I have thought long and hard about writing, or not writing this part of my journey but I know people do get sick on the Camino and maybe knowing what I’m about to write will help them if they ever need medical help along The Way. I’ll try to soften it as much as I can but some areas may be too much information for some people. And I know that many of you will not agree at all with the way I handled this whole thing but I did what I thought was best for myself.
I also want to say that I love Spain and have met wonderful, caring local people here. Everyone has been so fantastic and so friendly and accommodating. The way they help Pilgrims walking the Camino is exemplary and above and beyond the call of duty. They have been here for us 100% of The Way.
Let’s continue with last night at 8:30pm when I called to Dick who was sitting outside the window of our room talking to the owner of the Hostel. I told him that I needed help. I had had diarrhea for the last 3 days and it just wasn’t getting any better. I had taken some over the counter medication but it wasn’t helping either. This was the same illness I had in India and with one dose of a medication called Cipro I was cured. So last night I asked Dick to go to the pharmacy around the corner to get some Cipro. The owner of the Hostel accompanied him and they came back only to tell me you can’t get any antibiotics here in Spain without a prescription.
So the owner of the hostel, who was so helpful, suggested I go to the hospital in the next town because I’d be able to see a doctor there and I could get the Cipro. Then he said Dick shouldn’t drive me because it was dark and we would never be able to find the hospital in the large, congested town of Ponferada. I was all dressed for bed and said I didn’t want to go, that I’d go see a doctor tomorrow. But they both pressured me and finally I gave in. The owner called a taxi friend who showed up 5 minutes later.
The taxi driver drove like a bat out of hell through the narrow streets of Ponferada and we arrived at Hospital de la Reina. This hospital would treat Pilgrims who needed help. I walked in and a bunch of girls were standing around reception just socializing and laughing. I told them my problem and the one receptionist said “We only treat Pilgrims for foot and leg problems. And anyway the Pilgrim Doctor left at 8pm.” All of this was in Spanish. So there was no choice but to leave. Then the taxi driver asked if we wanted to go to another place to see a doctor and I said yes.
Well, the place he took us to was a real dive–I felt like I was in a third world country where they treat the poorest of the poor. Again, I explained my problem (in Spanish – no one spoke English) while everyone in the waiting room heard me and knew that I had diarrhea!! The waiting room had about 10 other people in it and they told us to sit by a woman and wait my turn. The taxi driver left. Then they called people into little rooms one by one. Finally a woman patient came from down a hall, pointed at me and said “Go left.” What? She said it again so I guessed it was my turn. Then just as I got up, the woman sitting next to me started to faint. They tried to make her stand up but she went out like a light while people were running to hold her up by her arms and dragging her lifeless body into a room.
At that point I walked down the hall, turned left and a very nice looking, sweet lady called me into her office. Well, I only got as far as telling her I had diarrhea when she said (in Spanish, of course) “Sorry, just a moment.” I knew she had to run out to help the fainting woman. She came back into the office 2 more times, apologizing and saying she’d be back. The next time she came back she told me to go to the adjoining office to see her colleague. So we got up and went in there.
This guy was about 50, very cold and aloof, didn’t introduce himself or ask my name. Again I explained all about my diarrhea, thinking he’d give me a prescription for Cipro. He told me to get on the examining table, which had paper on it but to take off my shoes. When I laid down he motioned for me to pull my pants down and my top up. So I did, but I guess I didn’t do it far enough because he took hold of my pants and yanked them down to my pubic hair! (Good thing Dick was in the room!). He poked and prodded all over my abdomen then motioned for me to get up. Once up and dressed again I told him I’d had the same problem in India and took Cipro and it solved the problem in one day. He said, “Well, you don’t have a temperature (which he hadn’t even taken) so I can’t give you Cipro. In India you had Cholera and we don’t have Cholera here in Spain.” I could not believe my ears. I did not have Cholera in India. And anyway, how would he know what I had in India? He then wrote out a paper telling me I couldn’t eat for 4 hours, then I had to go to the pharmacy and buy some granules and put them in a liter of water and take 1 teaspoon, then 10 minutes later take 2 teaspoons, then 15 minutes later take 3 teaspoons. And I was to keep doing this every 2 – 4 hours. Then he told me to buy some over the counter anti-diarrheal pills. I had already told him that I had done that and it hadn’t helped. I asked him if he was a doctor and he said “yes” but he didn’t want to tell me what his name was. I could not believe this guy or even believe anything he was telling me!
At that point I took the paperwork , said thank you and walked out. I knew I wasn’t going to do one thing he had told me to do. At reception I asked how much I owed and they said “Nothing.” Luckily the cab driver walked in at that moment and took us back to the little town where we were staying — for 25 Euros. All the way back I was ranting and raving to Dick and telling him everything the doctor had said to me and that he would not give me any prescription at all. Dick said he couldn’t understand what we were talking about in Spanish but he didn’t like that Doctor at all.
We got back to the hostel at 11pm and the owner was waiting for us outside and wanted to know what happened. I stood on the street corner, absolutely distraught and told him everything. He was so sweet and couldn’t believe it. He tried to console me and patted me on the shoulder. I thanked him ever so much for his concern and he told me it was his job to be there for Pilgrims. Then he said there would be a woman doctor who would be in this little village at 9:30 in the morning so I told him I’d go see her.
The next morning the owner was again waiting for us out on the street and he walked us to the doctors office. She was very efficient and took me right in. I explained my story, she put me on the examining table, poked and prodded and then told me she could not give me a prescription for Cipro or any other antibiotic because she didn’t know if what I had was bacterial or viral. She told me to go to yet a different hospital back in Ponferada, where we had been last night. She said I needed to go there just to have my blood drawn so they could determine what antibiotic to give. I said OK and asked how much I owed. Nothing!
