Canada is supposed to have one of the best health care systems in the world. Though I don’t doubt the benefits of having universally accessible health care, my experience with Argentina’s system was an eye-opener to the limitations of our own.
About three weeks into my time in Argentina, I got a nasty sore throat. I didn’t want to eat or drink anything, because it hurt too much to swallow. However, besides taking a few painkillers, I ignored it. It wasn’t uncommon for me to get a sore throat. The first time I got one in Canada, the doctor told me to wait it out and take some Advil in the meantime.
I talked with my mom on Skype the night my throat started hurting. She commented on how I was talking differently, and with further prodding I told her about my situation. She told me to see a doctor. I refused. There was nothing they could do, I said, and I didn’t want to get involved with the medical system in another country.
I woke up the next morning feeling awful. My throat was burning. My whole body ached and my muscles felt weak. I felt too hot, then too cold. I dragged myself over to the bathroom, opened my mouth, and looked in the mirror. There were white spots on the back of my throat.
I went to my wallet, searching for my traveller’s health card. There was a phone number on the back I could call to find where to get treatment.
My roommate Andrea came home from surfing as I was heading out. She was from Northern Mexico, and spoke English and Spanish. She saw me — exhausted, with a hoarse voice — and offered to come with me, even though she had class in an hour and a half. Feeling very grateful, I accepted. Though I could speak Spanish, I didn’t know how to explain how I was feeling to the doctor.
The hospital was a large building of several stories, with a help desk at the entrance. A sign provided directions to each floor’s facilities. Staff and visitors entered and exited a row of rickety elevators, which closed with a manual door.
We made our way to what looked like a walk-in clinic. A team of nurses sat in a row behind a window. I approached one, who gave me a clipboard with a form. I cast an eye over it, feeling helpless. What information was I supposed to give her? My provincial health card was useless outside of Canada. I had no idea how the health care system in Argentina worked.
I filled out the form as best I could, and gave it back along with my passport, explaining the situation. She did not seem bothered by the fact that I was foreign, and accepted the forms and photocopied my passport. She charged me the equivalent of $25 for the entire visit, and instructed me to sit down and wait until my name was called.
I took my seat next to Andrea. After some time, I heard my name, and looked up to see a nurse waiting for me. She took Andrea and I to a private room. After asking me some questions, which I answered in English and Andrea translated, she left. A doctor entered in a few minutes. After hearing my symptoms, she took my temperature and showed it to me. I had a fever of 38.5 C.
“This is why you feel weak,” she said in Spanish.
She continued to examine me, and finally diagnosed me with strep throat. After receiving a prescription, I left with Andrea. The entire trip and visit had taken an hour, and Andrea still had time to go to class.
I was shocked. In Canada, I would have easily waited several hours to see a doctor. I don’t know what can be done about wait times here, but my experience in Argentina showed me it is possible for them to be reasonable — and they should be.