I threw a smile at the stubbly, dark-skinned guy perched next to me on my hospital bed. He was clearly not a boomerang lover – nothing came back.
Then the handcuffs caught my eye, the metal catching the little available light in the noisy, crowded room. I kicked at the flies buzzing around my feet.
Vomiting, diarrhoea, a headache and a high fever had brought me to the emergency department of a municipal hospital in a small, middle-of-nowhere town called Açailândia in the northern state of Maranhão.
Arriving on mototaxi (motorbike) was painful, but trying to explain my condition to the receptionist amidst the bedlam of screaming babies, mad people and drunks was excruciating.
“Write down your passport number,” the receptionist blurted. I didn’t really know why I had to, but I am now hopeful that on leaving Brazil it will be flagged up to a customs official.
“Ah Mr Vinter, your passport number reveals that you got a tad poorly while you were here in Brazil, so sorry to hear that, but glad to see you are looking better now. Hope you enjoyed the rest of your stay, come again soon Sir…”
The main reception area is a featureless affair of peeling paint and tiled floors. After half an hour I am escorted through a barred door, reminiscent of a prison, into a bare clinical room and told to wait (I think).
An hour later, the door opens and the same hospital porter tells me to stand in a sweltering corridor where about 35 other ill folk are mingling about.
I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but my rumbling stomach means I can’t stand up for long and I slump to a sitting position on the floor.
There’s the usual mix of A&E dwellers you find in English hospitals – drunks with head gashes, frail grandmothers and the odd guy with a sports-related injury.
The notable difference is the number of babies and young children here. There are several dozen, which provide their own hospital radio crying tune.
After a short while it dawns on me that there is some sort of queueing system, but quite where my spot is in that line is anyone’s guess.
Did my hour in the little room count for a bit of standing in line time? Being English I didn’t want to push in, but equally I didn’t want to be shoved to the back.
“Aqui? (Here?)” I ask those around me, pointing to a mid-queue spot.
“Aqui,” replies a smiley woman signalling the front of the queue. I think she understood that I had already waited an hour in the ‘gringo isolation chamber’.
However, her suggestion was met with a venomous attack by a frowny woman who fired off some words I could not decipher, but which I could only assume weren’t pleasant. She pointed to the back of the queue.
Others nodded in agreement and smiley woman looked at me apologetically and shrugged her shoulders.
I went to seek out the hospital porter who had dumped me in this mess to get to the bottom of ‘queue-gate’.
He promptly put me to the front of the queue, a move which was met by much vocal anger from those around. Everyone’s eyes threw daggers, apart from smiley woman, who winked at me and looked quite proud of herself.
Thankfully the doctor spoke a few words of English.
He prescribed half a dozen pills and potions – this for the diarrhoea, this for the vomiting for five days, this for the fever – before sending me to an adjacent room where I received an injection in my backside and my arm was attached to a drip.
I hadn’t eaten anything for two days and a lot of the water I’d drunk had come back up, so I guess I was pretty dehydrated.
It was here that I found myself next to the non-communicative, stubble-faced criminal and we sat in uncomfortable silence together for 90 minutes before I was given another drip and escorted to a secondary drip waiting room.
Finally I was done and six hours after I arrived I was discharged.
Next stop the tropical-disease rife Amazon jungle… See you again soon my Brazilian hospital friend.