Going to the Doctor in Panama

Hey friends, 

Today was another great day here in Panama. Well, for me anyway. My wife wasn’t too thrilled about today’s events. She’s been suffering from a terrible cold. She’s been up half the night with horrible coughing fits and her throat has been killing her. She’s tried all the traditional meds for a cold, but nothing has worked. Last night, she even tried a remedy her friend told her about. She sliced a lemon in half, covered it in salt, and ate it. I watched as she suffered through the first half and then went in for the second.  

“Where’s the tequila?” I asked as I watched her do the deed, sure one of her friends had played a wicked joke on her, and by the look on my wife’s squinted up face, it was a really cruel joke. No joke though, her friend swears by it.   

Lemons here are really limes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a large, yellow lemon. This was a small lime, like you’d use with tequila shots. This remedy didn’t involve tequila, which kind of sucks. I might’ve joined her in the “let’s make the cold go away” game if it did. So later that night, with a belly full of lime acid, she had another of her coughing fits.  

After suffering through another night, she stayed home from work today so I could take her to the doctor. We don’t really have a family doctor. We’ve tried a few. One of our favorite doctors is located down by the ruins of Panama Viejo. He’s great and only charges $4. Yes, you read that right, four dollars. The problem is his office keeps odd hours. I think they open up at around 4 p.m. 

One other office we visit frequently is very close to our house in Chanis, but it costs $30 per visit. That’s probably still cheaper than the average copay in the States, but it’s a little more than we like to spend here. So, we tried a small clinic in Campo Lindberg, over near Juan Diaz (for anyone familiar with the area). It’s in the shopping center next to Domino’s Pizza, right beside the Pio Pio fried chicken chain.

Clinica Los Portales in Campo Lindberg

I’d driven past Clinica Los Portales several times, and noticed that it was a 24-hour clinic, but for some reason I’d never taken the kids when they were sick, and I’m rarely sick enough to go to a doctor myself. Well, we gave it a try, and we were pleasantly surprised. I’m always blown away by how cheap a doctor visit is here. I was crossing my fingers as we walked through the door, hoping it would be more affordable than the $30 charge at our other doctor, and wanted to jump for joy when the receptionist told us it would only be $12.

Checking in for our $12 visit

As usual, checking in is a simple process. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Panamanian or an American or a Canadian. Just put your passport number down on the form where it asks for your cedula. Here’s the simple form my wife had to fill out.

Just one simple form to fill out

We sat and waited for maybe ten minutes before my wife’s name was called to do the regular checking in stuff like finding out her height and weight. Then she was whisked away to see the doctor. I didn’t go in with her. I’m kicking myself now because I didn’t have the chance to find out if the doctor spoke English, which probably would have been great info for you guys to have. Most doctors here do speak some English, but quite a few of them are just embarrassed so they’ll tell you what most Panamanians tell you when you ask if they speak English, “More or less.” 

Turns out my wife has laryngitis. And the doctor thought she needed a shot in the butt to make it go away more quickly. That’s the great thing about Panama, and I’ve mentioned it before. I don’t want to knock the health industry in the U.S., but there, because everyone is afraid of lawsuits, it’s rare that a doctor diagnosis you right away and then actually takes care of the problem. Usually you’ll be given some sort of medicine and then you’ll be asked to come back next week sometime. I’ve written about this before. Here, it’s not like that. At least not in the less expensive, regular clinics (maybe in the pricier hospitals it’s the same).

The shot in the butt prescription

My experience in Panama has been that doctors aren’t afraid to diagnose the problem right away. Then, they usually give you a shot in the ass or medicine that actually works. If you feel better, no follow-up appointment is necessary. Above is the prescription my wife got for her shot in the butt and some pills she’s supposed to take for the next 4 days.

One of the cool things about Panama is the ability to buy medicine by the pill. That’s how most Panamanians do it here. I’ve bought blood pressure medicine, a week’s worth, and paid by the pill, rather than buy the whole box. Sometimes, when you’re on a tight budget, that’s very convenient. The doctor my wife saw today told us to buy only one day’s worth, because I guess these pills were to help with the pain in her throat from the constant coughing. He told us to buy them each day because it might go away immediately. I’m glad he told us that because it turned out these pills were $2.15 per pill. I went ahead and bought 4, two days worth, and spent almost $9.

Rubbing the pain away

My wife wasn’t too happy about the shot in the butt and she definitely wasn’t happy posing for the picture you see above, but in the interest of giving her husband something to post on his blog, she agreed to let me post this…with her head turned. She’s still a bit sore, but the good news is, I got out of shopping. I found out that her plan was to go to the doctor and then drag me to go shoe shopping for an upcoming wedding we’re planning to attend. Guess who got out of shoe shopping? Yep, THIS GUY!!!! Woohoo! So, at the end of the day, we paid a total of $25 for this visit ($12 to see the doctor and $13 for the injection). That’s not too bad. 

This article was originally written on 10/16/13 so some things may have changed between then and the time you’re reading this.   

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2 Responsesso far.

  1. Michael says:

    If you require prescription medications and cannot get them in Panama , be aware that you will soon be totally out of luck because the government has stopped all authorization of medicine or cosmetics into Panama , the general public will no longer be able to use services like Mail Boxes Etc or AirBox express (and others ) to bring in these types of items!

    Panama is a nice place to live IF YOU ARE 100% HEALTHY and don’t use any prescription medication that would come from outside the country.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Michael. I’ve been out of touch lately so I need to dive back in and start writing more. I’ll look into the info you provided here and thanks for doing that. I recently flew back to Panama from a trip to the US and had NyQuil in my bag. They didn’t bother me at all about it. This would definitely be an issue if it becomes that difficult to get medication and cosmetics from outside the country. Especially since Panama doesn’t have all of the medications you might find elsewhere (like freaking NyQuil!!!)

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