Pregnancy / medical treatments

One of the things I have been most impressed with in Colombia is the level of care I have received with regards to general health and dentistry.

But let me start you off from the very “daunting” beginning!!

When I first suspected I was pregnant I was told “well lets go to a clinic and get a blood test to confirm for sure” I thought nothing of it (although I was hoping it was a nice clinic with nice nurses because I have always been a wimp when it comes to injections and blood tests!)

So imagine my horror when my first experience of having a blood test (the first of what I suspected would be many) was in a house in -Fontibon (our local town) Walking down the high street full of little shops I couldn’t see anything that resembled a clinic or hospital and my hopes began to fall – then I was ushered into a small door way and sat on a chair. I looked around and saw a framed certificate on the wall saying that the lady was trained in being able to take bloods (or something along those lines), and other than the small desk I was sat at there was nothing but another doorway leading through to the families living room. I could clearly see the man of the house sat on the sofa eating his dinner and watching a soap opera, and as the wife came out, put on her rubber gloves and pulled out the needle I couldn’t contain my fear any more and burst into tears! after a 10 minute wait while she went back to her soap opera, and then printed something from the home computer – she presented me with the paper that said I was “pregnant”! – As we left the clinic I felt silly but had to ask Juan “I will be having the baby in a real hospital wont I and not somewhere like that?” and although he said yes – I was unsure as to what I should expect from the next 9 months!!! so the journey began………….

From there on I have been really surprised – after registering me as a beneficiary on Juan`s medical insurance, I was given regular appointments at the local DRs surgery, almost every two weeks, and I was given prescriptions for supplements and vitamins that I needed that we haven’t had to pay for. I have been referred to the dentist, nutritionist and for ultrasounds to the point that they have been so thorough with me I was annoyed at what a fuss they are making over me.

Every appointment consisted of a blood pressure check, weighing, being given advice and more vitamins and more follow up appointments. really thorough!

The first ultrasound was the scariest /funniest – I went with a friend of ours Arturo, and Juan`s mum (as Juan couldn’t get time off work) and after being told over and over again by Juan and his family that I had nothing to worry about  – it would just be some gel on my tummy and no more I felt ok & comfortable with this idea- so imagine my horror when once in the room with Arturo and Juan`s mum I was asked to take off my clothes so they could do an internal examination!!! I had no idea if I was expected to strip right then and there in front of everyone, or if I could do it in private, or if I would even be given a gown to wear – The scariest part was not understanding how things worked here and what was expected of me. I know the English are typically prudish and private, but here that doesn’t seem to be an issue. (this worried me) so after a lot of questions to Arturo, who then translated to the doctor and translated back to me about what I could expect – I had the exam (lets just say it bought me closer to Arturo and to Juan`s mum who must have seen everything!)

The next challenge I was faced with was being told I needed to go to the dentist. After freaking out, crying in front of everyone at the surgery, storming out and then waiting in the car in tears while Juan booked the appointment I realised I would have to face it and go. I was terrified – I hate the dentist in England, let alone in Colombia – I was dreading to think how bad the experience would be. The day of the appointment I made them promise not to touch me – just to look and tell me what was wrong if anything, This they agreed to. but I was told I would have to go back for fillings, but because I was pregnant they would not be able to use any type of anaesthetic or painkillers!!!!!! ummmmmm SCARED!

The day of my fillings I cant remember ever being that nervous – I laid down, the dentist told me she would first just do a bit of a clean up – and after about 10 minutes and no pain, she told me she had finished! she had done 2 fillings and I was good to go! I was so happy, I actually felt that I would go back again without even questioning what needed to be done – never have I experienced such a straight forward and gentle dentist.

I have been cared for so well by all the doctors, nurses, dentists etc – its something that I never expected, but that has surprised me the most about being here.

Health care = Colombia 1, England 0!!!



Health & safety / Driving

One of the things I have noticed about being in Bogota is the lack of health and safety.

There`s one thing that seems most crazy to me and that is with respect to the driving. Although cars are made with 5 seats generally that doesn’t stop people carrying up to 10 people in a car at any one time -(or as many as they can fit in). my first experience of this was when we needed to go to our local -“home centre” (a DIY type of place that sells everything).

The car ended up containing me and Juan in the front then in the back was his mum, his sister, his two nephews (11) and (14) and his niece (12) – this was cramped enough and the fact that they weren’t wearing seatbelts just added to the worry I contained inside. But on the way back not only did we have the same 7 people in the car but also all the bags of things we bought including large items such as the wardrobe, shelving, kitchen sink, large rubbish bin, mirrors and more! the car was so full we had things sticking out of all the windows including body parts of the children who had twisted themselves into positions that allowed everyone and everything to fit in.

My biggest surprise was when we drove past the police like it and they waved us past without battering an eyelid! it was as if it was normal!!!! but having now been here for 10 months i realise it is normal! in fact here in Bogota there is nothing abnormal – anything goes.

I do have a theory as to why I think this is acceptable and maybe someone who knows the country better can tell me if im right or wrong – but my guess is because of this;

Here in bogota – the car is what is insured, not the person driving as is in England. Meaning that as long as the car has insurance , anyone can drive it, which is why you see families all driving each others cars and friends as well. – This also comes in handy on the “pico y placa” days (more about that later).

