Lessons in island living: the case of the elusive medication

Genesis-page-001Vieques, Puerto Rico is indeed an idyllic place to visit. The quality of the beaches, the eternal summer, the clear seas, the constant wind, makes it a paradise for beach lovers. But everything comes with a price.


Health care is lacking. I would say it is behind third world country level. For the last year or so the situation has become critical and nobody seems to notice or care. The emergency room at the only clinic (usually called a hospital) does not stock medications. You read right, the emergency room/clinic does not have medications on stock. If you are in real bad shape they will ship you out of island, else, “Here is a prescription, go get it at the pharmacy when it opens tomorrow”. There are no specialists on the island and the only pharmacy in town does not carry medications beyond the absolute basic and not even that. The last eight medications I have gone there for are not available, this includes high dose oral and IV antibiotics, ear antibiotic, and low dose thyroid hormones. Things that were available there before are not available now.


For the record, I am a health care professional and was born and raised in Vieques, which means that I have knowledge about health care and have family and contacts in the island. I am ahead of the game and I am still not able to get my medications when I need them. Let me tell you my story this week. This happened yesterday, Mar 4, 2016. I had come down with all the signs of a lower respiratory bacterial infection and, because I have a stock of antibiotics in my house prescribed by my specialist in San Juan for my chronic condition, I was able to start treatment immediately on my own. Half way thru my first course of antibiotics I had to switch to another one. By the end of the second course of antibiotics my infection was still blooming and my lab culture results were not back. It takes more than one week to get a positive culture result back to Vieques. I had an emergency prescription on hand for a third antibiotic which I did not want to use but by then my chest hurt slightly when breathing and I could barely sleep at night with the congestion. The local pharmacy do not stock this particular antibiotic so my option was to travel to the main island just for that or use the only other alternative in Vieques, the new to Vieques, Genesis pharmacy.


Genesis offers prescription delivery to your house, usually the next day, but they do not stock any medications in Vieques. I decided to use Genesis and not risk getting Influenza in the public ferry system to get to Walgreens in the big island. I faxed and emailed my prescription to Genesis in Fajardo early in the morning of Mar 3, 2016 but was unable to get a response from them to know if they received it or not. The prescription was to be delivered to Carolyn’s store in Downtown. The next morning I went by Genesis counter in Vieques to check the status of my prescription. I was told that they did receive it and the carrier doing deliveries in Vieques already had it. My lab culture result was not in yet and I was feeling worst by the minute. I was afraid that if I did not get that antibiotic on Friday, I was going to be doomed in Vieques on a weekend when there are no doctor offices open, you are stuck with the ER doctor of turn (I have not had good experiences there), and the only pharmacy closes on Sundays. By 2 pm, no med yet, I went to the Genesis counter again. I asked where was the delivery guy so I could go to wherever he was and get my prescription there. I was told, “He is in the pincho stand next to William’s Pizza”. I said, “Oh, he is in lunch break.” “No, he works there”. And there he was, flipping pinchos two doors from the shop where the delivery should have been made. I asked for my prescription and the guy dutifully went to his car, retrieved my medicine, got my signature and continued flipping pinchos.


Today, I feel better but will not know for sure for two or three days. I hope the labs will be back by then and I can confirm if the antibiotic I am using is good. While the rest of the island celebrates the cancellation of the no alcohol law during the republican presidential primaries in Puerto Rico, I wonder what will it take for the people to get their heads out of their favorite watering hole and realize the real conditions in which we are living.



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