“The local hospital is definitely not one of the highlights of Easter Island. Do whatever you can to avoid getting there”. The guide book left no room for interpretation. However, I had very little choice. As a reminder of the pearl farming adventure I carried with me not only a few black pearls, but also a nasty infection in my foot. By the time we arrived at Easter Island, my foot was swollen and dotted with ugly looking pits, where bacteria were developing a rather advanced civilization. And so, upon landing on the most remote airport in the world, our primary criterion in choosing a guest house was its proximity to the local hospital.
Having limped to the hospital, my Spanish was sufficient to explain to the receptionist that “tengo una problema con mi pie”. Her gesture towards the waiting line was sufficient and I collapsed onto a chair between an elderly farmer and his wife, who were obviously planning to pay for the visit with a chicken or perhaps a goat’s hind. Soon my foot was being examined by a young lieutenant in a white uniform under his doctor’s coat (like most of the island, the hospital was being run by the Chilean Navy). He didn’t like what he saw, and the older nurse accompanying him liked it even less. I for my part totally disliked them not liking my foot. I mean, I wasn’t happy with it either, but their faces were rather unoptimistic, not the expression you want to see on the medical staff treating you. After a brief discussion among them the lieutenant told me in perfect English that I had a serious infection and that it was best if Doctor Jorge had a look at it.
I never learned Doctor Jorge’s last name, but it was probably Authority. If ever there was a prototype for a Doctor (yes, with a capital letter) for a Latin soap-opera, he just entered the room. Doctor Jorge was stoutly built, in his mid-50’s, with a solid moustache and with an infinite supply of confidence. Fortunately for me, in his case confidence was justified as he was obviously very experienced and, having worked in an American hospital for decades, well trained for his job (as he so humbly mentioned). Which was probably a very good thing, as he was the only surgeon within 3500 km radius (again, he told us so himself). Having examined my leg, Doctor Jorge pronounced that I will live, that my leg will be OK, that my infection was serious but treatable and that I should not be worried but that I nevertheless must return the next day for inspection. Thus spoken, Doctor Jorge shook my hand and left, carrying with him the young lieutenant and the admiring looks of the nurses, not forgetting to kiss my wife goodbye (on both cheeks). She later confessed that no doctor has ever said goodbye to her in this way, but with Doctor Jorge it seemed the most natural way to do it.
I was left in the hands of a uniformed medic who told me that he would do “limpiar”. My blank gaze required an explanation, so he made sweeping moves, supplemented by “whoosh whoosh” noises, until I finally understood that he was going to clean my wounds. By that time, the lieutenant returned, having received further instructions from Doctor Jorge. The two of them efficiently injected me with a painkiller and an antibiotic and cleaned and bandaged my foot, which was rather painful despite the painkiller.
Afterwards, I was sent off to the pharmacy with a recipe for a course of antibiotics. That being Easter Island, the pharmacy didn’t have the said antibiotics. Asked when they expect to have them, the pharmacists shrugged and asked “when’s the next plane?”. Since we’ve arrived the day before and there are only two planes a week, I’d have to wait at least 3 days, by which time we were leaving anyway. Back to Doctor Jorge we went. This time, we didn’t have to wait amongst the elderly farmers. Having heard that we need to see Doctor Jorge, the receptionist took us directly to the man himself. Undaunted (and unsurprised) by the lack of medications in the pharmacy, Doctor Jorge prescribed an alternative and sent us on our way, this time without the kisses.
From here on, there is not much to tell. My foot got better, and the little scars left by the eradicated bacterial civilization are almost completely gone. But every now and then, when I look at my left foot, I remember Doctor Jorge, the surgeon of Easter Island.
P. S. Next to the barracks that house the hospital, they were working on what looked like a spacious, modern building for a new facility. I hope by now Doctor Jorge got the hospital he deserves.