Broken Ankle

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

August 12, 2004

Costa Rica


            I broke my ankle while vacation in Costa Rica. I was white water rafting.

The raft hit a big rock in the river. It was a question of which would give way first, the rock or my ankle. My ankle lost.

            The experience taught me something.

            I learned again about the kindness of strangers. I also learned a little patience. I learned to accept help and not always insist on being in charge.

Costa Rica, however, taught me a valuable lesson on how a society values its people.  

Costa Rica is not a rich country. It depends on agriculture and tourism. But it takes care of its people.

It has no military. It spends the money it saves on armaments on education and health care. As a result it has the best education and health care in Latin America.

Health care is very good. The hospitals are not fancy, but they have the basics. Everyone, no matter how poor, gets whatever health care they need.

When I broke my ankle, a nice couple from Scotland drove me to the little hospital, in Quepos, a small town literally on the edge of the jungle.

Obviously, since I am not a citizen, I had to pay. But for the Ticos (locals), all the services are free.

The whole treatment, from x-rays to crutches cost only $220. At American hospitals they don’t even say hello for $200.

Service was fast. When I hobbled into the emergency room at the hospital, it was filled with ordinary local folks. I had to wait about 20 minutes. Higher priorities went ahead of me. Anyone with a fever, snakebite, or bleeding wounds went right into the doctor. Nobody asked them for insurance cards. Nobody mentioned payment.

I filled in a little form for foreigners. After a few minutes a young doctor came to the door of the waiting room and called my name. I hobbled over and had a seat in a small air-conditioned examining room.

The doctor asked me (in Spanish) what was wrong. I had been prepping myself in the waiting room with new Spanish vocabulary. I replied in Spanish, “I think I broke my ankle (tobillo).”

He looked down very solemnly and said simply “radio-equis.” (X-rays). A minute later a “technico” (assistant) wheeled me across the hall to radiology.

I hopped up on the bare x-ray table. No pillow, but quick service. In ten minutes I had the x-rays in hand and I was wheeled back to the doctor’s office.

He popped the film up on the light board and pointed to the broken bone. A man of few words he said matter-of-factly, “Es una fractura.” (It’s a fracture.).

In less than an hour I was bound up in a fiberglass cast and sent on my way with a week’s worth of pain medication.

They wheeled me out to the loading dock to wait for a taxi. I had to protest that I hadn’t paid anything.

They said, “Oh, right.” Since most people don’t pay they had forgotten about money. They rolled me back to the admissions office. I charged it all on my credit card. I was on my way in 15 minutes. Everybody waved “adios.”

In all it took less time and cost a fraction of what a hospital in the States would charge. It was no frills, but very good.

If a poor country like Costa Rica can give all of its citizens, no matter how poor, quality medical care, why can’t the U.S.? Clearly it is not a matter of wealth. It’s a matter of will.

Our bishops have been saying it for years that health care is a basic right. It should be available to everyone, regardless of wealth.

We have a lot to learn from the poor of Costa Rica.