Have you ever gotten sick abroad? If you have, you might be aware that ideas about sickness are different from place to place. Read on for an Ecudaorian approach to enfermedades.
- Prevention is key! Ways to prevent sickness include keeping your windows shut against the cold air, not being a vegetarian and consuming plenty of meat, and most importantly, NEVER taking off your shoes while walking around inside. Feet must be kept warm at all times to ward off illness.
- If you do get sick, don’t worry–there are free clinics you can go to. There are subcentros de salud for rural areas, centros de salud for the barrios, and hospitales publicos in the bigger cities. Services are completely free, including medications prescribed to you (that is, if the pharmacy has them in stock), even for foreigners (from one who received a free polio vaccine at a centro de salud a year ago.) There are also swanky private clinics and hospitals for the pelucones and the insured, such as Hospital Metropolitano. You won’t be lacking medical care here.
- Speaking of hospitals and clinics, if you work for the government (say as a public school teacher), you don’t have much of a choice about going to see a doctor. This is because if you get sick during the work week and need to miss classes, you will have to receive a doctor’s note (with her signature and stamp) and then you will need to go to the seguro department of the closest hospital and request their stamp of verification as well. Then you’ll need to submit all these items to your administrator along with a letter justificando your absence. And if you are missing two days so you can recover, you’d best hope your doctor wrote 48 horas de reposo on your note–or else you will have to go back and ask her to add that detail.
- Let’s say you get sick late on a Friday afternoon, though. You don’t have to go to the doc because you don’t work on Saturdays. You’re thinking of just waiting out that sore throat because you figure you’ll get better by Monday. Then you remember–I’m in Ecuador! I can go buy some amoxicilin without a prescription. Maybe this will cure me! So you run to your local pharmacy and get your antibiotics and also consider all the other over-the-counter glories that are available here that are not available without a prescription in the States: oral birth control pills, anti-fungal medications, topical treatments, Plan B, and more. Whoa!
- But you know what’s even better than going to the pharmacy? Using herbal remedies. Herbs are always the answer. A common Ecuadorian tradition is to bathe with various types of hierbas dulces such as mint, chamomile, and lemongrass at the end of the year to cleanse and heal the body in preparation for the new year. Even better than bathing in herbs is drinking them. I once heard while working in Napo that “Nosotros ecuatorianos no tomamos pastillas. Solo bebemos tecitos herbales y nos curan.” We Ecuadorians don’t take pills. We just drink herbal teas and they cure us.
Oregano tea for stomachaches. Chamomile tea for sore throats. Cinnamon tea for congestion. Matico grass tea for cleaning out infected wounds, and also for gargling. Coca tea for altitude sickness. Ginger for colds and flu and basically any ailment you’re experiencing (I’ve been coerced by well-meaning Ecuadorians into drinking ginger/pineapple juice for such an ailment…can’t say it’s my fav).
And there you have it! An Ecuadorian approach to illness and healing. ¡Salud!*
*Salud=cheers, health, or the equivalent of bless you! for sneezes.