My Argentine Emergency Room Visit

September 28, 2013 Kristance Harlow

I’ve been here for barely a month and already I’ve had to take a trip to the emergency room. I live life in a very yes or don’t-know fashion, once I make a decision I stick to it but I am the most annoying person when trying to decide between two options. It drives my friends nuts when I get asked to pick a movie to watch, I just can’t decide, there are always too many choices! “Hey Kristance, do you want dulce de leche or chocolate? Do you want to play Tomb Raider or Unchartered? Do you want to drink red wine or apple juice?” (Just kidding on that last one, the answer is always vodka). I really want both so how do I decide? It’s like asking Rocky to choose between epic montages or epic music.

How is this related to me ending up in the emergency room? No, it doesn’t have anything to do with vodka. I was in downtown Buenos Aires, walking around the neighborhood and taking the ubiquitous-look-at-these-buildings tourist photos (I am definitely still tourist status here even though I try to claim expat). It had been a good morning: I gave myself a stomach ache by with a big dose of gluten and dairy by eating chocolate alfajores with dulce de leche (two birds with one stone), tweeted a couple inspiring quotes, and stumbled over my Spanish while ordering a cup of tea. The other thing I stumbled over was the sidewalk, but to understand why I have to explain a little more.

Alfajor = heaven

As much as I love this city, the systems in place for public transport pretty much suck. Although, any public transport is awesome when you are from the countryside and your only options if you don’t have a car are: to walk 3 miles to the main Route and wait for one of the town-to-town buses, bribe a friend with gas money, or give up on going anywhere and convince yourself that a quiet night *cough*year*cough* spent at home is just what you need. The train from Olivos to downtown (the cheap local train) only goes once every hour or so, even though it’s supposed to go every half hour. Instead of improving the reliability of the trains, the city just added a few new signs to jazz up the various stops on the route. They also forewent staff for the aforementioned signery, so there’s no one left to check tickets, which allows for a lot of interesting people watching on the train. You can see everything from men with disfigured limbs asking for money by hollering as they walk through the cabins, to the coffee lady who can pour your morning brew faster than Quick Draw McGraw could morph into El Kabong (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m saying she pours it fast), to live impromptu folk music. There’s a lot of character to the whole thing, but when you break it down it’s just a metro that takes an hour to go the distance you could drive in 20 minutes (sans traffic). It’s a shitty commute if you have to do it on the regular, and missing that train back home can put a real damper on your day if it’s cold out and you don’t have anymore pesos to spend on dulce de leche.

The trains look cool, check out that steezin’ paint job.

This is the situation Alejandro and I found ourselves in, hurrying towards the train station, praying that we wouldn’t miss the next train. I decided we had to make that train and like I said before, once I make a decision I stick to it. Since I refused to miss the train, I told Alejandro we had to run. Yeah, I was wearing boots, the sidewalk was chock-full of people, and I was toting a sizable bag slung across my shoulder. Running was definitely a brilliant idea. Alejandro was just slightly ahead of me and as he ran over this big plank of wood that someone had thought would be a good fix for a pothole, the end of the plank lifted up and my foot didn’t. I tripped and went flying, I shouted out like I was in a bad budget film, “Owwwouuuuch” as I body slammed the sidewalk. It was apparent to all the bystanders that I took quite the dig because everyone was asking me in Spanish if I was ok. In my overwhelmed state I couldn’t remember any of my Spanish and just lay there for a second looking towards Alejandro hoping he’d turn around and realize what happened. He did, and came rushing to help me off the ground.

I’m not normally one to get embarrassed by clumsiness. I’m that person that if there is a dirty napkin it was mine, if someone dropped food on the floor I probably did it, and if I cook you will absolutely have a mess to clean up afterwards (but the food will be delicious). I’m a little messy and I’m a little clumsy, that’s just some of my quirks. This clumsy moment I found myself really embarrassed. I was in so much pain from the fall and flustered by all the people rushing towards me and all the “Que bien??” “Esta bien??” that I almost cried when Alejandro helped me to stand up. I hid my head in his shoulder and waited until the crowd dispersed. Leaning on him for support, I hobbled to the train and we weren’t even late for catching it.

This isn’t downtown, but with the countless different kinds
of sidewalks they have here, it’s easy to trip!

I pulled a classic “I don’t need to go to the doctor’s, I’m fine” and refused the idea that I needed to go get myself checked out. I had a bruise the size of a baseball on my knee, a lump on my elbow, and my right index finger was twice it’s normal size with one of the joints a deep purple. Doctors? Nah. I am currently on traveler’s health insurance which only covers extreme emergencies and I wasn’t sure how the healthcare system worked here. How American am I? My first concern was not my health but my checkbook, I wanted to know how much it would cost. My boyfriend explained to me that Argentina’s constitution has the right to free healthcare written into it. Many people have insurance which covers private medical costs: less waiting, more personal attention, and higher quality care. The public healthcare system is free for everyone, and after my own visit I found out that includes foreigners on tourist visas.

It’s looking a little crooked…that pointer
finger used to touch the middle finger.

