To be honest, I don’t know how I possibly made it over two years without going to the hospital before, in Ecuador, Argentina or any of the other countries I’ve visited. But it was only a matter of time, really. A concern for my parents before coming to Argentina was what I would do if I got sick and needed medical attention. Not to worry, I assured them, because there’s universal health care here. Of course, while universal health care looks good on paper, there are often drawbacks, especially in a country known for bureaucracy. And as it turns out, those who have “Obra Social“, or a social plan from their jobs, get preferential treatment and can make appointments to cut down on waiting time.
Even after getting fairly sick a few times, I never went to see a doctor, but finally after three weeks of having a nervous twitch in my left eye, I started to get a bit worried. Over the last few days it’s gotten more frequent and more annoying, and even though I wore glasses in place of contacts today, it persisted. I tried to chalk it up to stress at first, but then thought that maybe something was really wrong. I asked if I could walk into an eyeglass store on the street and get a check up or at the very least see if there was a problem worth investigating. In the United States an eyeglass store will often have an optometrist on hand, but in Argentina that’s not the case. You have to go to a doctor who can then give you a diagnosis and prescription. In fact, most people don’t get their eyes checked unless they have a reason to.
Luckily, my friend Vero lives close enough to Hospital Santa Lucía, the city hospital specializing in eye problems, and she offered to come along and help me out. Everyone seemed to know that this was the only place to go for specific eye cases. It’s a free clinic, but the drawback is that it’s in San Cristóbal, which isn’t the nicest of neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. After work we headed down and took a number, then sat down for about 15 minutes until everyone with a number was called into another room on the side.
There we waited a few more minutes until the receptionist was ready, and finally she announced that those with numbers 1-10 had to get in line to register. We had #6, and when it was my turn I gave my U.S. passport number, date of birth, address, etc. It was easier than trying to explain the DNI situation. We sat back down for a few more minutes, and I looked around and could see some patients with bloody eyes and what looked like serious trouble. I thought about how stupid I would look when going up and saying, “My eye keeps twitching. Waaa.” But after three weeks something had to give.
It’s possible that at other times of day or on an unlucky visit you could wait forever, but we only sat a short while and soon I was in line. Vero wasn’t able to go with me to see the doctor, but she told the nurse that I was American and needed some help. The nurse assured us that the doctor spoke English well. As it turns out, we spoke in Spanish the whole time anyway. The entire consultation consisted of me sitting in the chair while putting my chin in the stirrup so he could check the eyes. “Look right, now look left, look up, down.” That was the thorough check up.
He said it was simply myokymia, or muscle spasms in my eyelid, but nothing to worry about, even if it was going on for three weeks. It was probably related to stress or fatigue and should end in a few days, the doctor told me. I thought about the recent levels of stress in my life, and truth be told, there are many factors which contribute to the stress I have. But I’ve never had a twitch last this long. He quickly wrote a prescription for some eye drops which should help with the tension and pressure on the eye ball, but he said it’s not totally necessary, and since they’re kind of on the steep side for me, I might not even get them.
In the end I walked out a bit more at ease knowing that it wasn’t anything too serious, and all things considered, the first hospital visit in Latin America was very painless. Hopefully it’s also the last time.
If you need to visit an eye clinic while in Buenos Aires and don’t have insurance or any means of paying, you can find Hospital Santa Lucía in San Cristóbal, Avenida San Juan 2021. Take the Subte Line E to the “Entre Ríos” stop. The service is free, but you should leave a donation in the wooden box by the nurse before the doctor sees you. It’s the right thing to do.