I’ve been impressed before with the relative lack of bureaucracy involved in obtaining free health care in Buenos Aires. Basically, show up, show your documents — a U.S. passport is as valid as an Argentine DNI — tell them what’s wrong, fill out a few forms and get treated.

I’ve always gotten the feeling that some version of the Hippocratic oath is taken very seriously by the doctors of Hospital Rivadavia.

Since I entered the system as an emergency case, a lot of the signing and showing of documents occurred when I was out of it. Now that I’m out of the hospital and under the care of new doctors (proctologists vs oncologists) I’ve noticed the mistakes that were made.

At some point, probably because my passport couldn’t be located, someone simply made up a passport number. They had to put something down, right? Only the first two numbers are correct. In fact, I’m in the system, under one patient number, with three different passport IDs and two different names: I was Mr. Puvell at one point.

I found out that last tidbit when my guardian angel Claire and I picked up the results of the biopsy on my tumor. It freaked us out a bit, and gave us some false hope. Mr Puvell had a carcinoma but maybe Mr. Powell didn’t. My initial biopsy, from the first surgery from which only half the tumor was extracted, was inconclusive. No such luck. The patient number was the same, and the passport number was 75% correct. How many North Americans could there be in the system anyway?

One thing I’ve learned since being allowed to go home is that the out-patient waits a lot more than I ever did when I had a bed in the hospital. A couple times since discharge one of my doctors has occasionally taken me personally to pick up tests and to get X-Rays, to speed things up. They simply lied and told them I was staying in Sala 15, cama 17 and that got me in ahead of most everyone else.

That’s happening less and less since I’ve switched departments and the re-hooking up of my insides was postponed. I have bigger problems now than the convenience of never having to use toilet paper again.

Just to get an appointment requires arriving at the hospital around 6:30, waiting in line until the appointment windows (I call them the Medical Box Office) open at 8 and then waiting in another, smaller line to get an actual appointment. Then, the patient finds the appropriate department and waits in yet another line for the doctor or nurse to call her name.


But again, if that’s the only price I have to pay to be taken care of, then I’ll pay it. Not happily, but I’ll pay it.

This past Friday Claire and I showed up at the “guest house” outside the Laboratory to get my blood drawn. My oncologist had given us a tiny slip of paper — about the size of a prescription form — filled with typical doctor-scrawl specifying the 25 different tests required.

Just like in a bakery, we had to take a number.

We showed up at 7 AM. Or, Claire did. I managed to oversleep for the first time since needing to attend these appointments. I was completely freaked about it but needn’t have been. We had about a 45 minute wait anyway.

So I took an iPhone photo of the bananas just outside the door.


We tried to finally get an appointment for my tomography — Rivadavia doesn’t have the necessary machine and I have to be referred to another hospital; more waiting, more forms, more running around getting things signed — but appointments are only issued on certain days of the week and not on Fridays.

So we have to go back this week on Wednesday. Who knows when I’ll finally be told the extent the cancer has spread in my body.

Further, the complete results of the blood test won’t be available anytime soon.

Another 30 days of waiting.

I just want to know.

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