On Tuesday I took Maria del Carmen to the National Hospital in Cojutepeque, where she had an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon. I know the Cojutepeque hospital from our eye surgery week there in 2011 - it's a beautiful hospital, recently built after the 2001 earthquake damaged the earlier site and well run.
We got there at 9 am and were met by Maria del Carmen's sister, Ana Maria Melendez, who has worked at the hospital for 32 years. She brought a wheelchair and an orderly who huffed and puffed and barely managed to lift Maria del Carmen from the car to the wheelchair - my respect increased for Alcides and Darren, who have both carried her greater distances without breaking a sweat.
The orthopedic surgeon was supposed to be seeing patients at 10. He arrived at 1 PM, after getting out of surgery. In those three hours, we got to know some of the other patients and practiced our patience, an essential act in El Salvador. He looked at Maria del Carmen's X-rays and agreed that her leg needed surgery and pinning, but said that he did not have the equipment for that in the Cojutepeque hospital.
I said that I would be glad to purchase the pin or other equipment needed, and was surprised to hear his answer: the Ministry of Health no longer allowed families or friends to purchase materials needed for surgery, and this rule was being strictly enforced. I didn't know whether to cheer or weep - it's truly an act of justice that all patients in the national health system are being treated equally, that those who can find some money don't get to jump the line. But I had so hoped to help Maria del Carmen get her surgery early!
That was not to be. The surgeon said he would admit her to the Cojutepeque hospital where all the preliminary tests would be made. Then she'd be transferred by ambulance to the hospital in San Vicente or Usulutan, where she'd have the surgery, and be transferred back to Cojutepeque for rehab. It did occur to me that it might be more efficient and more effective to move the pins to Cojutepeque! There was no clear date when the surgery would be done, though I'm hoping that having a sister in the system will help insure that Maria del Carmen doesn't have to spend any more time than necessary in Cojutepeque.
We then took her through a couple of stations for tests - chest X-Ray, blood tests - and up to the surgery ward, to a room with eight beds, where I left her. We've talked the last two days - all her tests came out well, but she hasn't yet heard anything about when or where she'll go for surgery. May it come soon.