The doctor will not only see you, but open the door for you, greet you by name and ask you to call her by her first name.

I take medicine for asthma. I have allergy pills and two inhalers (one for every day and one for emergencies), and they are pretty vital to my wellbeing. Since Dean’s job changed in April our insurance changed in April. As a matter of fact, Dean’s employer was so efficient, our insurance stopped the day Dean left the U.S. division to work for the international division of the same company. No end of the month for us. It took weeks to get information on our new Panamanian insurance which (I’m sure you could have guessed this) was not accepted at my local CVS pharmacy. My least expensive inhaler costs $375 in the U.S without insurance but with a coupon my pharmacist found (did you know there were manufacturer coupons your pharmacist and doctor have access to?).

It’s the end of July, needless to say I needed to get my prescriptions up and running. I’ve been living on samples my previous doctor gave me.

In Panama, doctors are associated with specific hospitals here. Hospital in one building, medical offices in attached building. You pick a doctor and you’ve picked a hospital (and vice versa). We chose Hospital Punta Pacifica. It’s associated with John Hopkins and came highly recommended.

I checked out the website looking for a family doctor. If I liked the doctor, maybe the menfolk would too. The boys had outgrown their pediatrician in the states so it was time.

The website doctor search engine helps you narrow down your choices and I picked a doctor. Available appointment times were listed for the next day.

It couldn’t really be this easy, could it?

I booked the appointment for the next day and hoped for the best. There was a comment section so I told the doctor I had prescriptions I needed to refill.

Two hours later I had an email from the doctor assuring me we would take care of the prescriptions and she looked forward to meeting me. She signed it with her first name and her mobile phone number if I had concerns before tomorrow.

We are clearly not in the U.S.

Dean and I drove to the appointment, couldn’t figure out how to get in the parking lot (I cannot begin to explain the one-way streets, the random U-turns and the one entry to a parking lot that if you miss it you travel 4 miles to turn around and try again… That’s a whole other post.). We ended up parking across the street at the mall and walking over.

We couldn’t find the correct office. We were looking for #210. There was a #209 and a #212 but nothing in between. We found an information desk. Turns out the doctor had moved to #608. We went to #608, a little cubby of an office with file cabinets and one desk. This wasn’t the right place either.

Now it was feeling like an ordinary medical experience.

The doctor was next door. We arrived at 11:26 a.m. for my 11:30 a.m. appointment. No one in the waiting room. The receptionist was dressed in a sharp-looking suit (I suspect it is the uniform for the hospital) and had a small form ready for me to fill out.

The doctor welcomed us in, seated us at her desk and proceeded to chat with both Dean and I for almost an hour. Gave us advice on dealing with humidity, answered questions about Panama and identified our animal photos, all while taking my medical history and asking about our family medical needs. It was unlike any conversation I’ve had with a doctor ever.

She was amazing.

Dean left the room, and she checked my lungs, my ears, throat and nose at the nearby exam table. She checked my blood pressure and my oxygen levels. We talked about habits that help asthmatics in this country. What to look for as I adjust to a new environment.

She recommended a doctor for Neil’s ear/hearing issues. She texted the doctor to make sure he spoke English and gave the doctor Neil’s information so he knew we would be calling.

I left her office with prescriptions to give to the insurance company. In Panama, you don’t need prescriptions for the drugs I use. Mostly you need a prescription for antibiotics and heavy pain medication. But you do need the prescription for the insurance company to pay for it.

We took the prescription to the pharmacy to be filled. As the pharmacists piled up 6 months’ worth of medication, I started getting worried about cost. With our insurance, we pay for medication and insurance company reimburses us.  Remember that $375 inhaler? It’s $78.60 in Panama.

And remember this post? My new doctor had a GOOD laugh at us. Turns out those are drug tests, not drugs for sale.

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