open entryway and then turned and walked to me, grabbing my ankle and prodding around. ‘Doloroso?’ She asked. Painful?
‘No entiendo’ I replied, I don’t understand. I was relieved to even get that out, as my (limited) Spanish comprehension and speaking capacity seemed completely MIA at the moment.
‘Este es doloroso?’ she asked louder, pressing harder on my grapefruit-sized ankle.

‘Si, si!’ I said, finally understanding, pulling it away from her. She rolled her eyes and turned away, taking the x-rays to a proper light board for closer observation.
The men in white returned a couple minutes later to take me back for more x-rays, apparently the film was scratched. The whole process repeated and then my stylish doctor showed me, this time with Tino and Anne as my crutches, down the hall to the trauma room, a glorified closet.
She signaled for me to sit down and turned to her task of unrolling casting material on a stainless steel countertop. I stood up to look at my x-rays, hanging from a small light board above the sink.

‘No es fractura’, she said, it’s not broken, holding unrolled casting material under running water.
Then why was she getting ready to cast it? I asked Tino and Oscar. More of the tense, lost-in-translation conversation followed, until I learned that she was simply making a removable splint out of the casting material, as they don’t have plastic splints to use there for sprains and strains.

She finished the job and the handsome Cuban men in white helped my back down the dimly lit hallway and into another small room with an old man sitting at a desk. This guy was much more obviously a doctor. I sat next to him while he prescribed me five days of bed rest and ibuprofen on small sheets of newsprint paper. I took out my wallet and he waved it away. Not a penny exchanged.
I suppose that’s a good thing because it would have meant, according to the US government, that I was trading with the enemy.
An hour after we had arrived we headed for the car, treatment completed. Next on our list were to find a pair of crutches and endless mojitos.

Thanks to mama Skidz (Anne Skidmore) for documenting the hospital trip, and for endless middle-of-the-night visits to Oscar’s freezer for ice in the week after this happened.

Happy birthday C9

I miss you my friend.

A lovely horse is always an experience.... It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words. ~Beryl Markham