Rachel and I just returned from two weeks in Costa Rica. We visited three small, beach communities on the Pacific Ocean and celebrated our wedding anniversary at the Ylang Ylang Beach Resort. We had exchanged vows on this secluded beach, ten years ago.
One leg of our Costa Rica travel was taking a car ferry from the town of Paquera, across the Gulf of Nicoya to the town of Puntarenas. We arrived at the ferry about an hour before the scheduled departure. I paid 300 colones to use the primitive restroom. Rachel purchased a Coca Cola Light for our voyage. While we were seated at a picnic table, waiting for the ferry to arrive, we watched an ambulance pull up to the docking area. The rear door was opened and we could see a patient on a stretcher. Seated next to him was a young woman in white, who we guessed was a nurse. A woman who looked like the patient’s wife, was also in the back of the vehicle. I could see an IV attached to his arm and another monitor attached to his index finger.
The nurse and wife stepped out of the ambulance, and the driver walked to the rear to join them. She was wearing some sort of uniform. Several men came out of the ferry’s staging area to assist. They looked like unskilled workers, not medical assistants. Rachel and I looked around and noticed a modest-sized motor boat tied up to the side of the main dock. It had a canvas tarp to protect passengers from the weather. The logos and lights on the boat made it look like a medical transport boat. A two hour boat ride appeared to be the preferred way to continue the journey to get to more sophisticated medical care in San Jose, the national capital.
The ambulance personnel and their assistants pulled the patient out of the vehicle. The gurney unfolded as they pulled it out, so that it could be rolled down to the waiting ambulance boat. Rachel and I wanted to satisfy our curiosity and watch the drama, but also felt like the patient and family probably wanted some privacy. I suggested that we move a little further away. We had just turned away from the procession when we heard a crash and a loud scream. We turned and saw that the gurney had collapsed suddenly, dropping the patient onto the sidewalk. Everyone was talking loudly at once. It was a chaotic scene. The patient continued to moan loudly. The wife was holding his face in her hands and trying to comfort him. Several other people were in action, some giving instructions and others just trying to right the discombobulated gurney. I noticed that the patient had been strapped to a back board. A several foot fall onto the hard concrete was very scary.
After a few minutes, the patient was gently lifted back onto the gurney and the gurney was slowly carried, not rolled down to the waiting boat. As soon as he was strapped in, the boat pulled away, and started the trip across the Gulf of Nicoya. At least the weather was sunny and the winds calm.
Afterwards, Rachel commented that it was fortunate that no one had their fingers caught and cut off in the collapsing gurney. What a disaster that would have been. We wondered what the incident reporting process was like in Costa Rica and who would be held responsible, if the patient’s injuries had been aggravated as the result of the fall. We talked about how we take for granted the easy access to our primary care doctors, specialists, hospitals, urgent care centers, and outpatient surgery centers. All can be found right in our neighborhood.
Our hopes and prayers went out to the patient, his wife, and the men and women trying to care for him.