Bearded Kyle on Death and Disease

Peru Post 6: Death and Disease

Sorry for the downer of a title this time.  As it turns out, I have discovered the number one most important tip for enjoying your time abroad:

Don’t Get Sick

Three days of scruff
This is the only picture I have related to this post,
3 days of beard growth when I was sick.  Yup

Yes, that is the secret.  If you want to enjoy your visits to other countries, especially to “third world” countries, do not get sick.  Getting sick was the worst idea I’ve had while in Peru, and I really didn’t even get that sick.  All I had was the worst sinus infection of my life (which makes sense since this is probably the worst place for sinuses I’ve ever been in my life; dry air, lots of dust, car and stove fumes, and fields on fire all combine to punch one’s sinuses in the face.)  Seriously though, I had a headache for over a week, to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed for over a day.  If I was home with mommy, it wouldn’t have been too terrible, but it wasn’t too great happening in Peru.


For one thing, the hospitals here aren’t quite ship shape.  I ended up visiting three hospitals.  The first was pretty dirty, and fairly dark.  We got passed around a few places before they had us take a number and wait to get helped by someone.  I never found out who we were really waiting for because before we got helped we got a call from a friend of the family telling us to go to a different hospital and talk with a specific person there.

The second hospital was much nicer.  It was clean, and better lit, and the service was much improved.  I ended up seeing two doctors here.  The first doctor was old and clearly had a fair amount of experience, and clearly felt like he was quite experienced.  He saw me in his office, where he checked my throat with a tongue depressor (and no gloves I might add.  Not that his hands went in my mouth, but it was just weird.)  He then checked my ears with that scope thing which was connected to a flat screen TV on the wall so that I could see it too.  It felt like he was putting on a bit of a show since he was sure to have me look at the screen and told me about what was clearly wrong.  I don’t know what the point is of showing the patient the inside of the ears, I didn’t have a clue what I was looking at, it just looked gross.

Hat made of coconut
The hat is made from coconut

After he gave me a prescription for whatever, we found the person we had come to find and she took us to a different doctor.  I never really found out if she thought that the other one was better, of if they were friends, or what was significant about the second guy, but off we went, pretending we had never seen the first doctor.  I would say the second was better than the first, although the second was younger.  He took some time to make sure he understood the problem and checked me out a tad more thoroughly, though in the end, prescribed me nearly the same stuff.  As I have since learned, it seems that they do little more than just keep prescribing the same medicine for just about any ailment, so I guess it doesn’t matter how well they check you out.

Another note about these hospitals is that the privacy is much lower than in an American hospital.  I was examined right next to some other guy lying on one of those examining beds, presumably waiting for the doctor as well.  This sort of sharing was common with whatever was happening.

Sick Day

After a few days, I still had the headache and had experienced fever like symptoms a few times too.  I had been told to get checked for malaria any time I had a fever, so we went to the government hospital to get some tests done.  They decided to test me for everything, and that was a fun experience.  I got traded between a bunch of different desks and people who all had different job functions.  I got pricked to test my blood for malaria.  I got a regular examination to check my throat and ears.  I got a pee test, and the hospital had one bathroom, and the light wasn’t working, so I’ll let you imagine my experience getting the pee into the cup.

I did get quite lucky at the state hospital though.  It was actually a bit of a vacation day, and although the people still had to be there, the only reason they did any of the testing for me was because the doctor marked it as an emergency.  It was nice not needing to come back a second day to make all that happen.

Old tractor
This tractor has seen better days


As nice as the doctor was to put me on the fast track, my experience with the doctors was far less than magical.

The doctor in the state hospital did a pretty poor job listening.  He pretty frequently interrupted my descriptions of my problems with assumptions that I would have to correct.  He also knew less about malaria than the Wikipedia page, which didn’t make me super comfortable.

The doctor in the other hospital wasn’t my favorite ever either.  He really seemed to be putting on a display of how smart he was just as much as he was trying to find out what was wrong with me.  Plus, the fact that they so easily prescribed medication that they prescribe for the majority of ailments (an antibiotic for the record) didn’t make me thrilled.