I finally went to get looked at, but only after three days of a swollen finger and Alejandro’s incessant prodding and hilarious ultimatums “Ok, if you don’t go to the doctors you have to wrap your finger for a month.” and “I’ve broken a lot of fingers, so you have to let me be the doctor if you won’t go get it looked at. I’ll put it in a cast, one month in a cast or the doctors.” Not willing to leave the fate of my possibly dislocated finger in his hands, we headed to the doctors. I wasn’t too worried about the knee or elbow anymore, but the damn finger needed to get looked at. I’m a righty and a writer (har har, right…write…see what I did there?) so not being able to use my right index finger was a hindrance.

Alejandro was my guide in the hospital, even though we were in a place full of highly educated medical personnel, no one spoke any English (or felt like admitting that they could speak English). We entered our nearest public hospital through the main entry. People were milling about but there was no one at the front desk, no one at the information kiosk, basically no one to tell us where to go. We went around a corner and bumped into a security guard, Alejandro and her had a short conversation in Spanish of which I understood nothing, and then he just turned us around and led us back outside. When I asked where we were going he just said, “We have to go out.” Ok, thanks for the clarification babe. We had to go around the block and enter through the emergency room.

Ever go to an emergency room and say, “Gee whiz, they should really make you climb a bunch of stairs to get to the front door here, this is way too easy for an emergency…more like easy-ency”? Me either, but to get into the emergency room at this hospital, you have to climb a bunch of stairs. Luckily my problems were above the waist so I just bounded up the stairs past all those sorry suckers with broken legs and sprained ankles. I didn’t really do that, but I could have. I mean really? stairs? to the emergency room? Not the most brilliant plan.

After waiting in a short line we Alejandro spoke to a woman at the front desk. I had to give her my passport, and she kept looking at me and asking questions and Alejandro would answer while I stood there wishing I’d taken Spanish in college. We waited and waited and waited until finally my last name was called and we went into a small examining room. The doctor looked at my finger for literally two minutes, bent it, straightened it, and squeezed it. Then he wrote something down on a piece of paper, handed it to Alejandro, and we left. Next we had to go to the x-ray wing. We walked back to the front entrance of the hospital, and then downstairs where a bunch of people were waiting. The high tech system in place was a girl who came out to where everyone was waiting in a jumble and asked everyone to hand her their papers. Then she disappeared again. One by one we were ushered in to get whatever x-ray you needed done. My experience was hilarious, the radiologist didn’t speak English, so I was lifting my hand up when I was supposed to keep still, not turning it over when I was supposed to, and generally making the radiologist’s day a little more difficult. Then we had to wait again until they handed me my x-ray. I was simply given my x-ray, to have. Like, “No biggy, here’s your x-ray, go put it on your wall or hang it in your window.” Then we had to go back out to the emergency room again, wait in line, register with the front desk, wait for my name to be called, and then stand in a little examination room while two doctors argued over whether or not they could see anything in the x-ray. After a very short amount of time they decided there was nothing wrong with my bone and sent me on my way, advising Alejandro to have me ice my finger regularly until the swelling and pain subsided. I left not knowing what had happened, what anyone had said, or what I was supposed to do with the x-ray I was carrying home with me.

I think my finger still looks a little crooked, it most definitely does not touch the middle finger anymore like it used to…at least it was all free!

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  1. Irene S. Levine on October 5, 2013 at 11:43 am

    So scary when you have an accident when traveling Glad it turned out to be nothing serious!

    • Kristance Harlow on October 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm

      Yes, it can be nerve racking! I was afraid at first that I broke my finger and possibly chipped the bone in my elbow, luckily all is well!

  2. Rose L on September 30, 2013 at 4:03 am

    Thank goodness it was nothing serious. The daughter of someone I know joined the peace corp and went to Korea. The second day she was there she was hit by a bus and her pelvis was broken among a couple other things. She was flown back home and is recovering from surgery. Guess the Peace Corp will do without her for now!

    • Kristance Harlow on October 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm

      Oh my god, that is a true travel horror story. What a nightmare!

  3. mplanck on September 29, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    What a harrowing ordeal! Thank goodness they are more generous in Argentina than they are here in the states! (though their scheduling routines seem eccentric) Happy to learn your finger is NOT broken and that your sense of humor is intact. Kudos to Alejandro for taking charge!

    • Kristance Harlow on September 30, 2013 at 1:58 am

      Yes, thankfully they believe in the right to free healthcare for all! I am thankful for his help everyday, I still don’t speak Spanish well enough to have complete conversations.

  4. on September 29, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Yes, as you say, it's free in AR – not the thousands of $ you'd spend in the States. On public transport: that's also cheap. I assume you've purchased the Guia "T" ? It is a learning curve to get the hang of it, but once you do it's pretty easy to make your way around the city and the maps are invaluable. I've spent a considerable amount of time in BA, travel

    • Kristance Harlow on September 30, 2013 at 1:57 am

      Luckily I have my boyfriend and his friends and family to guide me along the learning curve! I will have to look at your writings on Argentina, it’s a wonderful country, I can’t wait to see more of it.

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