One minute you’re walking late night through the streets of an Argentinian wine town with new friends. The next you’re sitting in a police car with lights flashing, driven by a cop who doesn’t speak English as he takes you and your bleeding husband to the hospital.
This is the story of what happened to us last night — and this could only have happened to us — and how incredibly lucky we were to have met the perfect people at the perfect time. It was Friday night and earlier that day we had taken a tour of four of Mendoza’s best wineries. The ones we visited were small and family-owned, with grapes picked and aging bottles turned by hand and walks through the actual vineyards led by the actual owners — completely different from the bigger, more commercial names nearby. Our B&B, Plaza Italia (I cannot recommend this place enough – on looks alone I am in love with it then add in their service and I’m a believer), arranged the daylong tour for 6 of us and on it we met a couple from Colorado Springs, Heidi and Deiter, also staying in our place. Important footnote #1: Heidi’s Spanish is flawless. After the wine tour, we made plans to go together that night to a concert that’s part of the huge wine festival happening this weekend. At 11:30pm we met up, sharing a bottle of wine as we walked around the streets, looking in at the many bars and restaurants in this busy little town. We finished the vino and sat outside at a bar, had a few drinks and headed to the concert around 1:30am. We got to the plaza just in time to hear the band thank the audience. The concert had just ended, so we watched the huge fireworks show that followed and decided to walk around a bit more before heading home. It was a gorgeous night – clear sky, full moon, 80 degrees and still. The guys each grabbed a bottle of beer for the walk home (no habla open container law in Argentina). Important footnote #2: Mendoza is actually in the middle of a desert. Which means dry. So the city brings in water from the mountains for businesses and departments to use, be it wineries or sanitation or the agriculture mavens who water the trees on the sidewalks. They do this via a huge aqueduct system and a strict schedule that says x amount of water will be brought in x number of times per week. On every street, between the sidewalk and the road, there are sequias, or cement ditches, for lack of a better phrase, about 3 feet deep that hold that water. In between water days, these little sequias are dry. The moment we saw them we wondered how many idiot tourists had fallen into these, because there is nothing separating them from the sidewalks. I said it’s extremely likely that a few had been drunken Americans and can you imagine (I’m assuming you already are). So we are walking home on this beautiful night at around 2:30am, talking about nothing and everything, when all of a sudden I hear, “oh my God.” It was Deiter, behind us, who was walking beside Anthony, except now Anthony was below him, where he had fallen into the ditch. We had been walking and talking and he wasn’t looking at the ground and therefore walked straight off the sidewalk and fell into a sequia. He had landed on his ass with his feet under him and there was broken glass from his beer bottle everywhere. We pulled him out and he said he was fine, just couldn’t believe he had done that after we had talked about it all weekend, and of course people were staring in the streets and plaza just across from us (no one sleeps, this place is great). Someone said there were ambulances nearby if we needed. We thought he was fine and said no need, thank you. A minute later I noticed his left hand and blood rushing out of it. I think he was still in shock from the fall — he said it was fine, took his t-shirt and shirt underneath it off, wrapped his hand in the wife beater, put the t-shirt back on and said let’s go home. We looked at the cut again and it was profundo. Deep deep deep. That was negativo on going home. We looked for the ambulances and they had just left, so we followed the blue flashing lights to a group of policemen stationed in the plaza for the festival, which was now over for the night but still had people milling around, drinking, cleaning up, hanging out. Heidi explained to the police (this is where her amazing espanol comes in) what had happened and inquired about an ambulance. The head cop asked who needed to go and I said just the two of us. Heidi and Deiter had an early AM flight out so I wanted them to go home — but inside I was panicking. My Spanish is just ok, and it’s nowhere near good enough to deal with doctors and hospital administration staff and questions about what Anthony’s allergic to (I don’t even know that answer in English what kind of wife am I) and what if they asked me a question and I inadvertently told them it’s fine to take his whole hand off??? The head cop did the absolute best thing that he could have for us, and he did it without even thinking about it — he told one of the officers to take us to the hospital, stay with us, then to bring us back to our hotel afterward. I almost cried in relief. I told Anthony what the officer was going to do, we said goodbye to our new friends and we got in the police car before the officer had time to say no. I had a momentary crisis as we got in — this guy was doing us a huge favor and going above and beyond. Do we sit in back of the police car like he’s driving miss Daisy, or even like two criminals? Or do we sit up front with him and maybe cross a line or encroach on his personal space? In the end Anthony sat up front — I felt better the closer he was to the cop — and I sat in back. He turned on the flashing lights and off we went. The officer didn’t speak English and Anthony no habla the espanol, so I tried my best to traducir for the two of them. It was comical (not to Anthony who was bleeding but I’m sure in 20 years it will be). We pull up to the gates of the hospital, park outside the emergency room entrance and there are a lot of people there, most not so savory. It’s late Friday night during a huge festival weekend of wine, and the big party and concert had just ended, so the masses had injured themselves and were all here waiting to be seen. Oyyyyyyy. Meanwhile, while not life threatening, Anthony’s hand has completely bled thru the shirt wrapped around his hand. The officer pushes us ahead of everyone to the check-in, says something to the guy behind the window and within minutes Anthony is checked in. At this point the officer is doing all of the talking for us then explaining to me after each interaction what just happened. Even though he’s talking directly to me I can’t understand a word he’s saying, so I just keep nodding and hope I didn’t somehow donate one of Anthony’s organs. They usher us straight back to a room with a sign above it that reads UNIDAD DE TRAUMA, leaving outside a rough-looking group of people who have presumably been waiting to be seen for a while. They put Anthony on an examining table then leave us to deal with more pressing issues – a woman on a backboard with stitches already in her face who looked like she had just been in a car accident, a young girl bleeding from her head, a man on a gurney who wouldn’t talk but on whom they kept checking every few minutes. There were two rooms in this area; we were in one and they seemed to be working on the serious cases in the one next to us. The doctors looked efficient and very busy, but this place wasn’t the cleanest, with old bandages on the floor and aged equipment, and when I asked to use the bathroom, the nurse apologetically said, “it’s a public restroom.” I told her I didn’t care as long as I could go. I walked in, the light was flickering and it was a toilet bowl, as in no seat, just the bowl and tank, in the middle of the room and that was it. The door didn’t close all the way, there was no sink and forget toilet paper. All this time our officer friend is waiting with us in the trauma area (that’s him stationed outside the room in the photo below, staring at Anthony thru the window). Eventually the doctors made both the officer and me wait out in the hall. I tried to protest and say my husband doesn’t speak Spanish, but to the doctors no importa — it was 4am by now and the place was filling up. We considered leaving because we worried they’d never get to us with the amount of bigger injuries around us, and we had a 9am taxi picking us up to take us to the bus to go to Chile — but we were there with an escort and the cut was deep, and I couldn’t let us leave. We must have looked like delinquents — Anthony in his all-American jeans and flip flops, hair everywhere, with his hand wrapped in a bloody cloth, me looking like a 16-year old girl not wanting to leave her boyfriend (one of the doctors said to me, “you can wait outside for your boyfriend”) and a cop standing guard outside the room waiting for us. All the while a woman down the hall was screaming bloody murder, providing the soundtrack to our evening. The officer said she’s probably inebriated and none of the many medical staffers present seemed worried. Finally, at 4:30am, Anthony emerged, three stitches richer and hand bandaged up. He managed to find the one nurse who spoke a bit of English, asked her if she really thought he needed this or should he just go home and get out of everyone’s way, and minutes later she was sewing him up. She wrote a prescription for antibiotics (thankfully he’d gotten a tetanus shot before we left the States) and we were able to get the meds for free (yep, thanks South America) from a pharmacy in the hospital. The officer told us to stay put and went to get the pills for us. Then he drove us home, waiting until he saw that we were in our hotel safely. He was increible. It was 5am now and we had 4 hours til the taxi arrived, so we took showers, packed bags and he put his leg up, as he also sprained his ankle in the fall. Slept for an hour, had breakfast and off we went. Now we are on the bus for 6 hours to Santiago and we’ve devised a sort of raised leg rest for him in our seats, while we sleep off and on.
I can’t believe a) my husband fell into a hole while drinking a beer, b) we were brought in a police car to a hospital in the middle of Argentina, and most importantly, c) that the police jefe assigned one of his men to take us to, stay with us at and return us from the hospital, without even knowing our story (we must have looked desperate and he must have really felt sorry for us), and then how much that officer did for us (also d) how is there no soap in a hospital bathroom??) Hospitals are a scary place. Seeing the person you love bleed alot and not knowing how to help him is really scary, no matter how superficial the cut. And doing all of this in a place where you don’t understand the language and have no understanding of what’s going on is scariest. Important footnote #4: Did I mention we paid nada for the hospital??? and the meds? NADA. I asked the cop how we would pay and he looked at me with pity and shook his head. Everything is free, he said, and asked what happens in the States. I didn’t have the energy to explain so I just said, “it’s muy distinto.” Then I marveled again at how muy suerte we were. And sent up a little prayer of thanks.
(Photos from the rest of our stay in Mendoza here.)
A sequia, or ditch, like the one Anthony fell into: