Doctor’s Orders

I’ve spent my entire life in the doctor’s waiting room. My mom used to think I should be a doctor, because I was constantly in and out of the doctor’s office. But then again every mom wants her son to be a doctor. Thing is, I hated being in the doctors office. The magazines are always out of date.

Unfortunately, life here in Guatemala is hard on the body. Over the last two years I’ve had parasites, fungi (they aren’t fun), amoebas, intestinal infections (dropped 10 pounds in a week), bronchitis, strep (this may have been a misdiagnosis), and a bladder infection which may’ve been caused by kidney stones. The latter was the hardest to diagnose. Or maybe it should have been the easiest, but the problem with going to doctors down here is that my Spanish isn’t that good yet and most don’t speak English. Do to all of my random illnesses, I have been forced to read out of date Spanish magazines. And with all of these visits to the doctor I have learned a lot, maybe even earned my medical license in professional patientry. My mom’s dream of me becoming a doctor might’ve died on the emergency table, but I’ve gained a wealth of information I’m willing to share. So drop your copies of Better Homes and Gardens dated from June of 2001 and enter my office of knowledge and read my top ten things I have learned while going to the doctor.

10. If you didn’t understand what the doctor just said in English you probably wont understand what he is about to say in Spanish, so don’t respond with a yes to any of his questions. If you do, you might end up with a shot in the butt that you didn’t need.

9. When you have an appointment scheduled for 8am on a Saturday morning, don’t show up until 9am. Because, just like any social function in Guatemala, where no one is expected to show up until an hour after they tell you to, the doctors wont even show up on time. (For exceptions to this rule see #3)

8. Now, you’ve wised up and decided to bring a translator to your next appointment. No more shots in the rear, right? So, If your doctor tells your translator that you have a strep infection in your bladder (can that even happen?) and ignores the questions about kidney stones, you’ve been warned. But then after your appointment if he is talking to your boss and changes his apparent diagnosis to over working out, it’s time to change doctors.

7. Always bring a translator, always. Or when making your payment to the doctor, always request the proper receipt. This also applies when you buy your medicine at the pharmacy. Guatemalan Insurance companies can be difficult.

6. I’ve always thought doctors are supposed to be experts on physical health, but Guatemalan doctors don’t seem to be much into physical fitness. They believe that working out and staying in shape will harm your immune system and result in random illnesses. I wonder what med school they learned that in.

5. Always say a prayer when you have a bladder infection and are having an ultrasound on your bladder and have been asked to drink a lot of water right before the test and you feel something warm leaking down your leg.

4. If asked to do a 24 hour urine sample, don’t drink a ton of water the day before or you might need another gallon jug.

3. The exception to rule number 9. If the doctor’s lab says they close at 5 pm, then they close at 5 pm. In Guatemala if they show up late it’s okay but if you show up late you just need to come back the next day.

2. If you know a doctor speaks English, go to her for a check up. She probably wont misdiagnose you like the doctor who only pretended to understand English. And if you’re lucky She might also try to set you up with a doctor friend of theirs that wants to practice English!

1. Don’t pull your pants down until the doctor tells you to. Spare yourself from the awkward situation of having your pants around your legs and the doctor not needing to check anything down there for another five minutes.

Spanish Slip Ups!

Just the other day Isa, one of the 8th graders, exploded with laughter. It was my fault. I seem to be very good at making my students laugh. Not because I’m a great stand up comedian. No, that would probably mean my classes were entertaining.

Most of the time my students laugh at me for things I don’t understand. Like one time I was at a birthday party. A group of 8th grade boys, they’re in 9th now and much more mature now, were asking me questions in Spanish. They couldn’t control their laughter. Apparently I was saying yes to a bunch of ridiculously inappropriate questions. They still haven’t told me what they were talking about and now I know not to say yes to things I don’t understand. 

My Spanish has improved greatly from that night when I may or may not have said yes to liking certain really gross things like cats or butterflies (I am just guessing here). Yet, I still have slip ups.

I was in my Spanish class a couple of weeks ago and Letty, my teacher, asked me, “Do you have a girlfriend here in Guatemala?”

I chuckled and answered with a sad, “No.”

“Are you looking for one?” She responded quickly.

“I have friends who were helping me,” I said stifling a laugh.


“The secretary at my school said she would look for me.” Or at least that is what I meant to say, remember all of this is in Spanish, the only part I was sure of was when I’d responded with a sad no. What I actually said was, “Yasi is good looking for me.” Letty started to chortle and at first I didn’t really know why. Then I realized what I had said and a hard long laugh erupted from deep in my gut. After I regained my breath I explained to Letty that my secretary was just my friend and that I wasn’t interested in her because she’s married and has a child. Now every time I go to my Spanish classes, Letty gives me a hard time. At least Letty didn’t hear my next slip up.

So, why did Isa laugh? Well, it was lunch time and I was on duty down in the middle school building. I was making my rounds through the building. Checking on the students, just the usual. Isa was sitting by the microwaves with her friend Danitza. These girls love it when I make a mistake with my Spanish and so sometimes they try to bait me. But I was being careful. It didn’t matter. I set the trap for myself.

Isa had a Pizza Hut box and so I asked, “Are you having Pizza?” Earlier this question worked to get me a slice of Pizza from one of the 6th graders, but this time I received a “I’m too cool for this,” response, which I guess is the difference between a 6th grade boy and an 8th grade girl. But then I looked at the box and realized my error. She wasn’t eating Pizza, she was eating a Calzone!

I love those. So I said, “Nice Calzone. How is it?” Isa and Danitza looked at me and then their laughter started to build like a giant title wave.

“What did you say, mister?” Isa replied.

“Calzone,” I stated cautiously, what had I done wrong? They started to laugh harder and wouldn’t tell me what I had just done. All I could do was stand there confused, but then Isa tossed me the second half of her calzone. She must have been feeling sorry for me, but not sorry enough to let me in on what I’d just said.

Fortunately Yasi, my secretary who I am not interested in, was able to help me out. After stifling a laugh she explained to me the error of my ways. In Spanish Calzone pronounced Kal-zown means women’s underwear. I’d just asked my 8th grader if she was eating girl’s panties.