Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Altitude Sickenss in Spanish? Vertigo? Mal Altitudo?

6 October 2015

We're still enjoying Quito, though we also are still having some problems with the altitude.  Mostly, after walking one or two blocks on level ground, we both feel as if we've run a marathon, gasping for air.  This isn't good.  It makes for slow slow walking around the city, and we know this isn't the best thing to do to our bodies.

So we decided we should try to find the medication that is supposed to help with altitude sickness, Dioxam.  Richard went to several pharmacies, but no one knew what he was talking about.  As a last resort, we visited the hospital emergency room nearby.

It was quite a visit.  First, no one seemed to speak much English, and while our Spanish is fine for ordering a meal, it really wasn't up to describing altitude sickness.  

We gave it our best shot.  The lady who takes names and symptoms was assisted by the guard, who spoke a little English.  He asked if it was vertigo.  Well, no, we aren't dizzy.  He put the computer on google translate and we typed in that we arrived last Wednesday, we are having trouble breathing if we walk, we think we have altitude sickness.  I kept saying "mal altitudo" and the guard kept saying "vertigo."  (Once we got back to our room, I google translated "altitude sickness" and in Spanish yes, it is vertigo.  My mal altitudo was saying the altitude is bad.  Oh well, he got the gist.)

Eventually we were called in to triage.  The doctora took our names, blood pressure, and oxygen levels.  She sent us in the back, and the respiratory therapist said we needed the nebulizer treatment.  Richard refused, but I went ahead - this is pretty standard for asthma and other respiratory issues, so I figured why not.  Some albuterol and oxygen, my fingertips are no longer vaguely lavender, I figure this is probably a good thing.

Then they want to do a chest x-ray.  I'm thinking they're looking for pulmonary edema, maybe pulmonary embolism, the things that show up with severe altitude sickness.  I ask how much will it cost?  The young doctor who is helping translate is surprised and says it will cost nothing.  REALLY!  This was a public hospital, and we were charged absolutely nothing, all free of charge!  (We've been in other hospitals or ERs around the world where citizens of the country have free health care, and there's a nominal charge for visitors.  Nope, in Ecuador, it's free for everyone!  Since we're charged 12% tax on some items, I guess we're paying into the system, so okay, free health care!)

Anyway, I'm put in a wheelchair and taken to radiology.  Richard follows along.  We wind through the hospital, get to radiology, and wait.  There's a tv with one of the "Fast and Furious" movies going, everyone is riveted - patients, their friends or family, and the attendants who wait with each patient.  

Eventually it's my turn, I'm wheeled in.  But then someone on a gurney is wheeled in as well - he's unconscious, with a respirator, and, well, he just doesn't look good.  I'm no doctor, but I watch enough medical dramas to know that this guy doesn't look good.  So I tell the woman technician, in my minimalist Spanish, that this guy is first.  She nods, and a group of people go to lift him onto the x-ray table.  There's a little blood.  I squeak and cover my face with my hands.  Lady technician comes over and tells me that he's had thoracic surgery, this is normal, and would I like to wait outside?  I nod enthusiastically, hands still on my face, and she wheels me back to the waiting area.  (I'm not good with all those things that are supposed to stay inside the body, like blood.)

They wheel thoracic guy back out, and then it's my turn.  They tell me to take off my necklace and turn to face the plate for the x-ray.  I try to explain to the guy that I have an underwire bra on.  He doesn't quite get it, so I explain to the woman who comes in with the x-ray film plate.  (My explanation consists of showing my strap and saying "metallica.")  She grabs a strap and motions I should pull it down.  So I end up with my bra down below my waist, on my upper hips.  And I'm trying not to laugh as they push me in place and, I guess, tell me not to breathe.  (It was just so ludicrous!)  

I put myself back together and waited - was wheeled back to the ER - and a doctor came to explain, in rapid Spanish, what was what.  It took a while, because we had to keep asking him what he meant, what was this word, and he finally slowed down and I guess spoke more simply.  The gist was that yes, we both have altitude sickness.  Yes, it takes a while to adjust, some people more than others.  But we don't have severe symptoms, there is nothing to worry about, and the x-ray was fine.  I should keep taking my asthma medications.  We should try not to get too "fatigué."  We should try not to walk too much.  And no, we don't need any pills.  (We kept asking, "pastilla?  dioxam?"  I don't know if he knew the medication, or just didn't think we needed it.)

I think he also said if we get worse or have new symptoms, to come back.  He may have listed some symptoms.  Who knows.  These aren't the things Richard learned in Spanish class, or even the things I learned in French class.  Everything sounded dire, even though we were being reassured that we weren't that sick.

And then we were given my x-ray, and that was it.  No fees.  No cure.  Just wait it out, don't walk so much.  Don't get tired.  Keep taking the meds I take anyway. 

It wasn't much help, but it's good to know we're not too bad off.

It was also quite the adventure.

In other news, Cotopaxi volcano, maybe 35 or so miles south of Quito (50 km), is showing new signs of activity.  It erupted in August, and has been steaming away since then.  This is Ecuador's tallest volcano, and most recently active.  This weekend, there was a glow to the steam, so volcanologists believe this means magma is moving up the internal channel.  Could mean an eruption is coming, could be that it will be a slow lava flow down the mountain.  There's no way to tell in advance.  It has been recommended that people keep food and water in their homes (and hotel rooms?) for a few days, just in case.  So we have some food, and we keep boiling water and refilling our drinking water.  (Especially after seeing the potable water manhole cover in the middle of the street - one wonders how clean the tap water is.  Or isn't.)

For the other photos:  check out the hills and the stairs!  This is a super hilly city - and we're right on the side of another volcano, Volcan Pichincha.  Haven't seen any signs of activity, though.

The food is great - I love this grilled chicken - I think the open grill is called a carbonera, at least that's what we guess from the menu at the café.  I keep telling them "no salsiccia" (Italian for sausage) and they give it to me anyway.  But the salsa verde is like an avocado cream sauce with undertones of garlic and maybe cilantro - delicious!

Life on the road is always exciting.  And Ecuador seems to be exciting all by itself!

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