While living in Brazil, I learned that when people want things to be done at a specific time (for example, a business meeting), they request that it be done on "American time" (as in, like a person from the United States would do it). It was not uncommon for both students and professors to show up half an hour late (or more... or not at all) to classes. When someone says they'll be there soon, usually that means within the next hour or two, not the next five minutes. Sometimes the bus doesn't show up. Sometimes the metro is broken down. Sometimes there is a strike or a holiday so everything is closed for three days (or more).
It's good to learn to go with the flow, to be able to adapt and figure things out when things don't go exactly as planned. The idea that "time is money" is pretty deeply ingrained in our culture, and don't get me wrong, I like to have my schedule just as much as any other gringo (you should see my day planner from college... yikes!), but traveling has definitely helped me learn that a schedule can't rule my day or my life.
But how does that translate to healthcare?
In both clinics that I am working in here on the island, appointments are not scheduled at a specific time. You can set up an appointment for a specific day, but you still have to make sure you arrive early enough that your "spot" isn't taken. Dra. Cerritos hands out little tiny signed slips of paper with a date written on it. Patients/parents come back on that day and turn in that little slip of paper to the receptionist, who then gives them an even smaller piece of a paper with a number written on it. That represents their place in line to see the doctor. The doctors only see a certain number of patients every day (Dra. Cerritos sees 15) so if you are not here early enough, you don't get to see the doctor. I have talked to parents who have come as early as 6 in the morning to ensure that they are seen by the doctor. I don't start triage until . Dra. Cerritos doesn't usually arrive in the clinic until around (She works in maternity in the morning with the new mommas), and sometimes it is even later than that. So families are waiting in the heat for literally hours to see the doctor.
I can't tell you how many times a morning parents peek their head in the clinic to ask, will the doctor be seeing patients today? What time does the doctor show up? And I cringe because I have to answer, "Well... usually she's here around , but sometimes she gets here as early as or 9..." More than once, emergencies have come up in the maternity ward and she has had to rush off. In these cases, I have to work up the courage to step out into the little waiting area and tell the parents who have been waiting for hours in the heat with their hot, sick, crying kiddos that the doctor will not be able to see you today. I am so sorry.
The inconsistencies are really tough, and this goes beyond the scheduling. One day, the electricity went out. I was reading babies' weights with a flashlight. And with the electricity, we lost our air conditioning (Global Healing has provided an air conditioner that we get to use inside the clinic). So instead of stepping into a refreshing clinic, families stepped into a hot, dark room with a sweaty volunteer (me) to measure their kiddos. Another day, a different lock had been used to lock the clinic, so I spent all morning looking for the key and started triage late. The first week I was here, we ran out of paper towels so I had to use gauze to wipe down the clinic at the end of the day (PS thank you ALL for those donations.....I have never been so excited for disinfecting wipes). One morning I spent half an hour chasing a tarantula out of the clinic. Yesterday, I showed up at the hospital to find out that the specialized doctors had gone on strike after not receiving their pay. All of Dra. Cerritos' patients were turned away by the receptionist, which shouldn't have happened -- She is part of the hospital staff, but her salary from the pediatric clinic is paid for by Global Healing.
I've said it before, but to my foreign eyes all of this can feel a bit chaotic. It is good to see some of these inconsistencies alleviated by Global Healing. Today, thanks to the consistent paycheck from them, we will be able to see 15 patients while the other pediatric doctors do not. As far as all the other surprises, I guess I'll just keep going with the flow.