Everyone gets sick in Sucre

“Doctor” the two young female interns are saying flirtatiously while giggling and bashing their eyelashes at young Señor Doctor. “Doctooorrr did you take a look at my test?” “doctoooorrr are the blood test results ready yet” Doctooorrrr this and doctoooorrrr that! “Aaah, you are soo funny doctoooorrr”.

In the background the TV is spewing out images of what seems to be some crappy late-night fantasy movie, but it’s hard to tell because half the screen is some purplish blurry blob. Another giddy intern keeps hoisting her oversized hipster glasses higher up on her nose while smiling sheepishly, her gaze far away. She seems high, but as the big round clock hanging on the wall is getting closer to three AM I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt – she might, maybe, just be really, really tired.

A woman behind a washed out green curtain is moaning in pain, an old guy is constantly coughing – except for them and mister Frenchie, hiding behind the curtain in front of me, it doesn’t seem to be much going on at this tiny little ER tonight.


The mysterious guy in the dorm

Frenchie had arrived, nobody knew from where, at our hostel and dorm in the morning and gone straight to bed without a single little hello. While we were having our Spanish classes, conjugating indefinite numbers of verbs in different tenses – and learning from our Spanish teacher that motels are sex hotels and that apparently all Bolivian guys are cheaters (especially doctors as she would tell us another day) – he was in bed. When we were making our late dinner, he was still in bed.

By then we had learned that he was from France and that he had been running back and forth between the dorm and the toilet all day, throwing up until there was nothing more to throw up, and then he’d thrown up a bit more. We knew this because he never had time to close the door after he ran into the bathroom and attacked the toilet with his stomach acid, the sounds echoing through the hostel, and well, also because he told us.

He wasn’t the first one to get sick in our hostel (though technically he got sick on the way there) and he wouldn’t be the last. A group of people had gone down with Salmonella earlier in the week, and a day wouldn’t go by without someone hanging out in front of the television all day, watching pirated movies sold for less than dollar at the market, because they were sick. Apparently even Lonely Planet (or was it Rough guide) states that everyone gets sick in Sucre. Whoever it was, they were spot on!


(We were such nice people in Sucre! Here baking a birthday cake for another backpackers birthday. Hopefully this cake did not make anyone sick…)

 Bolivian Beueaucracy

“Doctoooorrr the patient is having a fever”, one of the flirtatious interns cuts into the very highbrowed conversation – about the Norwegian liqueur Aquavit and how and when it’s normally drunk – I’m having with the idle doctor and another of the interns. “The patient” is referring to Mister Frenchie so I end up with yet another prescription – with a perfectly unreadable crowfeet signature – in my hand. Here we go again (for the third time…!)

I head back to the waiting area and the little pharmacy and hand over the prescription, the woman behind the glass takes a look at it, writes some numbers on a piece of paper and gives it to me. I bring the little piece of paper to the front desk, pay the price, get another piece of paper, bring it back to the pharmacy, get the medication, bring the medicine to “el doctor”, who hands it to one of the girls, who administers it to mister Frenchie. South American bureaucracy at its best.

 Let’s go the hospital

We were a gang of people having a good time in the living room in the hostel when Frenchie had come down, all pale and sick looking. Earlier Pip (my wonderful Australian travel mate and partner in crime at the time being) and I had spoken to mister Frenchie and told him that if it was anything he needed, maybe something from the pharmacy, or if he had some problems or needed help with something, he shouldn’t hesitate to ask us for help. Nobody wants to be sick and all lost and alone in a new and unknown hostel on the other side of he globe, far away from friends and family.

So when he finally ventured down he went over to us and told us that he felt horrible and wanted to go to the hospital. He had been throwing up, again, but this time he had suddenly blacked out and then woken up on the bathroom floor, which scared the shit out of him.

We contacted the hostel owner, told him about the situation and got him to call a cab for us. He told us the best hospital to go to and then we went. Mr Frenchie, Pip and I. Oh yeah, and this other random Australian chick (who didn’t even stay at our hostel) that really wanted us to go to this other hospital where she worked as a volunteer, and as she worked as a volunteer there she thought she could be of help. Well, considered all the bad stuff she had said about the hospital during the dinner, we definitely did not want to go to that hospital and opted for the private and quieter one that the hostel owner had recommended, she still wanted to join though.


(Sucre seems so nice and clean compared to a lot of other Bolivian cities. Still, this is were everyone get’s sick! Picture from the Independence day of Sucre.)

How do you say blood test in Spanish?

“Where did that other girl go?” I ask Pip when I had back into the waiting room. When I had gone to get the medicine I had noticed that she was sitting all alone, and I decided to go and fetch her and bring her back into the bizarre world of a Bolivian hospital, filled with idle, flirtatious doctors and nurses.
“She went home, we had a stupid argument about what a blood test is called in Spanish. When you came out earlier and asked for a “prueba de sangre” she said that was all wrong, and that’s not what they call it in the hospital where she works, and then I said that you can probably call it that as well, and it looks like they understood her. She got a bit upset, said it was late and that she should probably head back to her hostel, and that she didn’t really know why she joined us in the first place.”, “Well neither do I” I say with a wink as we enter the heart of the ER.

Two of the interns are curled up together in one of the free beds, sleeping soundly; the shift of the handsome doctor is obviously over. He has been replaced by a slightly shady looking, cocoa-chewing guy – he’s chewing so much cocoa that it looks like he has a huge tumour in one of his cheeks.

One two three, sleep

We didn’t need to wait long in the waiting room before the doctor was ready to see us. I went in with mister Frenchie to explain the case as he didn’t seem to be in good enough shape to do it himself. The doctor asked some questions, how much he had been throwing up, figured out where on his stomach it hurt and then he gave me some subscriptions for thing I needed to buy (a drip and antivomiting pills and then a blood test…) before he took Frenchie to his bed.

The interns sat him on a drip, they took the bloodtest (after numerous tries and misses on his vains) and before he fell asleep he thanked us profoundly and said that we should just go home now. But we didn’t feel like leaving him quite yet, as the doctor said that unless the blood test showed some bad results he probably only needed the drip to get some fluids and then he would be ready to go home. If he needed to stay longer we would leave him, but as it was we could stay a bit longer, we had already missed out on the Friday night outing we had planned, so a couple of hours from or to wouldn’t really matter.

We are looking longingly over at the interns in the bed. Sleep creeping in on us as well. We are napping in our seats when the blood results are finally ready. Frenchie will be fine, there’s nothing to worry about. I get one last subscription to fetch while Frenchie is woken up. He is disorientated but looking a lot better. “I told you guys you didn’t need to wait”, he tells us, but he does seem happy that we are there. I sure as hell know I would be if it was me laying in that bed.

When everything is ready we say goodbye to all our newfound friends and head out into the crisp night air.


(Some people say you should stay away from street food, but it’s oh so god! This was probably one of the best chorizos I’ve had in my life, and well, I didn’t get sick)