In Argentina I was bitten by mosquitoes. Then I was bitten by bed bugs. I had lost count of the bites by the time I got the ferry to Uruguay – and, there, I was bitten by sandflies, or something as small and pugnacious. Dozens of them died in the DEET on my legs; dozens more got through and bit me. Horrible things.
One bite smarted as if I had been stung by a wasp. I ignored it until late in the evening when it blew up like a balloon and turned yellow. I slapped a big plaster on it until morning, then went to the pharmacist for antihistamines and more plasters. I showed her the bite.
“¿Do you have médico?” she asked
“Medico?” I guessed she was talking about some kind of insurance scheme until I dredged up a memory from my desultory attempts to learn Spanish. “Oh! Have I seen a doctor? No, I haven’t.”
“Deberίas: you eshould. Pienso que might be espider.”
“Where do I go?”
“El hospital. La próxima block.”
There were a dozen or more clinics crammed into two cross streets, each covering a separate discipline but my Spanish was too hopeless to work out which was which, and they all, in any case, had the sleek corporate look of institutions who specialise in sending big bills to insurers.
But there was a grubbier building with “Emergencias” on the sign above the door and no smart reception with blonde wood floors and expensively bland art on the walls. It was the familiar chaos of an A&E unit with coughing, sneezing, crying children, hobbling adults and ice packs clamped over painful bits.
“¿Sί?” said a guy in a white coat, and I explained – in English – why I was there.
“No espeak espanish,” he said with a smirk and seemed to think it was a clever line, because he sniggered and repeated it to several other people. Nobody laughed except him.
Someone else pointed to a sliding window in the far wall and I went over and spoke to the guy inside and he had no English either but called over a girl who spoke Spanglish like the pharmacist and took me through to the accounts department.
“No espeak espanish,” the sniggering man called out to the girl as we passed, but she ignored him. I imagine that happens to him a lot.
“You need for to pay,” they told me in accounts.
“How much?” I asked, but they didn’t want to talk about figures until they had swiped my card and then, when they found out what card I had, didn’t want to talk to me at all. They sent me over the road.
“No aquί,” they said across the road.
“¿Hablas Inglés?” I asked, but they didn’t. Nada. No una sola palabra. Lo siento.
But where should I go, then? ¿Donde?
“Fuera de la clínica, a la izquierda, ir a la vuelta de la esquina, traverser la calle, y hay un edificio blanco con un rótulo de «emergencias»*.”
I gathered from the gestures and the occasional word I understood that she was directing me back to the hospital from which I had come.
“Erm, I think that’s where I’ve just been and they sent me over to you?”
“Fuera de la clínica,” she repeated with a sigh, louder and a little more slowly, although it was still just a blur of sound to me,“a la izquierda, ir a la vuelta de la esquina, traverser la calle, y hay un edificio blanco con un rótulo de «emergencias».”
Oh bollocks to it, I thought, and went out to enjoy my day.
But my mind always looped round to spider bites. What kind of spider? Why did the pharmacist think I needed to see a doctor straight away? In the end, I had to go back to the hostel and get onto Google.
It seemed clear enough: if you were bitten by the sort of spider toxic enough to leave a blister like that – and assuming it didn’t kill you outright – you either had to be rushed straight to intensive care, or there was not much a doctor could do for you, except prescribe things which you could buy over the counter, anyway.
But the blister got bigger overnight and I read some more about spider bites and found horror stories – admittedly in sources like The Daily Mail – about people who had been bitten and left the blisters to take their course and ended up with agonising ulcers, gangrene, and worse.
I was due to go back to Argentina, up to the far north and then down to Patagonia, but I would not, now, be able to do the trekking and climbing I had planned. I thought that the bite would more likely than not turn out to be nothing to worry about; but if there were any real risk of getting the symptoms I had read about, I wanted to be at home, not in a backpacker hostel, still less in a hospital where hardly anyone spoke English.
So I went back to BA and got the next plane but one to London.
© Richard Senior 2016
*I’m sure this is terrible Spanish. It’s the gist, of course, not the actual words.