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Getting Sick in Panama

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Written by Matt   
Tuesday, 06 October 2009 07:27
One day last June, cure a terrible mistake was made and I was chosen to be interviewed by a large US publication for an article about retirement in Panama. I remember it because I was really sick at the time with symptoms akin to the ten plagues of Passover: stuck in this irresolvable state of sluggishness. So much so, that when the writer from the magazine called, my good friend Keenan wanted to answer the phone and apologize, but that I was dead. All of this took place in Panama City, which, when it comes to medical consultations, is comically inexpensive. One time I developed this weird rash on my shoulder and after a doctor's appointment, parking ticket, and bottle of prescription meds ended up spending about $42. If it was so cheap, I figured, why not get sick more often? The level of care can vary greatly considering another time my doctor forgot to show for my checkup, later revealing that he was severely hung over from a night at the race track.

For the first few days of my sickness, I kept the chills and headaches to myself, thinking all the while what a good example I was setting. When Keenan feels sick, his inner friends and family hear about it immediately. A soreness in his back and he self-diagnoses a lumbar hernia. Small open wounds of any sort, and he claims to know exactly how JFK felt when he got shot. I often tell him there's nothing wrong, that it's all in his head. But he usually insists on announcing his grief over and over again until the entire neighborhood is aware of, let's say, his runny nose.

There was a time when Keenan and I were both lucky enough to catch the same flu in the same week. We work in close proximity to each other and often drink from the same beer bong so it was not unlikely that one of us passed it on to the other. Similar to the staggered tee boxes used to make more equal men's and women's golf, our common flu was a leveler - a way to truly gauge who was worse when it came to writhing in pain. We both had the exact same symptoms, but of course, Keenan believed his to be way worse. So there we were, lying in our own respective beds, arguing on the phone about who was in more pain.

It is at times like these that you have to step back and wonder how things got to this point. Buddies from college, reasonably successful business associates, level headed and social human beings, at variance, to the point of physical battle, over who had the highest fever. "I'm at 104 and I feel fine," I told him. "I mean really, I could go for a midday run right about now. What do ya say?"
Outside of the intensive care unit at the CDC, there is no better place for a hypochondriac to thrive than in Panama. The insects, cleanliness standards, and fertile tropical humidity read like a who's who of illness-causing agents. There's always some sickness floating around in Panama, not to mention the random things you can contract out in the jungles and beaches. So beyond his innate desire to come down with something, Panama offers Keenan something of a performance enhancer. A proofing support system to accommodate any of his particular ailments.

I ended up lying to the magazine editor and saying I felt great and it was a beautiful day in sunny Panama. It was, sort of, a last gasp at Keenan who was really enjoying having the tables turned for once: that I was the one lying sick in bed and he was optimist, claiming that being dramatic would only make things worse.

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