Hospital Materno José Domingo de Obaldia, David

I have a good friend that recently visited Hospital Materno José Domingo de Obaldia, David. As she described her experiences, I asked if she would be kind enough to write it up for a guest post. It follows. I appreciate her doing this. Trust me. This is worth the read.

Hospital Materno José Domingo de Obaldia, David – First Visit (Part 1)
(Women and Children’s Social Security Hospital located in David, Chiriqui — entrance just before PriceSmart, on the right of the InterAmericano)

Ladies, you might find some interesting information here and please don’t say “I have private insurance I would never go there”. I have private insurance but as it happens, the only hospital in this area that has the equipment and the knowledge for the particular procedure I require, is located at de Obaldia. My only other option is to go to Panama City, to a specialist, who has this equipment. Those specialists are not exactly in abundance – plus there is the cost to consider. Such a visit would entail – flight to Panama City and return (for one or, if you’re fortunate enough to have your spouse by your side, for two people), perhaps an overnight in a hotel, private transportation (I am old, I no longer “do” taxis, you never know what/who you will get) plus meals. If you have a morning appointment and want to return the same day, take a good book with you and be prepared for a long wait at Albrook Airport for the late afternoon flight returning to David. Or be prepared to pay substantially more for transportation to Tocumen to catch the Copa earlier afternoon flight which is scheduled to begin November.

Gentlemen, if you have a horror of anything to do with “Women’s Problems”, stop reading right here!! (Think of the shudders that usually attack the male species at the mere mention of a colonoscopy. We women somehow seem to be tougher and better able to handle “those types of procedure”. Must be something to do with it all being relative to the rigors and pain of childbirth.)

I could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be classified as a Spring Chicken and yet I survived the “ordeal” – and the Arctic Temperatures — of de Obaldia. You definitely do “live and learn” and I am thankful for the experience.

I freely admit that my Spanish ability is decreasing with age but I did manage to bumble my way through the maze of the Social Security System. However, those glass cages with the narrow slits do NOT help in understanding Panamanian Spanish which lacks the pronunciation of the letter ‘S’. My hearing is excellent but it would take the auditory ability of a doggie to hear and understand the higher ranged tones emanating from those narrow slots in the glass.

I arrived for my 7 am appointment, 25 minutes early, and stood in the corridor (the corridor on the right after entering the waiting area) in front of Room #4, as indicated on the map my Doctora (from a private hospital) had drawn for me. I was happy – I was fifth in line!! Realization had not sunk in at that point — but I was to learn!! This really was an entirely new system and “the bell had just rung” for Round 1 in the process of appointments. I was, as yet, oblivious to the fact that before me lay the daunting task of maneuvering my way through the Social Security Hospital System.

Several other women joined the group gathered around Door #4, while I smiled smugly to myself at having the 5th place in line. At 7:30am la puerta número cuatro opened and the first person was admitted – and additional people/patients started “coming out of the woodwork”. Those who were on their second or third appointment were taken first, (they were on the “list” posted outside the office – who knew there was a list??) My fifth place suddenly became the 20th place in line. However I was ushered in by 9:00 am to see the nurse. (Standing in a hallway on my ancient “pins” (as the Brits would say) is not my forte but I believe I will become an expert at this after this series of appointments is over with.)

During my visit with the nurse she unstapled, rearranged and then restapled all of the paperwork I had brought from my doctor and told me to go into the waiting area and sit — she would call my name to inform me of the next mysterious step in the system “when the time came”.

I was very pleasant (as I always try to be) and everyone in turn was very helpful, though staff are somewhat limited in their ability to help by the sheer number of patients who enter their doors daily.

To make better use of my time I went to the only Glass Box in the waiting area I had seen and stood in line. When I arrived at the window I said I wanted to pay – the lady directed me to the main hospital where I went to the Caja and stood in line again – only to find out I had not been entered “into the system”. I walked back to the original Glass Box in the outpatient department, quite a ways from the main hospital and again stood in line. The lady resident in said Glass Box, told me I was at the wrong Glass Box and directed me to another Glass Box, (somewhat hidden in a corner of the Outpatient Waiting Room) to Register.

I stood in line again behind several ladies who were all waiting for the resident of the Registration Glass Box and who was not in evidence. Ten minutes or so later the Registration Glass Box Lady appeared and entered the “inner sanctum” of her glass palace. The line moved and I eventually was able to register and become “official”. The feeling of joy was akin to that of 13 years ago when my husband and I received our first Pensionado Visas.

My theory is that even in times that are proving to be a little challenging, you can always find a reason to chuckle. I found my reason!!

During the process of registration the lady asked for the names of my parents. I told her my parents were dead (both being about 110 by now if they had lived) she still wanted to know their names. I have a suspicion that the lady wrote down Maria and Jorge rather than Marion and George and that’s fine. But the look on her face was priceless when she asked for their “Apellido” and I uttered “McLauchlan” in my best Scottish accent. My parents are no doubt listed in “the system” as Maria y Jorge Miranda.

Once registered, I could then pay so I trekked back to the Caja in the main building. By that time, I considered myself a “seasoned” player and survivor of the “Gringa in the Social Security System” game and had stumbled upon a “short cut corridor” back to the Caja to make my payment.

For the, hopefully, upcoming consultation with the doctor the charge was an “exorbitant” $1.00 – now you can’t beat that for a deal!!

Again I traversed the long corridor to return to the waiting area and sat – and waited – and waited.

Hospital Materno José Domingo de Obaldia – First Visit (Part 2)
……. and waited – and waited. Which was fine, I had a good book.

Eventually (90 minutes later) the nurse I had seen in the office returned, called my name and directed me to the window in the original “Glass Box” I had visited twice previously (the lady in the Glass Box and I were now on very friendly terms). I stood in line (did I mention I am really good at standing in line – it’s a Brit thing, we excel at standing in line – all very civilized doncha know) to make what I term an “appointment within an appointment”. For though I had “an appointment” (made by my doctora) I still had to make “an appointment” for a consultation at de Obaldia.

So be it, this is “how it is”. I stood in line and the “appointment for the appointment” was typed into the computer and once the appointment was swirling around in cyberspace (yeah, applause, applause, jumping up and down in ecstasy, the lady actually found me in “the system”!!) I returned to the waiting area to stand and wait some more until a seat became available. By this time I was actually enjoying my enforced inactivity, as, once seated, I continued to read my excellent book and to “people watch”.

But – the downside turned out to be that, without the exercise of walking and the to-ing and fro-ing to the main hospital, once seated it soon became apparent that the temperature was akin to what polar bears would find balmy and pleasant while relaxing on an ice floe viewing the frozen tundra of the Arctic. Half an hour later I suspected I was possibly starting to suffer from frost bite and hyperthermia and I actually risked losing my place by going out to the car for a light jacket I keep in the back seat (for those “really” cold days that occur once every year, specifically at 6:30 am when I go for my morning walk — so a jacket kept in my car is basically useless – except on this one, rare occasion when I desperately needed it).

Even with the jacket pulled up around my neck I was still frozen. My legs (clad in calf length capri pants) were shaking from the cold; I wore sandals on feet that were turning a lovely shade of blue, my hand, tissue at the ready flew to my frosty nose, but as my hands no longer had any sensation in them I missed my nose and poked myself in the left ear. I have no idea how all the ladies, both patients and employees, in lightweight tops and pants or dresses, appeared to be so totally immune to the Arctic blasts emanating from the ceiling air conditioning.

I did finally see the doctor — for about 3 minutes, he glanced through all of the paperwork my doctora had provided with the explanation of why I required a histeroscopia. He then muttered dates to the nurse before speaking directly to me and telling me what I had already understood in my limited Spanish – that I have to return on the 15th for another appointment for a “pre-procedure” review of the paperwork (a review of the paperwork he reviewed today – aaaahhhhhh they want another dollar out of me!!) and then on the 21st for the actual histeroscopia.

So, what I thought today was my “appointment for the appointment” for the histeroscopia has now evolved into “an appointment within an appointment for an appointment prior to the actual appointment which I was there for in the first place”.

But it’s all a new and very valuable experiences. And …. The overall impressions I came away with from my first visit to de Obaldia …

I was extremely impressed with the few areas in this very large facility that I saw during my initial visit. I know the building itself is “young” compared to other hospitals in the area. If my memory still somewhat functions, I believe de Obaldia was opened to the Panamanian Public around 2006, give or take a year. The project was initiated by the then President of Panama, Mireya Moscoso, though I seem to remember it was actually officially opened during the presidency of Martin Torrijos. (Correct me if I am wrong about that information.) The public areas are all clean and in much better condition than some of the public areas I have waited in at the two private hospitals in David.

The staff and additionally the other patients, were more than willing to help when they could which is typically Panamanian. I am continually amazed by the innate desire among Panamanians to render aid whenever they can. Any fault, undue tribulation/ trial experienced or lack of the knowledge of the system can be attributed to my waaaaay less than perfect Spanish and ignorance of said system. And still the people helped me and repeated, in some instances several times, an explanation or direction.

Don Ray asked me to write this as he felt I had “inside information” to share should an expat lady find herself in an identical medical position that necessitated the use of equipment and expertise only available in this area at de Obaldia hospital.

My information, suggestions and general “nuggets” of “inside information” are listed below and I apologize for “rabbiting on” at such length in these posts.

  • For an outpatient visit, turn right at the end of the entrance driveway. There is a parking lot, and if like me, you are there for a “7 am” appointment, parking will be easy.
  • The entrance to the outpatient clinic is directly opposite the parking lot. For women enter the door to the left, for children enter the door to the right.
  • Do not go with any preconceived idea about “Social Security Hospitals in Panama”. They often have more equipment and the staff are more experience than you would no doubt find in private hospitals.
  • Do not go with any preconceived ideas about the fellow patients you will meet. I passed a fair amount of time talking with extremely interesting, intelligent and helpful people aging in range from 17 through 70. (Who all laughed and tried to help me with my Spanish.)
  • Warning!! I did not come across bathrooms during my travels, they must have them somewhere but where is still one of the mysteries I have yet to solve.
  • There is a Nescafe coffee machine in the waiting area, which was used frequently. I could hear coffee being freshly ground in the machine, though I doubt it would compare to Boquete’s Best. I didn’t try it, as I said, I had not spotted bathrooms!!
  • A young man did come around selling bags of chips if you decide you are a little peckish.
  • Remember, a smile and a “thank you” (and, in my case, apologies for being stupid which I accompanied by a pathetic look) paved the way for lots of help. I am sure that a simple thank you also brightened the day of a few of the hardworking staff at the Hospital.
  • Remember to dress warmly – when I go for my next appointment I will be wearing full length jeans (the thickest pants fabric in my closet), a long sleeved blouse, cardigan sweater, thick socks, tennis sneakers and thermal underwear if I had it.

In short, great hospital, great people, great experience!!

9 thoughts on “Hospital Materno José Domingo de Obaldia, David

  1. First hand accounts like this are a joy to read. Educational and so very helpful. Thanks Don for encouraging her to write it. The best way to learn is thru experience. Learning from someone else’s experience really helps get your expectations in line with what you might encounter. The other thing to take away from this is the humor needed anytime you are dealing with how different things can be. Thank you both for sharing.

  2. This is one of the most informative and, at the same time, entertaining posts that I have read for a while.
    Ya Noe?

  3. I am copying this article!!! What an experience (went thru similar experiences getting pensionado, residency, and driver’s license). PATIENCE! Colonoscopy is next on my list…. Somehow, I think I will find it easier to do the procedure here in David than in the States–due to the changes in my private insurance policy, and trying to get it done within the time I am there.

    It was a delightful and funny article, full of useful information, British humor, and best of all–the help she received from the Panamanians! They deserve our appreciation; what wonderful and helpful people!!

  4. Very entertaining, positive and refreshing
    The writer made my day. My thanks for acknowledging that panamanians are kind, very helpful and intelligent.

    I will show it to my husband who doesnt believe me about the $1 consultation fee and 50 cents lab tests.

    Glad she got in the system. I mentioned that before. The health system is not easy to understad but it works once you are in.

  5. Great information I definitely had a completely different experience than this one and in fact I am admitted there as we speak. For those who are going for a procedure and like to be prepared bring toilet paper, handsoap or wet wipes, pillow, blankets, food, headphones, water, toiletries, a towel, body soap, shower shoes, trash bags for wet items,pads, patience, google translate, any prior test results(some docs say you need them, some say no but always have them..would have saved me a day extra here), a referral from your doc, if you are big on your hubby being present well too bad, a lady friend may stay with u but in a chair if they have 1, bring a lot of love for learning to be in a room with 5 other women, and did I mention patience? Not a terrible hospital but starkly different as far as bedside manner, privacy, etc.I wish I would have know that before being put in a situation where you dont feel so good BUT live, learn, educate others. The other stuff as far as waiting in different lines is normal Panama stuff. Ps I went in for a procedure and was told I would pay afterward which so far is accurate. Bienvenidos expats! Ps not trying to be negative just informative. It’ll save you some aggravation.

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