After the bus wreck and a mostly calm 45-minute ride on a smaller bus to the next town, Higuey, we arrived at an emergency medical clinic. Located within what looked like a four-story retail-type brick building, sharing space with little shops and restaurants, the Clinica Dr. Virgilio Cedano looked a lot different than the big sterile-looking facilities we associate with an ER. I was on alert because we’d already passed what looked like a hospital on the outskirts of town, and the clinic certainly looked older and less modern.
We later learned that you have private and public hospitals in the Dominican Republic, and not all the public hospitals are equipped with ERs. Don’t know if that was the case in Higuey, but we concluded the private option was likely better equipped. The doctor at the hotel told us this was probably the better facility.
It was very chaotic, with a crowd of onlookers there watching and the staff at the ready. They did an admirable job with the triage as we shuffled off the bus and showed the nurses and doctors our various injuries. The older and more seriously injured were processed first, including a boy in his early teens with what looked like a broken arm, an older lady who couldn’t stand, and a man with a pretty serious laceration on his arm. They also processed our tour guide, Jose, who looked to have several broken fingers and a serious cut on his arm. Here Jose finally broke down a little, after having kept it all together through the ordeal. They took him up to surgery on the second floor, and that was the last we saw of him.
We waited maybe 30 minutes before they examined Jackie. She wasn’t losing much blood and was otherwise OK, so no complaints there. You might find yourself waiting a lot longer in an American ER with a non-serious injury. The set-up was a small waiting area, three exam rooms on one side, and the X-Ray room on the other. We waited in the first exam room. They gave her a local, cleaned out the glass, and did a few stitches. She fainted for a minute here, which really frightened me because I thought maybe she was having a reaction to the shot. But she came to after about a minute. It was very hot in there and we hadn’t eaten or drank anything in a long time, so that was probably the reason. They elevated her feet and gave her an IV for fluids, so she had to lay and then sit in there for about an hour.
My ribs and back were really starting to hurt and I couldn’t take very deep breaths without pain. But at that point I didn’t know if they were done with Jackie yet because the fainting seemed to interrupt the process. Also, maybe two of the four doctors I counted spoke any English, so I couldn’t get an answer. So I just sort of milled around between the exam rooms and tried to help the others. We had a hard time getting ice for the people with possible breaks. They had some half-assed paperwork I helped folks fill out. Random people kept coming in there, sort of looking around and leaving. That was pretty weird – just seeing some guy kind of walk in, gawk for a minute, then leave.
Soon thereafter, the tour people from Am-Star showed up so we had more English speakers. This was helpful, and the medical staff seemed to have treated all the people with obvious injuries and complaints. Again, nearly all the tourists were calm and matter-of-fact about the situation. One man, a Polish immigrant from New York, thought he had a dislocated shoulder and asked several of us to give it a yank. No one did, which was a good thing, since it turned out his shoulder was broken.
Jackie wanted them to X-Ray me to see if any ribs were broken (even though treatment’s basically the same for bruised and cracked ribs). So in I went to the ancient X-Ray machine. After awhile they looked at it and pronounced me OK with no breaks. At this point my objectives were to get antibiotics for Jackie, some pain meds, and get us out of there. I also wanted them to put a dressing on Jackie’s back, but they kept saying she was OK to go. After some badgering we got one of the doctors to write out prescriptions for us. The Am-Star people picked up the pills and plenty of bottled water from the pharmacy. Everyone who’d been released then loaded onto another bus, and we had a slow and uneventful drive back to the resort area.
It was bothering me that they didn’t dress Jackie’s lower back, so when we returned to the hotel, we went to the resort doctor, who thoroughly cleaned and dressed her wound. I could tell he was concerned that the clinic neglected to do this, but he wouldn’t say so. Maybe they were low on gauze or something. I was thinking, with all the little motorcycles and mopeds, and with the lack of traffic laws, that clinic probably sees it’s share of road rash. Certainly it wasn’t a deep cut and scrape, but you always worry about infections in the tropics, especially when it involves broken glass.
So that was the end of our day. Neither of us slept much because didn’t give us very strong pain meds. But we felt like we were pretty lucky. Not everyone was so fortunate. The next and final blog on this ordeal will cover the response by the hotel staff, Am-Star and Apple Vacations.