The emergency room at the Vieques Hospital wasn’t closed, but it might as well have been.
For one thing, it was completely empty. I don’t just mean that there were no people. There was no furniture. No chairs, no tables, no three-year-old magazines. Nada.
I half expected to see tumbleweed unspool in slow-motion across the linoleum floor.
Surprisingly, there was an attendant at the desk. Yes, she was chewing gum, and yes, her expression screamed, Why in the name of everything that’s holy are you bothering me? But she listened patiently enough as I tried to explain, in a garbled mixture of English and Spanish (with some college French thrown in for good measure), the nature of my problem.
“Okay,” she said when I finished my pidgin-Spanish recitation. “We help you.” This was said with such obvious kindness that I melted instantly.
“Oh thank you,” I said. “Muchas gracias.”
“When the doctor get back from dinner.”
Three hours later (or, by Michael’s measure, six cigarettes), I had seen the doctor and gleaned the following information:
- Dr. Flores was a perfectly lovely man who had studied medicine at Georgetown.
- My diagnosis was correct.
- There was only one pharmacy on the island and it was closed until noon tomorrow.
- There was no medicine in the hospital.
That’s right. No medications of any sort in the building. I quizzed the doctor very carefully on this last point, trust me.
“Can’t you just slip me some samples so I can get started on my antibiotics?” I wheedled, feeling every bit the proverbial addict on the street corner. “I feel really lousy.”
His manner was courtly and forthright but unapologetic. “We don’t keep no medicines here.” He spread his arms wide, casting his eyes around the spotless but notably bare examination room.
I struggled to match his super-polite tone (I’m ashamed to admit I even affected a slight Puerto Rican accent). “But isn’t that unusual for a hospital?”
He flecked a piece of lint off his lapel. “Not this one.”
I swallowed hard. “So what do you use to treat your patients?”
“We have no patients.”
“I don’t understand. This looks like a brand-new facility.”
“That is so.”
“Then where are the patients?”
“We have none.”
He looked at me as if he could hardly believe my stupidity.
“We don’t keep no medicines.”