Sep 26 2014

Our Caja Experience, by Norman and Frankie Siegel

by Norman and Frankie Siegel

We recently met Norman and Frankie in Alajuela when we were having lunch at Jalapeños Restaurant, a favorite with both expats and Ticos. They recognized us from photos on our website and introduced themselves. They arrived in Costa Rica just this year, quickly applied for residency and joined the Caja. They agreed to share their recent experiences using the Caja, below:

Our Caja Experience

SiegelsWe are a retired couple, both over 75 years young, and very young at heart. We arrived in Alajuela, from Atlanta, Georgia on January 28, 2014, having rented an apartment sight-unseen, only pictures online. I might add, we had never visited the country either. We lucked out, and found a great place.

Unfortunately, our meds ran out after 3 months, and we had to start buying them at the Farmacia, and, of course that was a shock. Meds are not cheap here. At last, after only 6 months of nail-biting, we became legal residents and were members of CAJA.

Our experience has been great so far. We got our Caja cards (carnets) on Monday, and immediately went to see the doctor at our local EBAIS (clinic). We were told we needed an appointment and we figured we would have to wait, as we had been told of the long lines and waiting times. Our appointment was for two days later.

We arrived a few minutes early, and were taken right away. The nurse did a blood pressure check, height and weight and spoke to us in good English. We were told to wait in the room with others for the doctor. We waited about 20 minutes, and she (the doctor) called us in. She spent almost an hour with each of us, taking history and checking what meds we needed to refill. She spoke perfect English also. Before leaving she gave us referrals to specialists that we needed to see, as well as referrals for blood work and EKGs.

San Rafael Caja Hospital in Alajuela

San Rafael Caja Hospital in Alajuela

I had a concern which I discussed with the doctor. She did an exam and told me what she thought it was, but that she would like me to see a specialist. She wrote out a referral for me and I had to take it to San Rafael Hospital building in Alajuela for an appointment with the specialist. I got there, and there was a line about 75 people long. But because of my gray hair, I was told to go to the 2nd window, which was empty. A young lady, who also spoke some English, made the appointment for me, but it wasn’t to be for 4 months. I questioned it and told her that I needed to see the doctor sooner. She kind of smiled, and told me that, “On Wednesday and Thursday, you can come in and wait in front of the windows at 7 AM, and if they have a cancellation, or there is room, the doctor will fit you in.” That was on a Wednesday, so on Thursday at 7 AM, we were waiting in front of the windows. After we waited about 45 minutes, the young lady came out to me and said, “The doctor will see you at door number 8 down the hall.” When we got there, there were about 30 people waiting already, but about 35 minutes later, the doctor called me into the room and did an examination. Fortunately, it was nothing serious. His words to me (in English) were “I’m not worried.” He ordered some additional tests, and said, “See you in six months.”

Our CAJA experience so far has been one of complete satisfaction. I would say I have waited for doctors or appointments for a lot longer period of time than we have so far here in Costa Rica. We love it.

To be continued.


Norman and Frankie Siegel

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1 comment

  1. Norman and Frankie do seem to have had a great CAJA experience! I just completed my second visit to my EBAIS doctor (local clinic) – since my experience differs a bit from theirs (in Guanacaste), I’ll summarize some key differences.

    After getting my “carnet”, I asked about making an appointment with the doctor. I was told to come back before 7 am on a weekday to stand in line for an appointment. The line starts forming around 6 am for people that want to ensure an appointment that day. I arrived around 6:30 am. When I got to the appointment window, the woman (who only spoke Spanish) said that I could not get an appointment that day. (She was not particularly friendly or helpful – perhaps doesn’t like gringos that don’t speak fluent Spanish?). I asked if I could get an appointment for another day, so she made an appointment for the following week.

    I arrived a little early for my appointment and eventually was called to see the nurse to take my blood pressure and ask questions about why I was seeing the doctor that day. She was friendly, but also only spoke Spanish. I speak a moderate level of Spanish and I had typed up a summary of my medical needs in English and used Google Translate to convert to Spanish, so I was able to communicate with her relatively well, with some minor difficulties.

    I then sat back down in the waiting room until called to see the doctor. The doctor spoke some broken English – we helped each other out with words periodically as we communicated. He was relatively friendly and wrote prescriptions for a few medications I take daily. He could not prescribe one of the medications unless I saw a specialist first. He also gave me orders to have blood testing done and a chest x-ray. After completing my meeting with the doctor, I went to the EBAIS pharmacy in the same building and requested my medications. I got those after about 15-20 minutes. I also went back to the window for appointments and made an appointment for the following month. I left about 2 1/2 hours after my arrival.

    Blood testing is done only on Wednesday mornings at the clinic, starting at 7 am. Again the line starts earlier. I arrived about 6:40 am and when the doors opened, a line formed outside, at the rear of the building. Older people, sick people, and pregnant women generally went to the head of the line. I stood in line for over an hour before having my blood taken. She also only spoke Spanish.

    I called the hospital in Nicoya where I was to get my x-ray. They said I could not get an appointment by phone but must come in person to make an appointment (over an hour from my home). Then she said the next appointment available for a “routine x-ray” would be 4 to 5 months away!

    I went to my second doctor’s appointment the following month. Some blood test results had not yet come back. When I told him how long it would take to have the chest x-ray done, he changed the prescription to say “urgent”. He said I could then go to the hospital and they would make an appointment for the same day. (I haven’t done this yet.) He set up my next appointment for 3 months away. He gave me prescriptions for my medications in 30-day installments – I need to come back to the EBAIS pharmacy each month to renew my prescriptions. Again, it took about 2 1/2 hours to complete everything in a similar manner to the first appointment.

    I have mixed feelings about my CAJA experience so far. I do want to continue to get my daily medications at no additional cost, but I will likely use private doctors for new ailments, as I feel that clear communication is very important for medical issues.


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