Over a year had passed since we had moved to Nicaragua and we still hadn’t needed to see a doctor. Of course it was only a matter of time before something happened and we found ourselves in need of some medical care. Nicaragua has a free public healthcare system, so everyone, even foreigners, can get care without worrying about the cost. However, the downside to the public hospitals is that they are overtaxed and anyone visiting them would probably face long wait time and lack of supplies (often patients need to purchase any needed medical supplies themselves). As a result, many of the more privileged Nicaraguans (and foreigners) use the private hospitals in Managua.
When Alex’s foray into volcano boarding ended with a crash and he decided that it was a good idea to have it x-rayed, he decided to forgo the local public hospital in Leon and go straight to Vivian Pellas Hospital in Managua.
Founded in 2004, Vivian Pellas is located just off the Carretera Masaya, the main highway to the south of Managua and the area of the city where we spend all of our time. A few blocks off the highway, Vivian Pellas is a large, white building that was immediately recognizable as a hospital to me.
We entered the modern reception area where there was a woman sitting at a desk, ready to point people in the right direction. Like always, we first tried to speak to her in Spanish, but things got lost in translation when Alex mixed up the word for broken (cascado) with married (casado).
“I need an x-ray. I think my wrist is married”.
Luckily, she spoke English and let us know that since it was the day after a holiday, there were no doctors Alex could see directly and would have to go through the emergency department. She offered to call down someone to take us over to the ER and help translate some of the medical terms we didn’t know. We were only waiting for a few minutes before Maite, from the medical tourism department, came to lead us to the right place.
The ER was basically deserted and Alex was able to be seen right away. The check-in process was smooth, mostly because Maite was there to translate some of the unfamiliar medical vocabulary. Vivian Pellas requires a deposit between $500 to $1000 before you can see a doctor (if your treatment costs are less than the deposit, it is refunded to you). Once all the paperwork was complete, Maite left us with her card and let us know that we should call her if we needed anymore help.
The ER doctor didn’t speak English, but took the time to speak to us slowly so there was very little linguistic flailing on our part. She ordered an x-ray and Alex was wheeled away. Only ten minutes later he was back and the ER doctor broke the news that his wrist was indeed broken. She handed Alex off to a specialist, Dr. Mario(!). In English, Dr. Mario explained that he had broken both bones in his wrist and that he would need to be in a cast for six weeks. Surgery was a possibility, but he was going to wait to see how it healed on it’s own. The wrist was still quite swollen, so he made a new appointment for Alex to come back in a few days. Wrist wrapped to keep it immobile, Alex paid his bill for $280 which included the visit with two doctors, the x-ray and the wrap materials. And that was it. The whole process took a little more than an hour.
Since that time, Alex has had to return to the hospital three more times for check-ups and to finally have his cast removed (everything healed fine and surgery is thankfully not necessary). It has always been a quick, painless and relatively inexpensive process. After that first visit, he paid an average of $100 for each subsequent visit and was never there for more than an hour.
Obviously, these sorts of prices are out of reach of many Nicaraguans who have to depend on the public system. But for those lucky few who can afford it, Vivian Pellas hospital provides modern facilities and quality, stress-free care.