Chile life: we almost had to leave our life in Puerto Natales because of an accident

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Monday the 31st of October. Everything was going great. Victor had a lot of work to do, I was approaching my first month of work and we had a 1-day trip to Argentina Tuesday to see the impressive glacier Perito Moreno. Some days earlier we had made a list of things we wanted to do during the season and after the season. We calculated the money we had and how much we would earn. We were being very positive about the future! Then I got a message from Victor that took us through an emotional roller coaster ride through the not-so-friendly Chilean health system.

THE ACCIDENT IN TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK

During a full-day trip to Torres del Paine Victor suddenly twisted his ankle. He still didn’t know how bad is was when he texted me and they were still 2 hours from Puerto Natales. When he finally got back to Natales I met him at the hospital. The doctor told him it might be the ligaments, but because it was holiday until Wednesday (this happened a Monday) he had to wait 2 days before they could take a x-ray image of his ankle. The only thing they could offer him now was  to put a cast on his ankle. For that we waited 2 hours and we repeatedly had  to remind the first-aiders that we were still waiting.

Wednesday we could finally get the x-ray image.  When we got the result from the doctor our world just crash and burned: a bone was broken and he might needed a operation. But the radiographer was on vacation until Monday so Victor needed to find a radiographer himself if he wanted an expert to look at the picture before Monday. No matter what, with a broken bone he could expect at least 3-4 months of recovery. For a outdoor guide in the high season is the worst message you can get. His season as guide was over in that minute. Victor was heart broken and I have rarely felt that helpless in my life.

A POOR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IN THE SUBURB

This was a first hand experienced with how it is to live in the suburb without a proper health care system. The nearest clinic with a radiographer was in Punta Arena, 3 hours by bus. Furthermore, they dont do such operations in Natales + Victors health care insurance didn’t work in Natales either, meaning he would have to pay himself for a physiotherapist during his recovery. So what did it mean for us? That our life in Puerto Natales was over. We would need to flight back to Temuco where his parents live and do the recovery there. As freelance guide Victor doesn’t have any unemployment insurance to support his lost salary. If he can’t work he can’t get money. So there was also a serious money issue attached to the whole issue. I would be the only one earning money, and my basic salary (without potential commission)only covers the rent.

But the bad experiences didn’t end here. At the hospital they offered to put a new cast on the ankle. We waited again like 1-1,5 hours and had to repeatedly ask the first-aiders when we could expect to get help. We just wanted to get home after this life-changing message. Finally a girl had time. Victor asked if she was certified to put on the cast and she said no. He then asked if he could get someone certified to do it and the girl came back with a doctor that literally said “its her or nothing. And I would recommend you that she puts on the cast”. So she did. Finally at home Victor noticed it was lose and he could move his ankle in it. Meaning his bad ankle was carrying the weight of the cast. His feet were cold and he didn’t feel comfortable with it.

GOOD NEWS FROM THE RADIOGRAPHER

Next day we had to take the 3 hour bus to a clinic in Punta Arena to get a radiographer to look at his x-ray images so we could know how bad it was and if he needed an operation. This was Thursday, 4 days after the accident. Emotional we were exhausted. Victor felt a lot of pain and he already lost like 4 days of recovery because we had to go back and forward from the hospital, waiting hours for assistance and then the bus trip to Punta Arena. The radiographer didn’t have time when we arrived and they wanted to take a new picture of Victors ankle. We waited some time again to get the doctors opinion. Finally he came and he got some information that could be good news; he could´t see any fraction in the pictures and Victor did´t need to wear the cast. But we had to wait for the radiographer to give the expert opinion. So we waited yet another 2 hours. Finally he came and he could pass on the good news; nothing broken, “only” the ligaments were damaged. If Victor made sure to stay calm and relax his ankle, he would be able to work in a month. What a relief! It changed everything like 180 degrees! We could stay in Puerto Natales, I could continue my work and Victor just needed to make sure to relax his ankle. So here we are, Saturday, 5 days after the accident. I went back to work yesterday and during my lunch break I get home to make lunch for us, giving Victor a hot-water bottle for his ankle and then back to work. Victor´s finest job is to stay in bed and do absolutely nothing! 😉 In a week he has to go to Punta Arena to see the radiographer again to make sure everything is fine. So fingers crossed that he will recover very soon.

LIFE IN CHILE – NOT AS A TOURIST

All what happened these days was the real life of how it is to live in Chile. I know things are very different in Denmark but to experience it was tough! To see how frustrated and worried Victor was – that was heart breaking! If Victor needed an operation he had to pay for it. We were very lucky. But some people here are not that lucky. They don´t have an insurance and they don´t have money. People dont really care if you can’t pay. You are no longer their problem. It made me appreciate our free health system a lot. Its not always perfect, but at least we dont have to worry about whether we can afford it or not. And if you get sick and can’t work you still get paid. We dont have these kind of worries as they have here. It made me think when Victor after some weeks in Denmark said to me:

“Know I understand why you only complain about the weather. You have no other real issues to complain about”. 

So to sum up: we are all good and feel lucky! Now Victor just need a fast but good recover!

puerto natales
Welcome to Puerto Natales – a picture from one of our first day together here
Puerto Natales - known for its Mylodon
Puerto Natales – known for its Mylodon

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