Sunday, July 22, 2012

Omnibus Adventura Gua'u

In preparation for my new job in Northern Ireland, I have been quite busy with visa paperwork and related errands. As there is no UK Embassy in Paraguay, I was required to go all the way to Buenos Aires (20 hrs via bus one-way) to do my biometric data and turn in paperwork... which would then be forwarded to Brazil for further processing and approval/denial. Odd that it takes the collaboration of 5 countries (UK, USA, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil) to get one temporary work visa. Goodness!

Anyhow, while all that has been a somewhat anticipated and yet rather ridiculous investment of time and effort- I did not expect it to get near as absolutely crazy as it eventually did. Thank you Latin American buses for my wildest travel story ever:

I should have known that my travel experience was going to be riddled with awkward problems when even before we got out of Paraguay (only 45 minutes to the border), we hit a cow. Yes- a COW. Luckily, the damage was apparently minimal because we stayed mostly on schedule for our border crossing and document check. Once on the other side, however, we hit something else!!! It was too dark to know what it was, but all the accidents meant we spent two hours from 11pm-1am in a repair shop.  We managed to make it to Buenos Aires in under 24 hours, though, in the end. 

All went off without a hitch in BA. Paperwork submitted and mailed to Brazil. No problems finding the hostel. A great visit with my friend Nahuel walking the centro and eating out. Lovely really.

My spirits high, I hopped on my return bus just one day after I had arrived for the long trip home. Four hours into the trip, things took a very precarious turn. A young lady and her 4-month baby were traveling with us alone back to the lady's home in Asuncion, Paraguay. Along the road and possibly aggravated by the rather uncomfortable travel situation, the lady's appendix burst. Dealing with the sharp pains and misery, she was unable to care for her baby as she vomited in the bathroom and sat rocking back and forth on the double-decker's stairs. Thus the passengers of the bus started to take turns rocking the baby and collaborating bottles and formula to help him calm down. The passengers pressured the bus drivers to take the lady to the nearest hospital, but being in an unknown area they did not want to leave the main road. They said they preferred to call an ambulance to wait for us at the next toll booth. However, once we arrived at midnight, there were no services available and the drivers were not even sure of the local emergency number. The passengers began to get online on their phones and look up hospital and ER information. Finally, after numerous calls and pleading, the police were contacted and an ambulance sent... after 1.5 hours on the side of the road. Thankfully, the baby had gone to sleep and the mother was still with us albeit in waves of pain. 

The ambulance took the mother into the truck to do a preliminary checkout and within minutes realized they needed to get the lady to an operating room immediately. We bought out the baby, but the paramedics would "not take responsibility" for the child. The drivers asked a passenger to give up their seat and stay in who-knows-where Argentina to take the baby to the hospital and care for the baby and mother at least until the operation was over and a contact could be reached. Understandably, I feel, nobody offered. The ambulance, meanwhile, was anxious to go and finally without warning took off- without the baby!!

So, there we were a bus of 70 strangers with a 4-month old baby in the middle of the highway. Now what? We found some numbers in the lady's purse to call potential family members, but not even they were willing to come and pick up the baby. We suggested to the drivers that we go to the hospital said to be only 3kilometers back on the road, but they refused. We called the police, but when they arrived the accused the bus of kidnapping the baby complicating the matter even more. We were told that we could not actually hand the baby over to a family member unless a judge determined the family member could be verified. They also would "not take responsibility" for the baby and get him back to mom. The passengers and drivers were at wits end, what could we do then? Finally a break-through. The mom had to be transferred to a new hospital and would pass by the bus on her way in the ambulance. The hospital director in collaboration with the police agreed POR FIN to take the baby with the mom to the operating room. But, we still needed a judge to make it all legal. By this time it was 4am- we had been on the side of the road for over 4 hours. The police started calling around to judges and the passengers started pulling out their identity cards and giving witness accounts to the police describing the situation. They debated taking us to the local police station and requesting everyone's statements... luckily that idea was shut down. Another hour went by and finally, we sign baby over to unconscious mom on her way to the Rosario hospital at 5am. Needless to say, we didn't make it back to Paraguay in under 24 hours.

When I got on the bus, I had a lovely chat with another young lady passenger. We talked about my task in Argentina and discussed some of the things that we knew to be different between Paraguay and the UK/Ireland. In addition to food and weather, one of the things I mentioned was bureaucracy, risk assessments, etc. They just plain don't exist or seem to matter in Paraguay, but in the UK they definitely do. Most of the time, I like that the rules are rather lax in Paraguay. It is much easier to start things up and get things done. But, after incidents like this I remember that a lot of bureaucracy was born out of necessity. If only the bus drivers had proper emergency information, much less a first aid kit which was also lacking. If only there was a standard operating procedure for emergency cases. If only the ambulance was required to take the baby in the first place. If only... I can think of nearly 10 different ways in which a little prior thought and preparation for emergency cases could have solved this situation without 5+ hours of hassle and confusion. 

All I know is, thank the heavens that it was not my appendix that burst on that bus. 

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