Cynthia and I have been paying into Ecuador's Social Security health care system for over two years. Locals adamantly warned us that the care is substandard and advised that they would never use it, but then again these are the same people who say how unsafe the buses are when they never actually ride one themselves.
Since the cost is so low (less than $100/month for both of us), we had always regarded our monthly investment as insurance against unforeseen health catastrophes. But when our primary care physician, in whom we have the utmost trust, became part of the system we decided to explore the possibility of using it for our ongoing care.
I've been bothered by a condition known as Dupuytren's contracture for over ten years. A thickening in the fascia of the hand causes a finger, normally the pinkie or ring finger, to bend inward toward the palm. Left untreated the finger can eventually curve to the degree of making a permanent fist.
That wasn't an acceptable outcome, so our doctor referred me to a specialist at the Social Security hospital. He examined my hand and confirmed that corrective surgery was needed. Another warning we'd received was that long delays for treatment were common, so I had low expectations when I asked when he could do it. "I'm going to the States tomorrow night," he said. "Can you be here at 6:30 in the morning?"
I left his office and a few minutes later was having blood drawn for pre-op testing. After that I went straight in for an EKG. Finally I met briefly with the anesthesiologist. All within an hour--so much for delays!
The doctor said I would be held overnight for observation and pain management. What? This procedure in the States would be performed in an outpatient clinic and you would be sent straight home with some pills. I haven't been in a hospital since I was born, but what the heck---OK.
Cynthia and I showed up bright and early the next morning. After a brief wait I changed into one of those ultra-flattering hospital gowns (and a shower cap thingy for my "hair"), hopped on a gurney, and off I went. No paperwork--everything was already logged into the system.
A couple of hours later I left recovery and was taken to my bed. Most of the rooms hold three patients, and I was happy to be assigned a "window bed" with a beautiful view of the mountains that surround Cuenca. Per doctor's orders I hadn't eaten since 10 the previous night, and I'm a guy that needs to eat something about 6 times a day. I'd already devoured a banana Cynthia brought along and was starving when the lunch cart came around.
Sorry--no food for you, Senor Staton. Possible nausea from the anesthesia. The hell you say. Good thing I had Cynthia pack other snacks just in case. I proceeded to dine on cookies, an apple, and Cheetos the rest of the afternoon.
My overnight was uneventful. They had me on an IV drip so I was pretty groggy, and the nurses were attentive but not coming around bugging you all the time.
After picking up some free medication at the pharmacy I went home the next morning. Again, zero paperwork. Just goodbye, thanks for taking good care of me. Two weeks later I went back to the doctor and had my stitches removed. Now I'm the proud owner of ten perfectly straight fingers, and the scar is so clean that it will look like just another line on my hand when the redness subsides (thinking about bamboozling a palm reader when that happens).
I can't recommend our health care system here highly enough. The care I received was top notch. For sure the speed of my treatment was an anomaly. Cynthia yesterday made an appointment with an ophthalmologist-- for mid-September (but this too is an exception--there are only two of these specialists working for Social Security in Cuenca). If you can be a patient patient, you'll be rewarded with caring practitioners and great results.