By Peter Landsiedel
As I write this, Emily is still recovering, but she wanted me to post my account of our misadventure to Machu Picchu. If you haven’t already read the beginning of this fiasco from Emily’s perspective, check out The Nightmare of Machu Picchu first.
It’s always hard to see a loved one suffering and in the hospital, but it’s especially hard in a foreign country where the language truly is a barrier, and medical practices are wildly different than at home.
The night before Emily was hospitalized, we planned on taking the 5:30AM bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Pichu. Emily’s gastrointestinal acrobatics had other plans. Every half hour, Emily was sick. All. Night. Long. At 5:30 I got up and asked the hotel for a late check out. They told me I needed to pay for another night. I was in no mood to negotiate, so I handed over another 100 Soles. We ended up catching the 10:30AM bus. Emily felt nauseous the entire ride up the single lane, semi-paved road. Once up top, the air was thin again and Emily had lost the color in her face.
I wish I could have paid more attention and been more engaged in the tour, but I was worried about my wife. Emily was moving slowly and asking to take breaks from walking every 15 minutes. At the end of the tour, Emily broke down and admitted she couldn’t breathe. I didn’t want to alarm Emily any more than she already was, but having your wife admit that she can’t breathe is terribly frightening. I promptly got us in line for the bus ride down, which was several hundred people deep, and took an hour to board a bus. We only had 2 hours back in Aguas Calientes before the 3.5 hour train ride home, which Emily spent resting, and I spent packing.
The train ride back had some funny mishaps, but I’ll save them for another time. We spent a long time discussing whether or not to go to a hospital. Back in Cusco, Emily seemed to be feeling better. She was regaining her appetite and much more talkative. I suggested that I grab some soup and bring it back to the hostel. Emily wanted to come, and despite my subtle hints that she should stay, she insisted on joining me. Not 100 yards from the hostel, she started puking, and she wouldn’t stop puking. The local stray dogs loved her for it.
I called for a taxi to take us to the hospital. We arrived around 11:30PM and found a deserted, run down, dark reception area. The receptionist begrudgingly spoke English with us, and attempted to find a doctor. The only doctor on call spoke only Spanish, and to her credit, the receptionist stayed and translated for us. The doc admitted Emily nearly right away, for observation, and to run some labs. So now, we’ve paid for a room in Aguas Calientes that we did not sleep in. We also paid for two beds in a hostel that we did not sleep in. And then we paid for a hospital bed. It was an expensive night for accommodations.
In the US, the nurses and docs bring everything to the room, and bill you (exorbitantly) later. In Peru, the doc hands you a sheet with all the supplies you’ll need, and then you walk to a pharmacy and purchase them. It was strange indeed to be purchasing the IV tubing, fluid, needles, and medicine to give to the nurse. Same goes for the lab tests. You pay them up front for the supplies and then they test you.
The “room” we were sent to looked about as clean as the hostel we were staying in- that is, not clean at all. The ensuite bathroom lacked soap, toilet paper, and a toilet seat. Think about that for a second- a hospital bathroom didn’t have soap. The nurse did not wear gloves when injecting the IV. Obviously these kinds of hygienic practices concerned us. Further, since we’re in the southern hemisphere, we’re just finishing up winter, and the hospital was not heated. I would guess that the room was around 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit all night, with 75% humidity. My cold toes kept me awake most of the night.
There was no cot for me to sleep in, so I spent the night on this bad boy:
Based on the fact that the table is designed to spread the patient’s legs, I’m assuming it’s a gynecological exam table. There were no blankets for me so I whipped out my space blanket and spent a rather cold night worried about my wife. Before the trip, Emily said I’d have no use for a space blanket, but my personal motto is “in omnia paratus,” and I’ll be damned if I’m not gonna have some kind of blankie with me. The next morning, a new doc and new nurse came on shift. This nurse had a blanket for me. I was thrilled. The new doc spoke English, and informed us that Emily was suffering from acute altitude sickness, a gastrointestinal infection, and salmonella. No parasites. The first doctor (that made the house call) had misdiagnosed Emily, and that’s why she only got worse. Emily needed to stay a few more hours to finish off the IV meds, and then she was free to go. There was a miscommunication about how the discharge procedure worked, so we spent an extra hour or so waiting to be discharged, while the front desk was waiting for me to pay for the hospital stay. All in all, Emily’s hospital stay was exceptionally affordable. The consultations, labs, overnight stay, medical supplies, medicine, and everything else was only $250USD. Back home, I’m sure the price would be 10x-20x higher.
We left the hospital and made it to our hostel where Emily spent the evening and the entire next day resting. She’s on a laundry list of medications, but so far, so good. The entire experience was exceptionally scary, for both of us. I am grateful for the medical care she received, (even if the place was not the cleanest). I’ve always known my wife was a tough woman, but this ordeal showed me just how tough she is. I can’t imagine suffering as much as she was and still making it to Machu Picchu. I probably would have said “**** it, I’m staying home.” Not my wife though. She’s tenacious, and stubborn, and strong, and I can’t express how happy I am to see her getting better. Hopefully this is the last major illness either of us suffers on this trip!