This has been a not-much-progress week so far. Monday was a holiday. No Armando, and I decided to take the day off to rest. Tuesday I managed to get six rafters welded into place, and today, Wednesday, I visited a neighbor in the hospital.
Hospital? Si. Yesterday just before 5:00 in the afternoon Cynthia heard a loud crash. We were just starting to prepare dinner at the rental house. Cynthia heard someone yell, “Fred!!! Fred!!! Fred!!!” It was our neighbor, Ramiro. Ramiro and another man have been working on Ramiro’s house, painting and doing general maintenance. It’s not actually Ramiro’s house; he works for the owner. He lives there full time as the caretaker. Anyway, the guys had a section of pipe scaffolding about 20-feet high set up at the side of the house.
Ramiro was working on the ground under the scaffolding. Somehow, the details are unclear to me and perhaps everyone, a metal, ten-foot-long, double 2×4 carriola, similar to the ones I have been using, fell from the top of the scaffolding. If you are squeamish, let me just say that Ramiro was badly hurt. You can stop reading now.
The double carriola came down end first on the top of Ramiro’s head, and like a cookie cutter, cut a four-inch by two-inch “L” shaped gash down to the skull.
After an unbelievable belt on the head, Ramiro didn’t pass out, but began yelling for me. The other man ran to our house and yelled out what had happened. Although I didn’t understand everything he said, I knew to roll Ambulancia de Fred.
Ramiro’s sister was visiting him, and she got a big bath towel wrapped around his head. Ramiro got into the car and I flew down into town, horn blowing and flashers flashing, to Central Salud, our local bare-bones (no pun intended) emergency clinic.
Head wounds bleed profusely and he lost a lot of blood. The towel was saturated. I’ll stop with that description there.
I blew the horn when I arrived at the clinic and a nurse responded immediately. We got him inside and the doctor dropped what he was doing (stitching a cut on another man’s hand) and got to work on Ramiro.
Many stitches later, the bleeding had stopped. The doctor said that they were going to transport Ramiro by ambulance to the hospital in Penonome’ that serves this area of our province.
The doctor thought it would be best if I followed the ambulance so that I would be on hand to help in case Ramiro passed out and couldn’t give his particulars. The cost to Ramiro for the stitching up, which they said he could pay later, was $1.50. That’s a dollar. And fifty cents.
The ambulance managed the usually-an-hour-and-a-half trip in under an hour. The ambulance driver said that I was pegamento (glue) on his bumper.
Ramiro was taken by wheelchair through the emergency room and into the Trauma Center. I know it was the Trauma Center because there was a sign on the door. The small room had two cots. This room also doubled as a supply room, and I could have easily filled my pockets with syringes and other supplies that were lying about the floor and on shelves in cardboard boxes.
The only piece of medical equipment in the room was a large tank of oxygen. It was standing, unsecured, against a wall. While we were waiting, I heard an oxygen tank fall down in another room. Ramiro and I ducked for cover.
The first order of business was to record Ramiro’s name and other particulars. The nurse took his social security card and made a copy of it.
In Panama, full-time employees are required to be enrolled in social security. One of the benefits is that the poor and the very poor can get nearly-free medical care at any age. There are two types of hospitals in Panama: top-tier hospitals similar to better stateside hospitals, and the social security hospitals that leave a lot to be desired in all categories. Ramiro was in the second category.
In due time IVs were hung, shots were given, and X-rays were taken. I was asked to help wheel the gurney to and from X-ray as there was a shortage of available personnel.
At 9:00 Ramiro was really hungry, and so was I, so I set out to find a place to buy some fruit juice that Ramiro could drink through a straw, and I found some white rice for myself. It was quick. When I returned, Ramiro was just about to take a sip of his fresh pineapple juice when the nurse wagged her finger at him. Water only. So I enjoyed the rice and pineapple juice, a fine repast.
At 11:00 p.m. the doctor informed us that Ramiro would need to stay at least overnight, so I went on my way back home. Unfortunately I had to obey the speed limit as I had no ambulance to follow.
This morning Ramiro called and told me that he would be staying another day. Would I bring him a change of clothing? Sure. So back I went. He was still in his blood-soaked work clothes from the day before and hadn’t been allowed a shower. In the social security hospitals, there are no gowns to change into. If you want sheets on your bed or a pillow, a family member needs to bring them from home. If you want anything beyond medical care, toiletries or toilet paper for example, your family must provide it.
A tech came in to change the dressing while I was there. He needed an extra pair of hands, and had me, without gloves, hold the gauze on Ramiro’s head while he applied the stocking net.
Ramiro frequently comes by our house with a ripe papaya or a bag of oranges. Cynthia and I practice our Spanish and he his English. If we need anything, we can always count on Ramiro, and he lights up when we make a pizza for him. I bought him a newspaper and a $3 card to recharge his phone and because he looked tired, I went on my way.
Here’s a photo of Ramiro, already overnight in the hospital, and still in his bloody work clothes:
So this morning I told the tale to Armando. “Let’s wear our hardhats from now on.” I am always cautious on the job. But after having this experience, we’re going to double down before a double 2×4 comes down on one of us.
That’s all for now. I’ll try to get some work done tomorrow.
If you are game, here’s a picture of the wound: