After two weeks of battling a cough, I finally went to one of the main health clinics in Bilwi. Michael, feeling bad because his teas had failed, decided to accompany me. Also because he stepped on a nail and conceded he might need to at least get a tetanus shot.
I spoke with a doctor in a room with two other doctors and patients, all consulting simultaneously with their patients and checking in with each other to see what they thought about their respective clients' conditions. This, combined with the repeated conversation starter "So what are you here for?" led me to suspect that patient privacy is not high on their priority list. After a consultation, I was given a doctor's slip and told to go over to the hospital for a chest X-ray. We did so, and ran into another dancer in the X-ray line, who had been mugged the day before and refused to let his cell phone go without a fight (it turned out he had no broken bones). After they took the X-ray, they pulled it out of the developing water and stuck it on the fence outside. As I sat watching the X-ray dry above the scattered litter and birds bathing in dirty rainwater, I felt part of my sense of mystique regarding the medical profession disappear.
When it was done, they handed me the X-ray and sent me back to the health clinic, where it was determined I was having allergy troubles and prescribed a nebulizer treatment and medication. As I went in to get my nebulizer treatment, an old man walked up to me, smiling, and started talking in a language that most definitely was not Spanish. Fortunately, my hours of studying Miskito paid off in this case. I was able to decide with reasonable certainty that the man was not in fact speaking Miskito, and was therefore probably speaking Mayangna, the much less used indigenous language of the region. I nodded and smiled pleasantly.
Upon leaving the clinic, I felt like something important was missing from my hospital experience. I then realized that no one, not at the clinic nor the X-ray lab, had ever asked me the hallmark question "Is there any chance you could be pregnant?"
With the exception of one of the medications, all of the care was free, courtesy of the Sandinista government.