Hitchhiking Through Communism With a Sprained Ankle


Photo: Sylver Blaque / Ow!

Laying here on my back, swollen toes pointing up at the God who saved me from MegaDeath.

Thinking about hospitals & patriotism.

In the ER on Friday, I was sure I’d be there for at least 9 hours or more waiting to register…waiting for a room…waiting to see a doctor…waiting to have x-rays…waiting for x-ray results…waiting for doctor to look them over…waiting for diagnoses…waiting to be admitted or discharged.

Generally speaking, a U.S. emergency room wait is a good time to pull out a mirror and watch your hair turn gray.

While you WAIT.

Friday, though, was a pleasant surprise.

The ER was nearly empty, I was registered, wheeled into a room, and seen by a doctor in record ER time (1.5 hours!). X-rays and all the waiting around sped by within another short couple of hours, and I was patched up, and hobbling out to my car on crutches only 4 hours after arriving.


This got me thinking back to the last time I MegaD’d my ankle – before my rambunctious terrorist MegaDeath was even born.

I was in Cuba, on the road from Havana to Santiago, traveling as most Cubans do, by way of thumb…


Photo: Sylver Blaque / On the road somewhere in Cuba

…and sometimes by bus. But where you only turn gray waiting in a U.S. emergency room, you reincarnate through a few lives while waiting for a bus in Cuba!


Photo: Sylver Blaque / Waiting (and waiting, and waiting…) for a bus in Cuba

Anyway, I stopped in an interesting little town square somewhere outside of Holguín to look around. That’s what I was doing – looking up and all around at the beautiful, crumbling architecture pockmarked with half-century old bullet holes – when I fell off a crumbling curb and twisted the life out of my ankle.

Everyone on the streets came running. Dozens of arms lifted me, carried me to a bench, squeezed and rotated my ankle. Nothing hurt at first – adrenaline, I guess.

But then came the PAIN.

It torpedoed me into a chorus of “Ow-owww!!”s and tears, and the arms lifted and carried me to a nearby farmacía.

Now, here’s where being MegaD’d in Cuba transforms U.S. emergency rooms into a thing of beauty.

The farmacía shelves were empty.


Empty bottles were positioned neatly in the front along each shelf. But there was nothing behind those bottles.


Why had these kind Cubans brought me to this empty pharmacy?

Hay un doctor?” I gasp through the pain.

No aqui,” (Not here) the girl behind the counter answered.

Necesito medicina,” I whine. “Para dolor!” (Need medicine. For pain!)

No hay.” (There isn’t any) The girl gestures toward the empty bottles lining the front of the empty shelves.

Aspirina?” I plead. (Aspirin?)

No hay.”

Me he torcido el tobillo. Necesito algo para envolverlo,” (Sprained my ankle. Need something to wrap it.) I don’t know how I managed to speak Spanish when my brain was screaming English expletives.

No hay.”

Hielo?” (Ice?) I squeak.

No hay.”

Por favor…” I’m pain-cry-begging now.

Lo siento.” (I’m sorry) The girl looks so sympathetic that I feel sorry for her.

And so it went, from Holguín to Santiago. Hobbling into every farmacia along the way, I was rewarded with single rows of empty bottles positioned at the front of empty shelves, and nice Cubanos behind the counters with sympathetic expressions on their faces and “No hay” on their tongues.

If you’ve ever tried hitchhiking with a sprained ankle across a communist country with empty pharmacies, wonderful hospitals, and top-notch doctors with no medicine or ace bandages, you’ll understand how truly lucky we are here in America.

Let’s set aside (for now) the fact that our embargo against Cuba is in large part why their pharmacy shelves echo, and their hospitals and doctor’s offices provide skilled care with minimal – if any at all – actual medical supplies.


Photo: Sylver Blaque / A Cuban hospital rehab room.

Rather, I’m taking this time to feel deep gratitude for all that America offers us. There’s more than one pot of gold at the end of long waits in the ER: wheelchairs to get us in, around and out before, during and after our visits. Private rooms with beds, pillows, and linen to lay comfortably on during the wait. Clean water, clean bathrooms, clean facilities of all kind. State-of-the-art medical equipment and supplies – any kind we need for any ailment we have.

And medicine. Tons of it. All kinds of it. All over the place. All the time.

Our insurance may not cover it, and the majority of us may not be able to afford it.

But it’s there.

Whatever else our country is known for – good, bad or indifferent – I am proud and feel grateful that, overall, we take care of our citizens. We have the freedom to fight for the legislations that continue to assure our comparatively wonderful quality of life in this great nation.

Sure, we have tons to complain about – especially now in the current economic draught. Many of us are sitting in a metaphorical ER waiting for a job doctor to heal our financial injuries. And our political injuries are just as corrupt as any place around the globe; the only difference is ours are well-hidden — even from ourselves.


But as Americans, we have the freedom to be able to expose and fight against things that need fixing. We can freely shout from rooftops about government issues that piss us off without being ‘disappeared,’ tortured, or dragged to prison. Not every nation has this kind of freedom. I am deeply grateful for this freedom.

I guess it’s the juxtaposition of how maddening/gratifying it is going to the ER, and how maddening/gratifying it is sometimes to live in America, tri-juxtaposed over my MegaD’d ankle experience in Cuba….

It’s like how, as a kid, you ‘hated’ your parents because they were so clueless and always screwing things up for you. But the truth was:

  1. you loved them deeply under all that ‘hate’
  2. if anyone tried to hurt them, you’d die protecting them
  3. no matter what you said or did, they still and always took care of you
  4. no matter what they said or did – though you may rant, rage, and fight back – you still and will always take care of them.

This is how I feel about America.

Because it’s my country. And I love it.


What do you love/hate about your country?


Random Topic Tuesday 


5 thoughts on “Hitchhiking Through Communism With a Sprained Ankle

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