Thursday, November 11, 2010

Buying Medicine In Cuenca Ecuador

Medicine is one of those things that you never really consider until you actually need to get some. I've referenced picking up headache medicine before, but never really delved into the on-the-ground medical scene here for the basics. Here's how it goes:

1. I sit at home, feeling cruddy for one reason or another. Eventually, I work up the guts to head to a pharmacy.

2. On the way, I try and remember anything - anything at all - about words in Spanish that I know about the disease or ailment I have. Yeah, I could look stuff up at home, but I only tend to think of that when I'm at the store.

3. At the pharmacy, I stare at the display cases. In smaller shops, these are usually arranged as two front glass display cases with the pharmacist manning the cash register on top. Unknown rows stretch behind the counter, full of stuff I don't know about. In larger shops, it's more like the states, where there are aisles for me to roam, hoping that what I need will jump out at me before I have to figure out how to ask for it.

4. I start being shadowed/watched like a hawk by the pharmacist. They're terrified I'm going to ask them something. Gringa face = English questions = maybe she'll find what she wants and leave.

5. We start talking. One of us will bite the bullet. They'll either ask me what I need or I'll ask if they have something. There will be an instant wave of relief when Spanish comes out of my mouth on their part.

6. Confusion sets in. I am asking for something that is not a painkiller. Note to the class: Whatever the word is for antihistamine, it is not antihistamine said with Spanish vowels. Nice try, no dice. On the other hand, allergies are alergias. Bwahahahaha, I win!

7. Pantomine and/or extraneous hand gestures are used by both sides. Welcome back to the first grade.

8. A recommendation is made. I have no idea what I'm about to take, but I'm confident that we are on the same page in terms of what it is supposed to do.

9. Prices are discussed. Generic = generico, which I actually know. There is not a generico for what I want. Prices are quotes by the box (caja) and by the pill. I don't know the word for pill, but cada uno is each one, so whatever. I will take four to try.

10. The pharmacist goes to the mystery rows of goodies, opens the box of pills, whips out a scissors, and cuts me off four pills. Money changes hands, and I leave.

A little ridiculous? Well, most of that is me. Some of the pharmacies here are really also clinics, and the people manning the counter are actual doctors. Thus, the concept of a drop in clinic is not really prevalent around here, since you can just walk into pharmacies. Also, medicines have very different prices here than in the states. My allergy stuff was expensive at $1.50 a pill, but wow, did it work fast and last all day, too. Nexium you can over the counter, and a generic pack of 20 is like $6. If you have the technical name of something, or the active ingredient (see also: people actually planning ahead) you can match meds even if the names are different. I've heard glaucoma drops are very cheap here, and if you all need anything checked on, I'm more than willing to ask. My local pharmacist already thinks I'm an idiot ;-)

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