My medical specialist appointment in Costa Rica and medical exams
As we left off last week, I couldn’t connect with a recommended English-speaking specialist to see me for a troubling medical issue, and so I am on my Plan B attempt to get in to see a GP in the town next to mine. I called the office and the receptionist connected me with an English-speaking associate GP who had me come right over. When I got there, he ushered me into his office right away. We had a brief discussion about my condition and I thought he would, at least, perform a lab test or two that I had read would be a necessary part of arriving at a diagnosis of my condition.
Surprise: he refused to treat me (or charge me for that matter) and said I should go to a specialist right away. He recommended one about a kilometer from his office. When I got to the specialist’s office just before noon, they were closed and the sign on the window said their hours were 2PM-6PM. I wrote down the office phone and drove back home to have some lunch and wait to call for an appointment. I called at 2:00 to discover that the phone number painted on the office window had been disconnected.
So at 2:15, I hopped in the car for a drive back to, hopefully, see the doctor. When I arrived, the office door was open and I went in only to be told by the receptionist that the doctor would not be in today and my Spanish wasn’t good enough to determine whether this doctor would be in at all that week. (Beware, some things move more slowly here: before leaving, I grabbed one of the doctor’s business cards, just in case, and noted that the only number listed on his card was the disconnected number.)
Okay, so now I’m back to Plan A and another attempt to connect with the specialist at CIMA hospital. I called his office number and his receptionist said he would be back in the office at 4PM. At 4:10, I called again only to be told that the doctor wouldn’t be in until tomorrow morning. I had commitment to drop my wife at the bus depot for a trip with friends into San Jose that next morning and sent the doctor another email informing him that I would be waiting in his office that next morning at 9:30. Later that evening the doctor replied to my email telling me he couldn’t see me at 9:30, but to call his office and make an appointment for the morning of the following day. At this point, I’m getting a little dizzy from all of the dead ends and 180 degree turns, but I called the doctor’s office on Tuesday and made an appointment for Wednesday at 9:00. With my Tuesday freed up, I decided to join my wife and friends on the bus to San Jose for a little culture. While on the bus, I received a call from the doctor’s office, needing to reschedule my appointment from 9 to 10. Sure, why not. Pura vida.
Wednesday morning 10:00AM arrives and so do we at the doctor’s office at CIMA, Escazu. My 10:00 appointment starts at 10:40 (not so different from the States), but it is informative, the doctor is nice, and the exam a little uncomfortable due to the territory explored. The doctor prescribes two lab tests, one prescription in case the symptoms return, and one ultrasound, which can be performed in the CIMA radiology department.
We head to the radiology lab and we can get an exam scheduled for 12:30 the same afternoon—just enough time to race to PriceSmart for a couple of slices of combo pizza and two diet colas (gotta’ watch those calories). Oh, by the way, the ultrasound exam also requires that I perform a small pre-exam procedure ten minutes prior to my exam. My mother was an ultrasound tech in her career and I’m more than a little familiar with the routine. The self-performed pre-exam procedure was a bit of a surprise and something that would probably be carried out by a nurse or lab tech in the U.S. However trooper that I am, I self-performed away knowing that it would help determine the cause of my medical issue.
I was then ushered into the exam room, disrobed and put on my gown. Then, came another surprise—in a week of surprises, the ultrasound exam by Costa Rican law is performed by a doctor. (My mom would not have had her 45-year career in Costa Rica.) The doctor was also nice, reasonably gentle and when she finished probing and poking said everything looked normal.
All that was left was the trip home and finding a lab in town to perform the other lab tests. It turns out that doctors must also be the ones to draw blood in this country, because the receptionist at our local lab said she was sorry, but the doctor would not be available with the holiday coming (Juan Santamaria Day, celebrating the hero of Costa Rican liberty). I immediately remembered the doctor and the lab from my Plan B in our neighboring community and called to make certain they would be able to do the work before the holiday. They could, and I made the drive to have the lab work done.
In summary, the cost so far without including gas and a return visit to my specialist at CIMA is a bit over $300. Even with the exam and procedure done at the more-expensive private CIMA facilities and the additional lab work, my guess is the cost is far less than half of the cost of similar services in the States. And another plus—everyone involved in performing my exams, procedures and lab work was a doctor (with the exception of my self-performed, pre-exam procedure). I have found that medicine is practiced at a highly professional level here, but is not without some of the same kinds of delays and frustrations you would encounter in the States.
The author of this blog, Ticonuevo, is a US expat who moved to Costa Rica and used the services of GoDutch Realty to purchase a property in Costa Rica. In his blogs, Ticonuevo describes his own experiences of taking the step of moving to Costa Rica and getting a new life started.