The Llama Diagnosis: a true story, by Cristina Matta, writing as Krystiana S.K.

            The room was even more stark and sterile looking than my daughter’s pediatrician’s room here in the United States.  White, Ikea-looking furniture seemed to blend into the walls in a freakish, science fiction kind of way.  I stood by my brother-in-law watching the Peruvian doctor poke and prod at my daughter’s eyes.  After a moment the doctor – a rotund woman also in clean, crisp white – still peering worriedly at her patient said, “What worries me the most is how much her eyes pop out of her head.”

            After a moment, his own eyes popping a bit, my brother-in-law stuttered, “But… but her eyes have always been like that.”

This was true.  Almost from the minute she was born I called her my little frog – and not only because she, with green eyes to boot, had caused my hormones to go completely out of whack – thereby compelling me to come up with kooky nicknames instead of something more affectionate like “sweetie” or “honey”.

I tried not to chortle as I respectfully nodded my head at the doctor.  My daughter, who had been having bloody diarrhea for over two weeks, sat placidly on the bed/table thing that all pediatricians’ offices seem to have.  She was eleven and had already figured out that adults knew next to nothing, so the doctor’s observations didn’t faze her.

As the pre-teen continued to ignore the doctor, the doctor ignored my brother-in-law.  “When you get back to the U.S., have her thyroid checked.  In the meantime, she can eat whatever she wants.  I see nothing wrong with her.”

“Even ice cream?”  My brother-in-law asked, jaw dropping.  He had already asked the question of what she could eat before the doctor examined her.  She had been on the BRAT diet for several days and was craving lucuma-flavored ice cream.

“Of course,” said the doctor.  She didn’t seem to notice the look of incredulity that both he and I had on our faces.  Perhaps our eyes, being too small, were hard to read.

I continued to say nothing as we paid our $25.00 bill and left the clinic.  Since then I have learned that people with overactive thyroids could indeed have a problem with their eyes.  This was not my daughter’s case (we double checked when we got back).

She continued to have bloody diarrhea.  So when we got up to Cusco, which is 11,000 feet up in the Andes Mountains, and she got worse, we called for another doctor.  He had us take her directly to a clinic where they promptly hooked her up to an IV, drew a few vials of blood and stuck an oxygen tube up her nostrils.  We were informed that since she had only 80% blood oxygen and was dehydrated, she would have to stay the night.  We’d get the results of the blood tests the next morning.  I was the designated parent to stay with her.  That was fine, I wasn’t about to leave her.

The clinic was dark and tiny and I had no idea where I was.  “Please ask them who will be staying here with us tonight,” I implored my husband as he left to go back to the hotel.  Not many people – just a doctor, a nurse and an aide.

When we were all alone, my skinny little pale daughter’s popping eyes stared out at me.  I stared back.

“Mom, can I take this thing out of my nose?”  She pleaded.

“No, baby, you can’t.”  Such difficult words to say…

I was looking around the room.  The walls were painted creamy beige.  The nurse came in and handed me a dark blue blanket.

“You can use this tonight,” she said to me, “and you can sleep either in this bed (meaning the one I was sitting on, next to my daughter’s) or in the chair.”

“How long does each of those last?” I asked, indicating two large bags of liquid that she had placed on the table by the IV.  They were identical to the one already hooked up to my daughter.

“Five hours.”

I almost choked on my own saliva, “Five hours?”

It didn’t take me long to calculate that we were scheduled to be in this nightmarish place for another fourteen hours or so.  I glanced nervously through the window on the door at the now dark hallway.  Then I took stock of what I was wearing: jeans and a t-shirt, my bra and panties, my contact lenses and surely some residue of the makeup that I had slapped on that morning at 4a.m. before heading to Lima’s airport on the way to Cusco.  Not an ideal outfit to sleep in, but better than the tubes my daughter had on…

The nurse left and I climbed into bed with my daughter.  Even though the beds were much narrower than twin size, it felt good to have her little body next to mine.  And I’m pretty sure she felt the same.

It was a long night.  I think I got some sleep, but it could have been a half-dream.  The next day when my husband came back and offered to stay for a few hours I almost dashed out before he gave me the directions to get to the hotel.  Mother of the year award goes to me this year!!!

A few hours later, after a shower and several cups of coca tea – yes, coca (not a drug though, really), I went back to the clinic.  We got her dressed and ready to go.  Then we talked to the doctor.  This doctor, not the same one from the previous night, gave us a twofold diagnosis: a parasite and Typhoid fever.  Interesting.  The parasite I could believe.  But my daughter had not experienced even a one-degree-above-normal fever since she had gotten sick, and certainly not in this clinic.

But we were too worn out to argue.  We accepted the medicine they doled out and left.  Her parasite medicine was enough to cure a horse – two huge, white, chalky pills that she choked down valiantly.

She didn’t get better on that trip.

But she was a very brave girl and bore with us so that we could get a family picture at Machu Picchu.  I’ll treasure that picture for the rest of my life, and one day I hope that she’ll look at it and say, “Mom, even though I was pale as a ghost and had to stop every five minutes during the short walk up the hill to get there, I am glad that you made me go take that picture.”

Maybe that’ll happen…

It turns out that she has Colitis – a chronic inflammation of the lower intestine.  She’s taking 18 pills a day for now, and two powders.  It’s been quite an adjustment for us.  It doesn’t run in either family, we knew nothing about the disease, and it was quite shocking to find out that she will have to adjust her life so much at such a young age.  But at least we know what it is now, and I know she’ll be fine.

During a good moment on the trip, between doctor visits, we took a picture of her grinning next to a llama.  Her bulging eyes had become the joke of the trip with the eighteen friends and family we were traveling with.  Now my little frog has another nickname.  The llama might have been sick, but she has a great sense of humor!

Llamas at Machu Picchu


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