Also residents of Colombia have to pay for their own health insurance as there is no NHS as is in England, so my theory for this chaotic cramming of people into cars is because its a safety choice of the individual. If the car is involved in an accident in that situation – the cars insures covers the damage to the car – and the people inside (if they are hurt or need medical attention) have to sort it out themselves – so it is of no concern to the government if the car is overloaded because its the responsibility of the people getting into the car to be aware of their own safety and be wiling to pay for any damages to themselves.

“Pico y Placa”- Is the reason there are so many bikes and scooters in Bogota. It stands for “Car restriction” and the reason for it is this. In Bogota there are no trains (overground or underground) – this meaning that everyone who needs to commute in the city drives, and because it is so congested there is a rule with the cars that depending on your number plate there are certain days you cant drive.

For example – Juan can only drive his car on odd days of the month – 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc……. on the even days he is able to drive but not between 6am – 9am and then again between 3.30pm -7.30pm (rush hours). The idea of this is that it reduces traffic and means it is easier to commute across the city for workers- although it actually doesn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference, due to the fact that on the days when people cant drive they either get a taxi, borrow a car from a friend or they have a bike /scooter! I don’t know why the government don’t have a train system – the city would become a lot less congested with traffic. Sometimes getting to somewhere that is only 10 minutes away can take up to 1 hour because the roads come to a standstill.

Think it is going to be a few years at least before I ever try to or want to drive in Bogota!



Annoyances With Noise

One of the hardest things I have found living abroad is having to adjust to all the cultural differences.

I never really considered myself very patriotic or particularly proud to be English, and I always thought England was a horrible & boring place to live, but there are now things that I miss terribly and appreciate.

For example noise doesnt seem to either be an annoyance or bother or anyone here in Bogota.  I have found myself craving the quiet nights I was used to back home.

In England I never appreciated the rule about not being able to beep your car horn in a residential area after 11pm – in fact I though it was stupid – but now, having been here in Bogota where people beep constantly all day and all night, I can appreciate the rule and think its actually ridiculous that they havent invented it here!

during the day cars will be cued up at at traffic lights and as soon as they go green – you will have cars 15 back in the cue start beeping (even though they cant go anywhere and everyone is moving as fast as they can). the most frustrating thing is that I cant figure out the logic of it – why do they think beeping helps? Surely the car that is 15 cars back and beeping doesnt thing that the person at the front of the cue is going to wait for it to go green and then just not go anywhere??

Sleep deprivation is a big annoyance for me at the moment especially being pregnant and finding it hard to sleep anyway – But at night there is no concern for anyone else – cars or bikes will park in our street and will beep at any time they like to get the attention of the person inside the house they want – and this can happen at any time (im still not sure why theres a bike that regularly parks and beeps at around 3am opposite our house! This beeping can continue for up to 10 minutes or until the person has dragged themselves out of bed to respond. It annoys me that they cant just get out of the car and ring on the doorbell – therefore only waking the person they need and not the whole street.

Just when you thing that would be bad enough there is a catch on effect – once the “beeping” has taken place, it wakes up the 1000 dogs that seem to live in our street. Meaning after the beeping has stopped the dogs bark continuously winding each other up more and more- let me tell you its hard to fall asleep or get back to sleep with 6 different types of barks and howls – and I dont understand why the owners cant ask the dogs to be quiet! its as if people are so used to it here they dont hear it any more. I wonder how long itll take me to adjust to it??

There are parties in the house opposite me almost every Friday or Saturday night. And im all for a good party as most of you know – BUT………not when not only do I have to listen to reggaeton all night until 5am but feel it as well, because they have it so loud the bass and vibrations make our room vibrate and things on our shelves rattle! I know it cant only be because im already worrying about how our baby will ever sleep (although I do worry about this) it just really does seem so insensitive! And i often think – this would never happen in the UK – someone would have called the police by now and it would all be put to a stop!

So having had the troubles of trying to get t sleep in the first place, and then being woken up at intervals during the night with the beeping, dogs and parties-  the last thing you need to hear in the morning is the man with the bike and the fog-horn selling “tamales” and announcing it at the top of his voice at any time between 7am – 9am (including Sundays!!)

Tamales for those of you who dont know are traditional breakfasts here, its a pot lined with banana leaves and cooked inside the leaves are a mix of rice, chicken, plantain and vegetables in a sort of chicken stock. there`s no way to avoid hearing him as he continuously says through the fog horn at the top of his voice “TAMALES, TAMALES” and goes on to tell you what type he is selling and for how much. I got so annoyed with this a few weeks ago that I sat bolt upright opened the curtain and just stared at him – I dont know what I was hoping to achieve  I mean its not like my evil stare was going to stop him trying to make a living – but I felt better for letting him know how pissed off I was!!! Then again I admire those sellers in a way – getting up at the crack of dawn to try to make some money anyway they can – in a country where there is no benefit system you either have to work however you can, or you go hungry and homeless, so I guess I should respect him (although its easier said than done when he wakes me up!)

I wonder whether people really are this insensitive to disturbing others with their noise, or if they honestly dont know how loud they are being because over the years of being exposed to the noise themselves – they can no longer hear properly!

So to those of you who think England is so boring as I did – treasure it! Appreciate the ability to be able to go to bed without hearing any other noise, waking up and wondering if its even day time or if its still night because until you look out the curtain there`s no way of knowing and the pleasantries of your neighbours when they pre-warn you of the parties they will be having once a year so you can arrange to be elsewhere or at least be prepared for a sleepless night.