Plus, with the language barrier, I was never 100% sure that they understood everything I told them.  They probably did, but I don’t know tons of medical vocabulary in Spanish, so it wasn’t always easy to make my points as well as I wanted to.  This was especially concerning when I tried to tell them about the medication I was taking every day for malaria and trying to make sure they did the checking to make sure their new prescriptions wouldn’t interact with what I was taking.

Old Catholic Church
A ginormous old Catholic church


The absolute worst part about getting sick was the paranoia of impending doom.  There I was with a headache and fevers, certain that I had contracted malaria, and that I was going to lose my mind.  I figured I might have actually doomed myself and that I was never going to make it home to eat pizza and get married.

There was also thoughts that even if I made it home, what if I had contracted something that caused permanent damage.  Like, maybe my arm would fall off or I would spend the rest of my life with a perpetual nose bleed (my nose never bled, but you never know when that might start.)  I didn’t really think that specifically about what might happen, I just knew that being sick was stupid, and being far from home amplified even tiny worries.

So that’s my experience being sick in Peru.  I’m basically better now, but I have to blow my nose a lot still.  Seriously, the air quality here is really bad.


Now for death.  I didn’t die, but I did attend a Peruvian funeral.

Expectations Of Difference

I didn’t really know what to expect from a Peruvian funeral, but I did expect there to be some difference in ritual.  After all, I had seen The Other Side of Heaven and taken note at how different Tongan burial rituals were from the U.S.  I also have a vague idea that the way burials were done in biblical times and places was quite different as well.

Artisan cups
Artisan cups

There’s also the nearly endless historical examples of different burial rituals.  The ancient Egyptians mummified their wealthy (and non-wealthy in later years) and put their rulers in huge pyramids.  Archaeologists have found large mounds with many people buried inside, evidently as a group burial area.  People had different ceremonial clothes for burial, as well as ways to commemorate their dead.

Discovery of Sameness

As it turns out, religion probably has the biggest influence over burial rituals.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise since religion has the biggest influence over what we expect to happen after death, but I thought that culture would have inserted itself more prominently in the ceremony.  Instead, it mostly looked like a typical Mormon funeral.

It started with a few talks about the person’s life, as well as a few words about eternal life and heaven from the bishop.  After that we went to the cemetery for the burial where a few more talks were given, hymns were sung, and the casket was buried.  There was also a dedicatory prayer, but I didn’t catch who offered it.
A few different things happened.  Like, it started really late.  I haven’t been to a lot of funerals, but both of the American one’s I have attended started right on time.  At one of them everyone was making a joke that it was the first time the deceased had been on time to anything.  And, unlike other things in Peru, even though it started late, it ended on time.  I think that might have been due to requirements from the funeral director, or maybe he was paid by the hour or something.
Peruvian desert
Yup.  Still a desert.  Hence the sinus problems
There was also a guy who shouted some stuff at the grave at the end and had us all repeat him.  It was stuff like “your family is well taken care of,” and “we love you” and things like that.  It turns out that was weird for the Peruvians too.

Tough Funeral

Both of the funerals I’ve attended in the U.S. have been of elderly people, fairly ready for their time.  Although the man that passed away here wasn’t young, he was on the younger side, leaving behind children still in school, and he died fairly suddenly.  As such, the mourning was pretty intense.  I can’t know if the differences in expressing sorrow were a result of culture or of the lack of preparation for the passing, I just know that the family is going to need the support of all of us out here for a long time to come.
So, sorry that this week’s Peru post is a bit of a downer, but it wouldn’t be real life if it didn’t have some bumps in the road.  Take heart that I already have my post about Peruvian food ready to go, and I’ll publish it as soon as there’s a week where I don’t have time to write anything else about Peru.
Stay beautiful everyone!
Keep seeking truth.

You may also be interested in:
Peru Post 7: Food!
Peru Post 5: Regal Visit
Peru Trip Post 1

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