As a medical professional, I follow the classic stereotype of being a horrible patient. I don’t like going to the doctor, and I try to avoid it at all costs. Since living on the island of Curacao, I’ve been lucky enough to not need a doctor (Knock on wood! Yes, I’m superstitious.), and have slacked on the usual annual exam and health maintenance I preached in my clinic days. Then, BOOM. Just like that, I was in need of a doctor.
My dog, Ziggy, sleeps with me. He usually crawls all over me to wake me each morning. This particular morning, he stepped on my bladder. While that’s usually uncomfortable and makes me get out of bed faster than I would like, it usually isn’t painful. But on this particular day, I yelped, “OUCH!” I ran to the bathroom and proceeded to pee fire and knives. Damn. Time to see the doctor. I guess twenty-ish years without a UTI is a good stretch.
Two years ago, I signed up for the local health system, SVB. You need to choose a primary doctor, so I chose one that a friend recommended, but had actually never been there. I called and was able to get in, so I made the trek across the island to the clinic.
I walked in and said I had an appointment. The woman said loudly to the room, “Oh yeah. Bladder infection?” “Um, maybe,” I said quietly. She proceeded to hand me a Styrofoam cup. I thought maybe she wanted me to drink some water. “You pee. I will come get it.”
This made me giggle to myself and text another Woman on a Rock to share the moment. Definitely no “clean catch, sterile container” here! I set it on the shelf, half afraid it would tip over before the woman came to retrieve it. She came in and grabbed it with her bare hands (grimace) and took it away. I went back and sat in the cozy, lobby airplane seats (Yes, airplane seats), giggling to myself a bit more, and waited for the results.
In about two minutes, the sweet but totally non-private nurse yelled out, “It’s as you thought! A UTI, ma’am. The doctor will see you soon.” Within ten minutes, the patient who had just been in with the doctor popped out of the room and said, “Jennifer? Your turn!” I smiled and walked into the doctor’s office to see a Mr. Rogers-ish older man with glasses waiting for me. “Well you need some medicine!” No vital signs or physical exam. Just friendly chit-chat while he wrote a prescription and we discussed preventative care that I had neglected the past couple years. I thanked him, and agreed to schedule some tests, and as I walked out he told me to tell “Fred” that he was next. Now that this chummy medical visit was growing on me, I bopped out to the waiting room and smiled at Fred, “You’re next!”
I made my way to the pharmacy, and after paying two guilders (the equivalent of $1.22), I thought about the sharp contrast between a visit to an American doctor – copay when checking in, complete privacy, and HIPAA compliance (sorry, sweet nurse, but you would have been fired within minutes of the waiting room announcement and no gloves bathroom shenanigans), physical exam and vital signs (versus none, but a very friendly doctor), pharmacy copay or wayyy more expensive if insurance would not cover it, and I started to think that maybe this island doc way of doing things was better.
Fast forward two weeks to my mammogram aka” boob smash” as my friends and I sometimes refer to them. I arrived at the appointment time and waited for an hour before checking with the nurse. They had forgotten to check me in, so apologized and I was called in after a few more minutes. The tech didn’t speak English, so I was glad this wasn’t my first time. We mumbled and she gestured and I got into position (sorry ladies, no photos for this one) and tolerated my boobs being turned into pancakes. Once I finished, she told me to sit in a chair in the hall. The anxiety started creeping in – was this normal? Did she see something wrong?
After ten minutes, a doctor said my name and called me into a small office. “Do you have a family history of cancer?” “No.” “Ok, well everything looks good.” Thank God! I breezed out of the office feeling relieved and once again happy with this little island medical system. In the US, I would have received my results in a few days – giving me time to conjure up the worst of possible results.
Neither health system is perfect, and the Styrofoam cup definitely still makes me laugh when I think of it, but it was interesting and eye-opening as a health care provider to see how a different system works. In the end, the results were the same – I was diagnosed and treated and am no worse for the wear. Cheers to being healthy and living on islands. And women on rocks or not, remember to check your own rocks, tatas, or whatever you want to call them – prevention is key!