Incident In Malaga
by S Martha Montevallo ©2003

It was a Sunday evening in December 1984. I was rushing along the street in Malaga to a drugstore someone had told me was open on Sunday, but only until five. Bottled water was essential and I was almost out. I'd taken off my trifocals -- didn't need three views -- and was holding them in my right hand as I hurried along the brick sidewalk in the failing light looking for the drugstore that would be open only a few more minutes.

Whack! I tripped over the raised bricks of one side of a tree well that didn't have a tree in it and hit my head on the other side. Since my glasses were in my right hand, I twisted my arm attempting to protect them and break my fall at the same time.

Photo courtesy of Martha Montevallo
Photo courtesy of Martha Montevallo.

Before I could catch my breath a young man was hauling me up and I was saying "NO!" Easy enough to understand even in Spain. Undeterred, he yanked me to my feet and dragged me into a house that abutted the sidewalk. Every word of my meager Spanish flew out of my head and I couldn't have said "si" at that moment. It was clear that he didn't know these people, but he quickly persuaded them to take me in. They sat me in a chair in the middle of the room, and handed me a clean, I think, white handkerchief. They were grandparents, parents, and small children, all looking at me in wonder and amazement while they discussed what to do with me.

My rescuer and the young man from the house dragged me outside and put me in the front seat of a car. It was a venerable Chevrolet sedan that had seen many miles and potholes. My rescuer sat in back and when I allowed my hand to fall away from holding the handkerchief to my bleeding forehead, his hand emerged, gently grasped my wrist, and restored it to duty. I understood that we were going to a hospital. I understood that I had no control over events.

We traveled along a broad avenue in the dusk. There was little traffic, the area was park-like, broad and open. The air was clear, visibility good. There were no power poles or trees nearby. It was remarkably unobstructed. As we waited our turn to enter the traffic circle the windshield shattered and water flushed over the driver and me. How it happened, where the water came from is a mystery. The two men laughed nervously.

When we arrived at the hospital my benefactors let me out and departed. Someone put me in a wheelchair. They asked if there had been an accident because my jacket was wet and covered with shards of glass. I was able to deny an accident - fortunately it is the same word in Spanish - but I didn't have the vocabulary to tell them I had fallen on the sidewalk. For paperwork, they took my name.

Photo courtesy of Martha Montevallo
Photo courtesy of Martha Montevallo.

Next, I was lying on an examining table and a woman in a white uniform was threading a needle. She looked like she meant business. I kept saying "NO!" but she was undeterred. Finally I managed to sit up, get a mirror out of my purse, and take the first look at my bloody face. It was impressive.

"Necessario?" I asked.

"Necessario," she solemnly replied, nodding.

I lay down and resigned myself to whatever was going to happen. I felt each slight prick as she stitched me up and then a young red haired doctor came in. With about as much English as I had Spanish he asked me when I had last had a tetanus shot. When I told him it had been at least twenty-five years he nearly fainted. I got the shot.

Someone instructed me that I must not come back to the hospital to get the stitches removed but in four days must go to a clinica. Although there was no charge for the services at the hospital I would be expected to pay at the clinica.

Then they wanted to tape my arm to my chest. I felt sure that would just prolong the misery and probably leave me permanently maimed. They went out of the room to get supplies, leaving me alone, and I escaped. Maybe that's what they intended.

Outside it was dark. Since I hadn't arrived on my own and in full possession of my faculties, I was disoriented as to location. It was one of the few times in fourteen months of traveling that I took a taxi.

The next morning my right arm was useless. With my last few drops of bottled water I brushed my teeth - awkwardly with my left hand. In the mirror I saw a spectacular shiner, two, actually. The left eye blackened and purpled and browned and magentad in sympathy. My right arm was also extravagantly bruised, but it didn't show under my sleeve. Each day when I got on a bus everybody stared.

"Muy guapa, no?" (Very pretty, no?) I said, smiling. They laughed.

After the four prescribed days I went to a clinica to have the stitches removed. The doctor said it was a little early, maybe I didn't heal as fast as expected, so he took out every other one and told me to come back the next day, doubling his fee. The two visits cost a total of about $3.75. It was a couple of months before I got my arm fully back, and now my elbows donít quite match.

That's how I experienced socialized medicine in Spain and got the scar above my right eye.

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