Halloween Special: Broken glass and four stitches, the Nightmare on La Salle Street


Does anyone know the way to the emergency ward?

Foot soaked in blood, devil horns flashing above the rugby grazes on my forehead I look every inch a frightening Halloween monster.

But unfortunately the deep red stuff running across my right sole isn’t fake, it’s oozing from a real gash caused by the jagged edge of a broken glass bottle.


Why was the dirty rat so shocked? He’d just been flashed by a little devil

Waiting in a dimly lit hospital emergency ward in Peru as a poor toddler screams out with pain is no treat, in fact I think it’s the dirtiest trick I’ve ever been dealt on ‘La noche de las brujas’ – the night of the witches.

Distracted by the thousands of creepy costumes wandering along La Salle street, I had slipped in one of my sandals and the next thing I knew a helpfully positioned bit of glass had sliced open a one-inch cut by the arch of my right foot.

Initially I thought it might just be a Band-Aid job, but when I tried to buy a plaster the pharmacist insisted I take a trip to the hospital.

And so, after bleeding all over a taxi driver’s seat for 20 minutes, I find myself at the Honorio Delgado public hospital on the outskirts of Arequipa.

I am greeted by a friendly face on the reception desk. She takes my details and gives me directions to the ‘payment booth’.


All bought and paid for, my ticket to see the doctor

There is no National Health Service in Peru, if you don’t have insurance you pay for treatment on arrival in hospital at a little kiosk.

It feels a bit like I’m paying to get into some kind of bizarre theme park to take a ride on a hospital trolley.

A sign above reveals that to get past the unsavoury looking armed security guard manning the door between the reception area and the main hospital I have to fork out ten soles (about £2.50).

Offering up a 50 soles note, I am greeted with a casual shake of the head from the disinterested character on the other side of the glass.

She turns away and takes another slurp from her bottle of Inca Kola.


No angel: Waiting to be seen by the doc

No matter where you are in South America, no one ever seems to have change. Fortunately Sophie and I are able to dig out enough coins to cover it and without saying a word Miss Mute hands over some kind of ticket.

I stumble back to the original reception desk, get my receipt stamped and successfully negotiate my passage past the beefcake standing between me and medical assistance.

A kindly Peruvian woman spots me hobblling down the corridor, a trail of maroon stains being left in my wake.She stands and offers me her seat.

I sandwich myself between a pair of smiling locals and two posters on the opposite wall catch my eye.

One depicts the care path for an emergency department patient.


A cheery hospital sign indicating the route to the morgue

It illustrates that after arriving in hospital a patient is triaged, and sent to either the trauma or the less serious urgent care area.

Following that it’s more hospital care, discharge or, as the diagram ever so tactfully points out in white text against a  stark black background, the morgue. Nice.

Right next to this reassuring little flowchart and with no sense of irony a sign wishes the sickly sods who have found themselves in here a ‘Happy Emergency Day’ in bright gold letters.


Happy Emergency Day!

I try and lighten the grim mood around me by whipping out the stuffed fur rat I had bought for Halloween and placing it on my shoulder. When my neighbour sees it she jumps and screams.

I panic that she might be in here because of a dicky ticker so am more than a little relieved when moments later she realises it’s not real and begins to laugh, nervously.


What a stitch up: The prescription to buy a needle and thread

Unlike in Brazil I don’t have to wait for long until a young chap beckons me over to the room where the poor toddler is still screaming.

After quizzing me about what happened the nurse, called Joel, scribbles down some notes and sends Sophie off to buy a needle, thread, dressings and tape from the hospital pharmacy.

Meanwhile Joel, a friendly fella in his mid twenties, pokes around in my wound, digging out shards of glass with a bit of metal.

He tells me he is 12 hours into a 24-hour straight shift.

I ask how he copes. “It was hard at first,” he tells me, “but now it’s okay.”


Waiting to be patched back together

He says the cut is a centimetre deep and thrusts a needle attached to a syringe full of anaesthetic into it. Sophie returns and Joel dextrously sews up the wound with four stitches.

My timing for the injury couldn’t have been worse. The following day we are due to start a three-day trek through the startling Colca Canyon.

“There’s absolutely no way you can do that,” says Joel. “You’ll risk opening up the wound and getting it infected, which could be very serious.” Reluctantly I nod in acceptance.

He hands me a prescription for some antibiotics and painkillers and I make my way out past a man holding a blood-soaked shirt to his head, dark red goo pouring out.

Another guy is in handcuffs being accompanied by police officers – an obligatory sight in any South American hospital in my experience.


As good as new: The pesky gash on my foot


Shall we go to another party? The atmosphere here is extinct

We jump in a taxi and although I don’t fancy walking much, the sight of thousands of costumed revellers wandering the streets prompts us to hop out and take a closer look.

Kids have made the greatest effort, with witches, dinosaurs and pink sheep among the snappier outfits.


Heeeere’s Freeeeddie…

But plenty of adults are still getting in on the act and Freddie Kruger, a herd of cows and a team of condoms all wander past.


Mmm cow’s heart kebab

Halloween, it would appear, is a bigger celebration than New Year’s Eve in Peru.

We pass a street stall selling a local delicacy called anticuchos.…cow’s heart kebabs.I decide now is a good time to sample this speciality.

They are surprisingly delicious and we follow them up with some even more tasty alpaca meat ribs.

The anaesthetic begins to wear off and we head home, but unlike everyone else I am unable to change out of my hideous Halloween costume.


About travellingtoothbrushes

We are a couple of journalists with restless toothbrushes. Our teeth scrubbers seem unable to leap out of their respective washbags to take up a permanent residency on the bathroom shelf. So, we've decided to let them live the way they want to and take them on a trip around South America...
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18 Responses to Halloween Special: Broken glass and four stitches, the Nightmare on La Salle Street

  1. Dave says:

    Thanks for that Phil! I’m not even at work yet and after reading about your gash I feel really quite queesy! I hope the wound heals quickly!

  2. andonyfrank says:

    I just wanted to comment your blog and say that I really enjoyed reading your blog post here. It was very informative. Keep it up and I’ll be back to read more soon.

  3. Lieske says:

    Mate!!! How hideous!!! When will you be able to go on your trek?! So, trips to A&E so far is it Phil 2, Sophie 0?!

  4. Tia Annegret says:

    Good Grief – and me worry about altitude sickness in Macchu Picchu…
    After Sophie’s mail I half expected to read that you were attacked by Freddie for wearing the wrong t-shirt …

    La Tante

  5. Mum and Dad says:

    Buy some decent shoes on us! Hope you don’t have to miss out on the canyon.

  6. All I can say is OUCH! 4 stiches – a bandaid would not have cut it for very long!

  7. Pete says:

    Hilarious blog Phil, must say you always turn disasters into witty, perceptive, and educational accounts of life on the other side of the planet. Keep it up. (The writing, not the disasters!)

  8. Morgue! That is hilarious. It’s good to know that simple observation can’t lead to an early grave, that would be spooky.

  9. Hiya Tony, thanks for taking the time to comment and cheers for giving our little blog a mention on your site. Just been having a gander, great site – have added it to my bookmarks!

    As for the sign indicating the way to the morgue, well I’m not dead yet, so fingers crossed!

  10. What a pain, literally! But I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this so it was worth it, from my point of view at least… (and you are right, no-one in South America EVER has change)

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