Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Prescription to Treat My Own Bias by Caitlin Pollard

After waking up at La Selva Biological Research Station with double earaches and difficulty swallowing for the past few days, I decided it was time to head to a professional. Unfortunately, skipping out on our Zoonotic Diseases lecture, I headed into Puerto Viejo for a visit to the clinic. Remembering useful words like garganta (throat) and oído (inner ear), I rang the bell at the door of the first clinic, only to find that the doctor was “out” according to a nearby saleswoman. We drove to another clinic and this time, thankfully, I was greeted by a friendly receptionist. As the only person in the waiting room, the doctor soon came out and shook my hand. Measuring about an inch between his fingers, he said, “I know about this much English.” Measuring back about a foot between my hands, I replied with a laugh that I knew about “that much” Spanish.
            In the examination room, the doctor took a look in my ears and throat and began to explain that my ears were reacting to the change in climate, causing them to become inflamed. Using the fancy name “barotrauma,” he said it wasn’t that common, but that other travelers had previously come to him experiencing the same discomfort with their weak ears. With a prescription for three anti-inflammatories, I stopped at the pharmacy on the way home.
            Back at La Selva, I researched my diagnosis and looked up each prescription to see its equivalent in the United States. I began to reflect on the immediate doubts that I had initially regarding the diagnosis and the effectiveness of the prescriptions. I hadn’t even told my parents that I had gone to the clinic. I realized that, if I were back home, I would take my primary care physician’s advice with much less suspicion and wouldn’t have looked up my individual prescription names on Google. This was probably a healthy dose of skepticism that I should bring back home, but I noticed that I obviously had my own stigmatization against foreign healthcare systems. Yet ironically, I chose to study in Costa Rica because of the efficiency of its healthcare system. As a middle income country that falls below the United States on the Human Development Index, Costa Rica has a higher life expectancy than the U.S.,  makes much better use of its healthcare spending, and is focused on primary healthcare, the service that I had just used. And yet, here I was, with an unconscious bias that the United States’ healthcare system had to be more reliable. I’m thankful this program has already allowed me to start having a conversation about what truly constitutes a successful healthcare system and to question my own bias toward a health system that may not be the best in the world, despite what I’ve grown up believing.


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