My Birthday in the Costa Rican Hospital

“This is going to be the best birthday ever!” I said with confidence. We were dripping with sweat and beyond excited. At the end the excessively long line we were in was 4 days of yoga, music, and hippy lectures. At the end of this line was the Envision Festival.

“It’s your birthday?!” Asked a random stranger. “Here, have some mist!” As the unknown woman dressed in what I can only describe as a naughty-fairy-biker-chick outfit sprayed me with a squirt bottle of water, I heard a familiar voice yelling my name. I spun around to see friends from earlier in my travels running towards me.

“Happy birthday!” They cried, shoving a cold beer, a packaged birthday cake, and a bag a peanut butter M&Ms into my hands. “We wanted to put the M&Ms on the cake, but as you can see backpacking and birthday cake don’t exactly mesh.” I looked at the packaged cake and saw it was half crumbs. Laughing, I packed the snacks away (everyone knows cake comes after dinner) and cracked my beer open for a heartfelt, Cheers! with my friends.

I was utterly convinced that this was going to be the best birthday ever.

Eventually we got into the festival and started to explore. We covered ourselves in clay at the “Blue Clay Rehydration Station,” jumped into the ocean to wash off said clay, enviously eyed expensive crystals and festival clothing, danced to a band called “Bunny Wabbit,” and generally stood in awe of it all. There were compost toilets, a red tent, a tea room, and an elixirs bar run by self-proclaimed witches. We had entered a total hippy alternate universe.

I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend my birthday. But I forced myself to take a break from it all to check in at the medical tent. I had burned myself 5 days back and I thought it best to have a professional wrap it up neatly before I spent 4 days camping in the jungle.

Tempted as I was to go to the “Herbal Clinic” for help, my friend Hannah and I agreed that in this case I should opt for Western medicine. I peeled off my own make-shift bandage and showed the wound to the paramedic. By the look on his face, I could tell it was worse than I had realized.

He started cleaning and dressing the wound with a stone faced seriousness that did nothing to ease my growing nerves. One of the other paramedics came by to see what had happened. His sharp inhale and scrunched face told me my nerves were justified. “Does it hurt?” he asked.

I take extreme pride in my toughness and responded with a grin on my face, “Not at all!”

“That’s not a good thing.”

We were silent for a beat before he added, “it means you have burned through your nerves. That’s a 3rd degree burn right there. You need to go to the hospital. We have the stuff to clean it up here, but I would prefer you do it in a more…” he made a sweeping gesture at the dirty-hippy-forest-wonderland around us, “…sterilized environment.”

In many ways I’m a do it myself, suck it up, rub some dirt in it kind of girl. But when it a doctor tells me to go to the ER, I don’t joke around. I turned to Hannah and said, “alright, I’m going to go grab a cab. I’ll come find you when I get back. If you see any of our friends, feel free to tell them where I went.”

She laughed incredulously. “Obviously I’m coming with you.” I could tell by her fierce gaze that there was no arguing and only insisted we tell one of our friends on our way out so they didn't waste time searching for us.

We spent the next 30+ minute driving to the hospital, eating my crumbled birthday cake out of the bag with a spoon, and laughing at what a bizarre turn my 23rd birthday was taking.

We got to the ER around 6pm and we left around 7:30pm. It was by far the fastest, cleanest, most professional hospital visit I have ever experienced. Including the US. Then again, other than the states my only points of comparison are Ghana and Ethiopia, so maybe I shouldn’t be that impressed.

We waited for around 45 minutes, but the time flew by as Hannah and I watched Spanish soap operas, dubbing the over-dramatic acting with our own dialogue. We were folding over ourselves, laughing hysterically, when I heard someone call out, “Sarah Elizabeth?”

The doctor took one look at my burn and started rubbing some sort of gel on it while talking very fast. I looked at Hannah, but her elementary Spanish was not enough in this situation. He laughed and walked out of sight. When he came back, he had a knife, some weird sticky paper, and an English speaking doctor.

The other doctor translated, explaining that my doctor had numbed the area and was going to cut away all the dead skin to avoid infection. Then we would clean the area and put on a special kind of bandage that would help the tissues regenerate.

My doctor finished patching me up and then pointed to my bag. I thought maybe he was trying to tell me I had to pay, so I opened it, but before I could dig for my wallet he shoved the extra bandage and other wrapping materials in my bag. He quickly closed it, winked, and brought a finger to his mouth. That was something I could understand in any language.

He sent us back to the check in counter where the receptionist told me I could go. Excluding the $100 I spent on cab fares, the whole ordeal was entirely free.

When Hannah and I arrived back at the festival we immediately found our friends waiting anxiously at the entrance for us to return. They shoved wine into my hands and eagerly listened to every detail of the hospital visit. Then they circled around me and belted happy birthday before rushing me to the nearest stage where we danced, laughed, and forgot all about the 3rd degree burn on my calf.

“How does it feel to be 23?” Someone shouted over the music.

“I think it’s going to be a good year!” I shouted back.

“Why’s that?”

“Because today was the best birthday every!”

And I meant it. It was a strange, unexpected way to celebrate my birthday, sure. But as I stood there surrounded by love and danced in the middle of the jungle in Costa Rica, the taste of cake crumbs and wine still lingering on my tongue, I really meant it.

It was the best birthday ever.

#costarica #adventurestories #envision #festival #yoga

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