My first experience with doctors in South America

Many times over the years I have chastised my parents for not seeking medical attention for what ever ailment they had at that particular moment. It seems to be a Koch trait to do everything possible to avoid doctors and I am realising that I am exactly the same as my parents in this regard. We are always so certain that given time and rest, most things will heal themselves or miraculously disappear. But this is definitely not always the case and sometimes our stubborn nature can actually make the problem worse.

I tried my hardest to avoid going to a doctor to have my knee checked out after injuring it nearly three weeks ago. The first few days I was in agony, had very little movement, couldn´t put any pressure on it and was basically confined to bed. But then it started feeling better really quickly and the pain subsided and the swelling went down and I thought I was on my way to recovery. I still had to walk rather slowly and be careful with sudden movements or going up and down stairs, but it was feeling alot better. Stupidly I don´t think I always realise my own limits and before long I was trying to walk at my normal (rather fast) speed. And as luck would have it, the last few weekends have been full of things that required alot of walking, standing and general movement. First was the U2 concert and then the next weekend was Lollapalooza (a huge rock festival with 5 different stages and 11 hours of music). For both of these occasions I used a crutch to support myself and at the festival I made sure to sit as much as possible during the day. But despite my best efforts, I still put strain on the knee, especially during a concert by The Killers where we were super close to the front amid the crazy fans that love jumping up and down and dancing around with no thought as to who they were knocking into. But then again, sane people with injuries, usually don´t try and be at the front of a manic concert.

So, long story short, I finally decided that I had to get this seen to by a professional and I was put in contact with a “traumatologist”. This was my first encounter with a doctor since coming to South America and despite my advances in spanish I was a little nervous about my communication skills. Turns out I had nothing to worry about on the language front and the doctor and I chatted for nearly 20 minutes about my work, life in Chile, his family back in Uruguay, where I lived in Santiago and a whole bunch of good restaurants in my neighbourhood. Only after all the chit-chat did he do a brief 3 minute examination of my knee before asking if I wanted a diagnosis. Considering I was spending the equivalent of 80USD to see him, I most definitely wanted a diagnosis or else it would have just been a very expensive conversation. The conclusion was that he thought it was my meniscus, but couldn´t give me more details without me going for an MRI. I was dreading him saying this as such tests cost a fortune that I just don´t have right now. All I could think of was “Oh no, there goes a couple of hundred dollars I need to save in order to visit Peru and hike to Machu Picchu in July…”. But then reason set in and I figured that if I don´t get this fixed properly, I won´t be doing a 5 day trek to ancient Inca ruins anyway, because I won´t be able to walk…

On the bus back home after the appointment I started thinking about how different doctors seem to be in Chile, compared to in South Africa. And when I mentioned the long conversation before any examination during my appointment, most of my Chilean friends were not surprised. I must admit that going to a doctor who wanted to spend so much time talking was rather refreshing since in South Africa this is certainly not the case and you barely get 5 minutes in total to ask all your questions and understand what is wrong with you before you are hustled out the door. It is super impersonal compared to here.

So the next step was to figure out what my insurance would cover before deciding whether or not I would go for the test. The stubborn Koch streak was still there and was loudly protesting that maybe I could get away without an MRI and just try physio for a while. But it seems like my insurance will cover things and so I started looking around for where to do an MRI. I am rather glad that Coni helped me “shop around” since the price for an MRI varied between 200 and 600USD. Needless to say I chose the cheapest option since I can´t believe that there is actually any different in the quality of an MRI and the price difference is simply the fanciness of the clinic or hospital.

I have never had an MRI before and I must say it is a rather strange experience. The worst part was that the nurse strapped my knee rather tight and then to ensure I didn´t move it for the next 40 minutes she put sandbags all over my leg. Thank goodness I was only in the tube of the machine from my torso down because although I am not claustrophobic, it was a rather small tube. Throughout the procedure the machine made really strange beeping noises and I felt like my legs had pins and needles. I then had to wait the whole weekend as the results were only available on Monday evening.

I got the results on Monday evening and between the spanish and the strange medical terms I had no idea whether the situation was serious or not. Based on the results the doctor set up an appointment for me with another traumatologist at the Universidad de Chile hospital. Thank goodness Rodrigo came along with me as I had a bit of a meltdown after the appointment. While the doctor was talking to me I understood nearly everything he had said to me, but afterwards when we left, I felt like I had forgotten all the little details of the conversation even though I understood the main idea. Basically I had been concentrating so hard on understanding him while he was talking, that I didn´t actually retain anything he said. I have no idea if this makes sense, but anyway. Afterwards, like I said I had a bit of a “I hate spanish moment” with many tears – I think it was all just a bit overwhelming to have to try and deal with a medical issue in another language. It is all good and well speaking another language in a social or even work situation, but when the conversation revolves around a medical decision you have to make, it is a whole different ballgame.

A very patient and wonderful Rodrigo then repeated everything the doctor had said in english for me! And basically the situation is that I have torn the anterior cruciate ligament and also torn the meniscus, plus I have bone bruising (I never even knew you could bruise bones, but there you go). It seems that even when it comes to injuries, I never do anything less than 100%!!! This is a very common injury in football players and skiers and the usual course of action is an operation to replace the torn ligament with a piece of the tendon from your hamstring. The tough decision I now face is that I can either opt for the surgery and then I have to go through months of intense physio or else I can try physio first and hope it strengthens enough on its own. Apparently you can live just fine with a missing cruciate ligament, but the problem is if you are an active person and put alot of strain on your knees. Now whilst I am not a super fit sports fanatic or anything, I do like hiking, playing tennis, going to gym etc and so I don´t want to have to live with a less than 100% knee for the rest of my life.

This all means I probably have to change my ideas for Peru and Machu Picchu in July, but I have changed my plans so often already and I just have to look on the bright side and think about all the good things that I will be happy to stay longer in Chile for. So that is where things stand at the moment. I am now starting to figure out the process with my insurance and will then take it from there…

I will keep you all posted…

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5 Responses to My first experience with doctors in South America

  1. Ruud says:

    Hi Ingrid,

    I know how you feel! I had a similar thing when had such a tooth ache in RSA. I didn’t shop around and got screwed for 8000 rands 😉 Anyway pain was gone and insurance covered most of it.

    Goodluck recovering!

    • ingridckoch says:

      Hey Ruud, thanks for the message. I can now sympathise with you toothache issue in South Africa. Dealing with a medical system in another country is definitely stressful. But thankfully I have great people to help me, especially in terms of the spanish.
      I hope life is treating you well!

  2. linda koch says:

    Hi My Darling, am living through this with you despite the vast distances between us.
    everyone here is sending you prayers and oodles of love. Saw Kate and Lara this morning, both in excellent health and as crazy as ever, But they were saddened to hear about your knee problems and send much love as well. I will e you later. love you. Mum.

  3. Helen says:

    With the things you explore, you’re going to need that knee for many more decades in top condition, so I suggest it gets the best possible treatment right away.

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