“And do you know what she cooks her rice in? Wata, plain wata!”
I look up thinking, There’s something else to cook rice in?
“I tell you gial, she crazy!” replies the lady sitting next to her. These two Belizean women are my colleagues and later become my best friends.
This was my first semester teaching at St. John’s College in Belize City. I was trying to cope with the culture shock and get used to the English based Creole. In the tiny English department on the second floor, I shared an office, a computer, and a filing cabinet with seven others. My desk had no drawers and the chair had a plain wooden seat—just like the ones we had in high school in the early 70s. In my career I was used to facilities with good furniture and ample supplies. I knew that despite the absence of all those material things, I was about to embark on an adventure that would teach me more than I could ever learn back in Canada.
The lunch room was a place I could sit and gather information on what was happening in this small city. I learned about families, food, entertainment, and work. I learned to understand Creole, but when my back gave out on me, I went to the nearest private clinic to learn about their wonderful medical system.
I had had a minor back problem for years. When I got to Belize, I increased my walking because I wanted to experience the city. All the walking and some unplanned lifting one day increased my minor problem, bringing on extreme back pain. After two months of sitting on the couch to sleep at night, I finally gave in.
I called for an appointment. Now, in Canada we have to see a GP before we can even think about a specialist. In Belize, the receptionist was astounded that I wanted to see a GP for severe back pain, and reminded me that I should be seeing an orthopedic surgeon. I asked how long that would take. In Canada, I thought, that’s at least a six month wait.
“Well, I won’t be able to get you in until two o’clock.”
She misunderstood me when I shouted,
“Well he’s in surgery until one thirty, and he needs some time for lunch.”
“Today? You mean two o’clock today?”
“Yes, but you see it’s his day in surgery.”
I explain to her what seeing an orthopedic surgeon in Canada means in terms of time.
I get to my appointment at two, and after a thorough examination Dr. Roberts thinks it might be something gynecological; he suggests I see a gynecologist. I wonder out loud how long that’s going to take. Dr. Roberts makes a call and sets up an appointment with Dr. Navaretto across the hall. I ask for a letter outlining my problem to Dr. Navaretto. Dr. Roberts looks at me puzzled. A letter? He’s going to talk to Dr. Navaretto when he comes in. Right now Dr. Navaretto is taking his son home from kindergarten. He should be here soon.
As I head for a chair in the waiting room, I realize I am seeing a male gynecologist, something I usually don’t do. And so I wait, looking at every man that comes through the door. I pray he wouldn’t be too young; an older man would be preferable. But the son in kindergarten? I watch old men, young men, scary looking men come in, and then, Adam Sandler walks through the door! Yes, I would know Adam Sandler anywhere. Billy Madison, The Wedding Singer, and then I think, would Sandler really be here looking for an orthopedic surgeon? Maybe not.
But this Sandler look alike walks right up to Dr. Robert’s door, the two confer, and then they both walk toward me. Dr. Roberts introduces us—it’s Dr. Navaretto! The examination is short—but not sweet—and I am back with Roberts. He tells me he suspects that, along with my herniated disk, I also have sciatica. He would like to confirm that and recommends an MRI. Fear paralyzes me. I see an expensive trip to Canada, long waiting times, continued pain medication, and eventually, an addiction to God knows what! While I’m adding up the financial and emotional cost of this MRI, Dr. Roberts is on the phone. He hangs up and asks if I can go to the lab just down the street. Oh, sorry they can’t get me in for an MRI for another 45 minutes.
I blink. “You have me booked for an MRI in 45 minutes!”
“I’m sorry,” he says, “If you can’t go today I can get an appointment for tomorrow.”
I explain my surprise . . . of course he understands. He reminds me that in Canada it’s free, but here I will have to pay $800BZ, about $400 Canadian. I don’t mind a bit; I have insurance.
I go to the MRI lab and settle into the machine. I am wearing earphones; Soca music is playing. I feel like dancing but I have to stay perfectly still. An hour later the machine stops, a technician helps me out, and I get dressed. Outside the door she speaks to me in a quiet, sombre way, “Mrs. Winsor, we won’t be able to get your results back to Dr. Roberts until noon tomorrow. He’s hoping you can make an appointment to see him later in the day.”
I walk out the door. My back’s not too bad. My bank account is a little lighter, but I count my blessings—two visits with an orthopedic surgeon, a visit to a gynecologist and an hour in an MRI machine. I just completed at least a year’s worth of Canadian medical treatment all in a Belizean afternoon.
Jeanette Winsor recently retired to focus on her passion in life, writing. She has just finished her first novel, Healer of Time and is searching in earnest for a publisher. Meanwhile, she spends her days researching her second novel, According to Daniel, writing short stories and memoirs, and running barefoot through the grass with her 3-year-old grandson, Mathias.
See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Milton, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Dundas, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Newmarket, Barrie, Orillia, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.