Dystopias could be worse…

Is there theramin music that goes with this?

A Panamanian way of life

by Eric Jackson

What can I say? I’m this weird old hippie with roots in the old underground press of the USA. Did that experience pervert me by exposing me to the personal classified ads in some of the raunchier media of the genre, like the old Los Angeles Free Press in which the late Harlan Ellison wrote his classic The Glass Teat television reviews? (Think that the actual case is that I was a sickie to begin with.)

Anyway in that old sub-genre of the US press, “SM” or “S&M” has a specific meaning, different from “SM” or “S/M” here. Go by a place in Panama that calls itself “S/M Ibeth” and you will not be greeted at the door by some lady named Ibeth and decked out in black leather regalia. It will be a little supermarket.

In the old LA Freep, the initials would more properly go with an ad like:

“You scummy CREEP! Call Vanessa RIGHT NOW for the discipline you crave”!

But then, for Gringos of yet a different mindset, “SM” could stand for yet another nightmarish perversion: SOCIALIZED MEDICINE.

I have been spending some time dealing with that lately. I was born in Panama to US citizens, and that makes me a dual citizen. And as a Panamanian I have had occasion to use the private and the bifurcated public health care systems. As a Panamanian working in the informal sector – by various counts among the majority or at least plurality of working men and women here, outnumbering the government employees and also those with formal jobs in the private sector – I am not covered by Seguro Social. However, I can pay to use their services, and in other cases I will use the Ministry of Health’s separate public system, which also charges fees for services.

The ULAPS clinic in San Jose, a short walk from Coronado, was doing a senior citizens’ health checkup drive in August and at my brother’s suggestion we went to partake. He’s covered by Seguro Social, but I am not. I have to pay a dollar to see the doctor, he gets that service for free.

La doctora, this overworked lady, does largely triage and referral work. After a cursory history taking and very basic exam, she sent me elsewhere for this and that test. Blood and urine work. An EKG. A series of blood pressure tests. A prostate cancer screening. Most of that done, I came back with a sheaf of test results papers and paid another dollar, waited most of the morning and into the early afternoon, and she reviewed the results and gave me a prescription. No gout problems this time. Nor blood sugar issues of concern. She did warn me about greasy foods and cholesterol in my diet.

HOWEVER, I have grown so old and buzzardly and cantankerous that she put me on blood pressure medication. I took her prescription to the pharmacy window at the other side of the little building, and after another brief wait, got a month’s supply.

The medicine stash cost me $1.50.

The horrors of Panama’s socialized medicine.


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