Healthcare in the Boonies

In case you are not familiar with the word “boonies”, the following is a definition I agree with.

American, colloquial word for wilderness or places in the middle of nowhere, far from any civilization

When it comes to Panama, I consider the boonies some place remote from a real hospital. There are many areas in Panama that are lucky to have a clinic and often to get to a clinic could take you an hour.

I mentioned the other day that my friend Malcolm, had a recent healthcare experience. Malcolm was on his finca (Finca Tranquila), and slipped in the shower. Hey, it happens to all of us as we get older.

Some how he managed to rip his elbow open and realized that his home medical kit was not going to be enough. His nearest clinic was in Almirante. He told me that he was lucky because the water was calm and it was only a 20 minute boat trip to get there.

Had it been in the middle of a storm, it might have been a minimum of an hour and he would have been thrown all over the boat.

He was pleased with how he was attended to and the quality of the stitching and was allowed to go home. Over the next week, pain increased, he became weaker, and eventually had himself transported back to David and to Chiriquí Hospital.

By the time he got to the hospital, he was in a serious condition. He was told that, had he waited much longer, he might not have survived. It seems that the elbow has a special sack that helps protect the elbow. If it gets ruptured, great care must be taken to avoid infection, because the fluid of the sack would be a conduit for the infection to spread through the entire body.

He remained in the hospital for several days while the wound was reopened, cleaned and he received the appropriate antibiotic drips. When I visited him in the hospital, he said he felt lucky to be alive. He has now been released from the hospital, but is still very weak from the experience.

This is not to say that the treatment he received in Almirante was bad. Much of the blame for Malcolm’s condition was his waiting so long without further treatment. Many things cannot be treated in a clinic.

A detached retina will probably require a trip to Panama City. I have met several Panamanians that have lost a leg as a result of a snake bite and couldn’t get to a doctor in time to save a leg. Some have been fitted for prosthesis by Tom McCormack.

It has only been in the last couple of years that there was a doctor in David that could put in a stent.

The point is that, if you choose to live remote, medical care becomes more Iffy and you have to plan for what to do in case of emergency.

The lady I helped the other day in Hospital Obaldia, also lives remote. She told me the turns to make as we went to her house. When I went to return to David, I was lucky it was not dark. There is no way I could find my way there again.

I used WAZE, but the map didn’t go all the way to her house. Her neighbors speak no English and she speaks no Spanish. She called me yesterday and asked if I could come get her if she had any more problems. I told her there was no way, I could find my way to her house in the day and at night it would be totally impossible.

The hospital had suggested she stay in an assisted care facility until her health was better. I found one in David and one near Concepcion. She elected to just go home.

Living remote can be a health challenge. Living alone and remote increases the challenge.

I know that many people move to Panama and want the remoteness. Boquete and Volcan are remote to me. No question about it, the climate is cooler in the mountains. There are grand vistas in the mountains. There Is beautiful Caribbean water in Bocas.

With all of the pluses you may place on living in these locations, it would still be wise to consider what your plan will be in a healthcare emergency.

10 thoughts on “Healthcare in the Boonies

  1. The hospital in Volcan is nearing completion, so y’all come! It’s a good-sized facility, and I hear it will be a mix of private care and SS care so everyone can use it. Here’s hoping!

  2. I should have mentioned in this article that I was extremely impressed with Hospital Obaldia. It is the hospital in David for women and children.

  3. In my case there was medical coverage readily available, but it was undereducated, improperly oriented, or incapable of expressing key points (language problem?) – or some combination.

    I only found out after I ‘gave up’ on the healthcare and returned to the U.S. that several critical factors on COPD had been overlooked by my care givers – or at least not communicated to me. For example, here several different medical people (doctors, nurses and therapist) have cautioned me on numerous occasions to keep my windows closed and to only go outdoors when necessary – and then get the car a/c going and get inside quickly at my destination. Why? Heat and humidity are killers for COPD patients. And any kind of pollen makes it worse. And there I am living in David totally unaware of that – and keeping my room windows open and avoiding businesses that have the a/c cranked up – cause I don’t like the cold. Duh!

    Should I have known that? Probably! But here seemingly everyone in this business mentions it and no one there ever even mentioned it in passing. Hmmm!

  4. Excellent post, Don Ray. I continue to be amazed at the number of people moving here who give little if any thought to medical care.

  5. That building around Atlo Boquete keeps going up. I believe that is our medical center going up. I hope so.

  6. Yes…AND there will probaby be ample doctors to staff it ( the Boquete Polyclinic). The hospital we’ve been watching go up down south of Santiago near the town Santa Catalina is HUGE. Everybody that lives there seems to think they will have a hell of a time finding doctors who want to practice in that remote a location.

  7. Sound like Malcolm has yet another incident to write about and maybe have a second edition to “Don’t Kill the Cow Too Quick.”

  8. I was born at Jose Domingo de Obaldia Hospital and I worked there for two years. This hospital projects a different vibe and charisma. People here is dedicated to help women and children. I will never forget my time there.

    Now, I am glad that you found an affordable and qualified health care option in Chiriqui. With no insurance in the US, it is a nightmare to get a check up and what one’s need…Too expensive… But Panama…

    I really miss my country’s health care facilities and how easy was to get everything done (x rays, immunizations, lab test, doctor’s appointments, and medications).

    Many things have to change, I have notice that we (nurses) in Panama work differently than nurses in the United States (don’t get me wrong, the body of knowledge and principles are the same. Nursing schools cover the same content but in different language) we just work differently and face different challenges in Panama.

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