On Language, Esotericism, Salmon, and Latin American Health Care


Today was our last day of ILP, and they surprised us with an army's supply of empanadas.

So a few things, and the first and probably most important content of this post are the results of my trip to the doc. Details to come, but the crux of it is: I do not have pneumonia, I do not have bronchitis, I do not have swine flu. What I have is nothing new, just a particularly enflamed pair of lungs afflicted with asthma, and the mixed bag that goes with that. More later.

But on to more interesting things. I spoke a bit before about the notion of “modismos,” of slangy parts of speech that we’re surrounded with. Some we’re being taught to fit in and be able to understand, and others people are starting to pick up on their own, chief among them being the dropping of “s” sounds. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why it set me off so much, why it bothered me much more than it should, until I realized the truth: I’m a word and language snob, even (especially) in English. And while I’ll drop a “brb” as quick as the next gargoyle, I’ve tried to make a strict rule of never contracting my speech so much that it makes my sentences hard to read. At times that takes the form of using punctuation for things like facebook messages or texts, and never writing a sentence like “what r u doing?” Call me an elitist if you want, I can take it. I just never saw the point of doing anything that would make compromise my ability to communicate clearly.


Mushroom empanadas are really good. That and grammar is really hard to photograph.

And that brings us back to the topic at hand. There’s quite a big difference between dropping the S from “nosotros” or “gracias.” I mean, come on, people will know what you mean. But when you remove the S from something like “tuvieras,” which is what we were working on in class, the sentence changes meaning, and no amount of fitting in is worth that. Which is also why yesterday was so satisfying, when our teacher actually semi-yelled (let’s just say “sharply reproached”) one student who was a particularly common offender at the S-drop. “Pronounce your S’s,” he said. “Do not imitate Chileans! We are a terrible model for how to speak Spanish. What if you go to Spain? Don’t you want to be understood?” The student, still fighting, pointed out that there is a common S-drop in Spain as well. “Not really,” said the prof. He then proceeded to draw a picture of Spain and label the areas where they do and do not pronounce S’s. “And here,” he said, motioning to one section and doing his best Sean Connery accent, “they pronounce their eshes like thish. Como eshtash?”

This conversation, all in Spanish, of course, was the high point of my day. I’m a big fan of this teacher, and I was waiting for him to say something. Yep, I’m a nerd.


This really looks worse than it is.

So now on to my tale receiving health care in Chile. We apparently have fantastic health coverage here in Chile though the UC system, including full coverage and a cheap possibility to extend coverage for a couple of months after for travel if need be. To that end, as my cough was very clearly not improving, I really didn’t have any excuse not to go to the doctor. There are several private clinics in Santiago, but Luz recommended the clinic at the Med school for La Católica, just down the street from the apartment. She walked with me there and, after I assured her that I would be okay waiting on my own, she left. After seeing a woman sitting in a little cubicle marked “Triage,” I was assigned a number and told to wait before seeing a receptionist (yes, they have pre-receptionists here. My best guess is that sometimes people come in with would-be emergencies that the Triage lady sends right through. Everyone else she gives a number.)

After waiting for a bit I talked to the receptionist, who copied down all of my information and gave me a ticket to pay for the appointment, somewhere in the realm of 43.000 pesos (~$80). I was then called in through a winding hallway to sit in a small exam room while a guy around my age in scrubs took my blood pressure and gave me a thermometer to stick in my armpit. The latter surprised me, rather than the ear thermometers that have been common-place in US doctors since before I was seeing pediatricians. The doctor then came in and talked to me for a bit, asking how I was feeling and what the deal was. My Spanish worked fairly well, as this doc spoke slowly and demonstrated most things with his hands, asking how long I’d been coughing, what meds I was on, etc. He listened to my breathing and recommended a chest x-ray to make sure it wasn’t pneumonia. I quickly agreed.

Back to the waiting room and another 78,000 pesos later, I was in a wheelchair on my way to radiology. And despite my protests that I could in fact walk, the doctor just chuckled and ignored me with the offhand comment “la política de la hospital.” One glance at the x-ray and the doc said “claramente no es pneumonia” (good stuff), and when I asked if it was swine flu (influenza humana), he answered with a resounding “NO.” Good stuff.

A doctor’s office is… a doctor’s office. People walking around in scrubs or white lab coats, tired-looking patients holding surgical masks over their faces as they cough, worried parents holding small, coughing babies… what do you want? Lésmer did explain a bit about the swine flu, which I found interesting. Swine flu has been a much smaller problem in Chile than in Argentina, for example, a fact that he attributes to the Chilean people’s smart reaction to the problem. President Bachelet, who was a doctor and minister of health before taking the role as president, ran a big publicity campaign telling the people what they had to do to stay safe. They believed her. Way to go, preventive medicine!

And while I’m certainly glad that I don’t have a terrible illness, especially while I’m trying to do things like school, internships and getting to know this place, there’s something unsatisfying about being told that the problem is just the same problem as always. I have a new medicine, sure, but that’s different. It would have been strangely nice to have a good excuse for being so humbled my disease, especially if they could give me a magic pill to make it all better. Asthma is not a disease, it’s just an inflamed condition that I’ll never grow out of. That’s not a fun thought.

But on a better note, I have a new hobby: chatting up taxi drivers. Most of them are very nice, though one or two have been fairly politely quiet, and they’re very interesting people on the whole. Often very un-political, though very knowledgeable, many have been fascinated with the notion of Americans coming to Chile to study, and eager to talk about themselves when asked. Talking to one today, I asked him if he was born in Santiago, and if he liked living here.

No, he said. Santiago has much less family unity, unlike the area to the south that he came from. Though he and many others have to leave their homes and come to Santiago to find work, he’d like to go back home later in life as he gets old.

“Like a salmon,” he said.

This entry was posted in Cultural Exploration, Intensive Language Program, Random and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>