Subscribe to Our Costa Rica Experience

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cold Showers and CAT scans

Janis and Penny, long ago

A month with no blog posts. A month of death and drama, stress and strain, worry and weariness with a little Costa Rican comedy thrown in for good measure. A few days after my last post here, I traveled to Texas to be with my mother as we faced the imminent passing of my older sister from pancreatic cancer. And indeed, only three days after I arrived, we received word that Janis had died peacefully in her sleep. A tragic loss for my mom but a blessing for my sister as she had suffered greatly in her final days and weeks.

Then began the difficult but important task of helping my mom update all the papers for her estate: calling insurance companies, revising her Will and powers of attorney and all the other minutiae necessitated by a change in family structure, even while in bereavement. Still, the days ticked away and Mother and I managed to have some good times together, shopping for things I wanted to bring back to Costa Rica, watching and discussing the unfolding drama in Egypt on television and feasting on local Tex-Mex, Miss Hattie's Cafe gourmet food and barbeque. Especially the delicious ribs and brisket at our favorite place, Old Time Pit Barbeque. But in still another distressing blow to my mom’s emotions, Old Time Pit burned down a few days after I returned to Costa Rica. As Mother and I said in commiseration to one another, "When it rains, it pours."
Miss Hattie's dining room

And for me, it just kept pouring. Although I had planned to stay a few more days in Texas, on Monday the 28th while on a phone call with Layne here in Costa Rica, I learned that he had just experienced a “health event,” a sudden blurring of vision in both eyes that cleared soon after, an indication of a possible mini-stroke.

It was just December when Layne was first diagnosed with elevated blood pressure in a routine visit to Linea Vital, the local private medical group we joined in order to avoid the sometimes lengthy waits for service through the nationalized health plan known as CAJA. CAJA is great for emergencies and major medical needs but for routine visits, Linea Vital is the choice of many Ticos and Gringos here in Atenas. They have English-speaking doctors on duty 24/7 and an ambulance service available at all times. For a “premium” membership, we pay $65 per month for both of us, which includes free doctor’s visits, house calls, annual physicals and many other services.

As Layne described his scary symptoms to me, I told him to call Linea Vital immediately for an ambulance and get in to see a doctor right away, even as I was making reservations to leave for Costa Rica that very afternoon. But when Layne called Linea Vital, he was told that they had a number of patients waiting and that it would be a couple of hours before he could see a doctor. As we have since learned, what Layne didn’t say was that he was a “member.” Members get priority and had he said that magic word, service would have been prompt.

CIMA Hospital
As it was, he called our wonderful landlords who arranged for a Cruz Roja (Red Cross) ambulance (at no charge!) which took him to Linea Vital where, once they realized he was a member, he was seen without delay. In follow-up visits since then, he was given an EKG (also at no charge), which seemed basically normal and a referral for a brain scan at CIMA, a highly respected and high-tech hospital in San Jose. He just underwent that CT scan today at the modest cost of about $440. We fully expect those results to be negative as his doctor is considering other less serious possibilities as well, but it will be reassuring to know that he did not have a stroke.

Curbs going in on Calle Capre Verde 

Meanwhile, back at the rancho, we were having water problems. We had been warned that water pressure might drop during the dry season but in our kitchen the tap had slowed to a trickle. In part we had assumed this was due to roadwork being done on our dirt lane, Calle Capre Verde, in preparation for paving; but since we had adequate pressure in the lavatory and shower, we wondered if there might be a blockage in the line to the kitchen sink. Then, on Saturday morning, all the water stopped. Zero, zip, nada. And as luck would have it, we had just moments before put on a load of wash. Our clothes were now sitting in about 4 inches of water and laundry soap. I had just gone for a walk and needed a shower and there were dishes in the sink from breakfast! What the heck happened to Pura Vida?

In a call to our landlady Odie, we learned that much of Atenas was without water due to underground work being done near Coopeatenas grocery up the road. She thought it would be back on by 6 o’clock, she said, and of course, there was un-potable water available up at the rancho and a shower there as well, albeit with only cold water. Brrrr! Since 6 o’clock didn’t seem so far away, we waited. And waited. Well, perhaps she meant 6 o’clock in the morning.

When Sunday morning came, our hopes were dashed as still nothing was coming from the dry taps. And now the rancho wasn’t even available because Odie had the young students in her Spanish Immersion School meeting there for a lecture and party on the first day of their 10-day study trip.

By Monday, we were becoming desperate, both for clean plates as well as clean hair. We lugged a tray full of dishes up to the rancho and washed them in the sink in the barbeque area, then hauled them back down to the apartment. Fearing the worst for our poor clothes still sitting in soapy water, Layne and I carted containers of water from the rancho down to the laundry room and set the machine to finish the wash cycle. With no water for the rinse, however, and with Layne under doctor’s orders to minimize his exercise, it was up to me to haul the wet clothes up to the rancho sink for hand-rinsing, then back down to the washer once again for a final spin before hanging them on the line. By the time I finished I was exhausted and ready to face that cold shower, a necessity since Layne had his medical appointment the next day.
Layne entering the hi-tech scanner

So here it is Tuesday and our housekeeper somehow worked a miracle this morning and managed to clean our house, apparently schlepping water back and forth from the rancho while we were at CIMA for the brain scan. What an angel she is! This experience has given me a whole new appreciation of the kind of labor-intensive lives most people in developing countries endure. And now, late in the day on Tuesday, it appears that the water is beginning to flow once again. The lesson here? Count your blessings, Gringos, and never take running water for granted! 


  1. Kat-
    The old maxim clearly applies here: 'What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"

  2. First, condolences for your loss. But, I am curious about something else you wrote (and, I really am sorry to seem so callous). You said Texas, and you said "Old Time Pit Barbecue." San Angelo? Or, Llano?

  3. Kat,

    Do you have a gravity tank for backup when the city water goes out?

    Sorry about the sorrows and glad that you are back, writing!

  4. Most Americans I know in Costa Rica have a gravity tank. The idea is simple, keep some water in reserve and when it gets cut off you hopefully have enough to never notice the interruption in service. My building has a very large tank, and I did not notice how often the water goes out until I started visiting a neighbor on a regular basis who does not have one.

  5. Thanks for the comments. Yes, John, it was Old Pit in San Angelo. Quite a loss to the community. @Casey & expatcostarica - no, we are renters so we have no gravity tank. In our six months here, we really have had little or no problem with water and our landlords are extremely conscientious about fixing things promptly. The kitchen line is already repaired. But we have learned the wisdom of at least having a couple of gallons of water as an emergency supply. Live and learn... and as Dr. Paul says, hope that if you survive, you get stronger!

  6. hi Kat so sorry about your sister Janis..I am very close to my sister, Leila. I enjoy reading your artcles and am so happy Layne is doing well..AMEN. I have emailed you and sis and I are avidly making plans to visit CR and retire early..both are exhausted and life has been telling us to Jolanta in Canada