We hopped in Dick’s rental car, Dick put the hospital address in his GPS and off we went. Mind you, this was going to be the 4th place we were going to just to do something about my problem. After getting lost and going around in circles a few times we arrived at a huge hospital and found the emergency entrance. We checked in at reception and they said we’d have to pay and I said “That’s fine. No problem.” I had my regular insurance plus we had taken out Travel Insurance. Then I had to go through the story of why I was there. After that they sent me to the waiting room where about 20 other people were. Every so often a woman would come out and yell a name. Finally she called me. We went into an area where some really cute and nice nurses were and again they had me re-tell my whole story. They were the first ones to ever take my temperature and blood pressure, which were both normal. Then they sent me back out to wait some more.
A while later I was called in again to a little office. The woman there asked me why I was there and I had to go through the whole story again. Then she motioned for me to get on the table and she poked and prodded my abdomen. She never looked at me and seemed to be so impersonal. I told her I was just there to have a blood test. She didn’t even look at me but kept writing then said, “Yes, you have to stay here while we do a blood test and give you a “suero.” A suero? Mind you, everything was being said to me in Spanish. I had to think a minute and then I remembered that a suero was an IV. I needed an IV? My temperature was normal and she hadn’t even checked me for dehydration. This seemed like an over-kill to me. So I asked her if I really needed an IV when all I came in for was a blood test. She looked at me in a mean way, like she could spit venom and reiterated the IV and the blood test. Then I told her all I wanted was a prescription for Cipro and that in the US when a person travelled out of the country the doctors would give Cipro for them to take just in case they needed it. She said she would never do that. At that point I knew I wasn’t going to accept her treatment, especially her IV, and I told her I didn’t want the IV and that I was leaving. And she said, without even looking up, “Well if you think you know more than I do then go ahead and leave!!!” (All of this in Spanish, of course.) So I left — walked out to reception and said I wasn’t staying for treatment and asked how much I owed. The guy said “No charge.”
I was so mad I wanted to scream — and I was happy that I had walked out! So Dick and I got a hotel room in the same town — a nice big room at the lovely Hotel Madrid.. We took a little nap then I got up to have more diarrhea and — OMG — there was a bunch of blood. OK, this might be serious. Now where was I going to go?! Certainly not back to any of the places I had been seen. But wait — there was that first hospital last night who refused to see me because I didn’t have a foot or leg problem. Well, I DID have a foot problem so I told Dick we needed to go back there. At least we hadn’t burned our bridges there! The taxi had driven us there last night, and this was a HUGE city, and I don’t know how Dick did it but he drove us right back there, to Hospital de La Reina.
Now remember, this was now my 5th try to get this problem solved. So I walked into reception — to the same girl who was there last night and refused me entrance because I didn’t have a foot or leg problem. I walked up to her and said I was there for a foot problem — and also an intestinal problem. She said they could only see me for the foot problem and I said “OK I’ll pay for the intestinal problem.” Then she was nice and said OK. She told us to go to a waiting room. We sat down and immediately a cute, young, tall Doctor came out and called me in — IN ENGLISH! This was the first person I had dealt with anywhere who spoke English. He said his English wasn’t very good but it was. I started with the foot problem — he examined my foot and told me I was just over using one of the bones on the side of the foot and that I needed to rest for 2 to 3 days, not walk at all, put ice on it and keep it elevated. And he didn’t even say anything about my hairy legs, which I hadn’t shaved for 2 weeks!
Then I asked if he could help me with the intestinal problem and he said “Sure.” I told him all about it and that I had blood and he said it wasn’t a serious problem to have blood when you had diarrhea. Especially because I had no other problems — no fever, no pain, no other symptoms. Then he told me the way to cure things was to rest and not eat anything for the next 2 days except water and maybe some clear liquids. He said that would stop the diarrhea. And if it didn’t, to come back. I told him I was so relieved to hear everything he said, especially about the blood. Then Dick said, “Could you take a look at my foot, too?” And he said “Of course.” He examined Dick’s foot and told him he had pulled something in the back part of his foot and that he needed to keep ice on it and rest for the next 2 to 3 days. I was elated when we left the office and told him how nice he was. Then he kissed me on both cheeks and when we got to reception he said to the girl, “No Charge!”
That lovely young Doctor, whose first name was Ramon suggested we get out of this big city and go to Cacabelos, a cute town in the countryside where it would be more preferable to relax. So the next day we did just that. We checked into a charming, restored place called La Moncloa de San Lazaro and had the cutest big room.
Then we went out onto the patio so Dick could have something to eat. He ordered a wonderful lunch and I ordered broth.
The waitress asked me what was wrong and why I wasn’t eating and I told her I had an intestinal problem. She said “Oh, my son gets that all the time, a lot of people do.” Then she told me the way to cure it was exactly what Dr. Ramon had told me — only clear liquids for 2 days, etc etc etc. I saw her later and she motioned me into the bar and made me a special concoction of fresh lemon juice, water and brown sugar (basically lemonade) and then put it into a liter bottle and gave it to me. She wouldn’t accept any money for it. She was another absolutely sweet and wonderful person along The Way.
Four different doctors, four different opinions and I chose the one I felt was appropriate for me. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t spoken Spanish. This all seemed like such a fiasco for such an ordinary problem. But the simplest treatment worked and although I was weak, with 2 more days of rest I would be good to go again.