David Panama hospital

Surgery in David, Panama

I kept my eyes on the tile floor as I was wheeled toward the x-ray room.  I was in a wheelchair in a flimsy hospital gown, the kind that sort of closes in the back, barely.  I’m sure there are a lot of considerations in the gown’s design, but there has to be a better one.  En route, we passed through the emergency room waiting area filled with people.  I made eye contact with no one.  

After the x-rays, they wheeled me down the hallway again into the EKG room where they ramped up the humiliation by pulling the gown down so they could attach little probes all around my heart area.  


This was how the day of my knee surgery began.  Thankfully the hospital staff was very professional.  I’ve had no food nor water since the previous night.  They admitted me to a private room in the morning and conducted the tests that included the x-rays and EKG.  

Hospital in David Panama
Hospital Chiriqui, David Panama

A phlebotomist came in to draw my blood samples and hook up an IV.  He did not use gloves and seemed awkward trying to switch between the vials of blood.  He ended up getting blood all over his hands, some on my hand and a bit on the sheets.  Different country different practice, but so far I’ve been treated with respect and care.

By 10 AM I was ready for surgery, but I had to wait.  There were three other surgeries before me.  They estimated that I would be in surgery at 2 PM.  I was hungry.

My knee had been bothering me since we left the states last October but got really bad after one of our very steep volcano hikes in Costa Rica. It kept swelling up and giving out on me.  I decided it was time.


I went with Dr. Barria who was highly recommended by Roger, our current Workaway host.  Roger has had a successful surgery to rebuild his knee and he regards Dr. Barria with high praises.

When I consulted with Dr. Baria, I knew right away that I’d made the right choice.  He did a physical examination of my knee and gave me his initial assessment.  Then he asked for an MRI and confirmed those assessments.  He suggested that surgery should be done immediately in order to prevent further damage to my meniscus, the cartilage that acts as knee shock absorbers.  He also recommended possibly doing PRP injections depending on the severity of the meniscus damage.

An MRI before Surgery

There is fold in the plica on the kneecap that is supposed to have gone away after teenage years, kind of like wisdom teeth.  Apparently, I still have this fold and it was causing irritations on my knee.  I also still have all of my wisdom teeth.  My body needs to learn how to let go.  This plica will need to be released and the kneecap put back in place.


Finally, at 6:30 PM, I was wheeled into the surgery room.  I had waited eight hours. I lay there alone on the cold table in a large concrete room. The double door was open and the doctors and scrubs were walking back and forth outside.  The walls of the room were a patchwork of colors where it had been repaired in various places.  A large light loomed over me reminding me of some alien abduction film.  I felt vulnerable in this flimsy gown and knew that soon they would put me under and I was totally at their mercy.

A nurse walked in with a syringe.  She told me “duerme” meaning sleep. I would be out soon and then I would wake up with a fixed knee, or so I thought.  They began the surgical preparations, tying my arms down to a crossbar that came out to the sides. I watched them do all these, and then my eyelids became heavy.  The sedative had begun to kick in and I welcomed it. I fell asleep to the hum of surgical machines.


When I awoke I felt very relaxed and could feel nothing from my waist down.  I don’t know how long I was out, but I looked around and saw the same patched walls, heard the same sounds of machines humming.  There was a sheet hanging in front of me and I saw the profiles of people standing beyond it.  I was still in surgery.  I woke up too early.

I was still in surgery. I woke up too early.

Evidently waking up during surgery runs in my family. My father woke up during his open heart surgery years ago.  They put him back under immediately.

“Can I watch?” I croaked.  If Dr. Barria was surprised to see me awake, he did not show it.  He told the nurse to partially take down the sheet so I could see the screen.

I could see the two metal probes protruding from my knee on the screen to my right.  Dr. Baria pointed out the cartilage and my knee cap and explained what he was doing as he was doing it.  He chiseled on my kneecap.  I could hear the metal tapping and feel a tug on my leg but there was no pain.  It was cool to see the inside of my knee.

Soon the nurse pulled the sheet back up.  I tried to pull it back down with my hand that was tied out to my side but the nurse just added more tape to keep the sheet up.  They were closing up and did not want me to watch the final clean up.  It was a bit humiliating during the clean up as I was exposed to a room full of doctors.  This part I would have rather slept through.


I was wheeled back into my room around 9:30 PM.  My rib cage and everything below it was still numb. I stared at the sheet over my feet telling my right foot to move.  Nothing.  I touched my waist and could barely feel it.  It was as if I was touching my skin through a heavy woolen coat. 

The nurse said I had to wait an hour more before I could start eating.  As soon as that hour was up, Trin made me a turkey sandwich and I ate it up.  The hospital dinner was brought in and I ate some of it as well but gave the rest to Trin.  And then sleep overcame me again.

In the morning Dr. Barria stopped in and tried to get me to lift my leg.  It would not lift.  I kept trying to send brain signals to it, but nothing.  The doctor said it was probably due to the anesthetics still, but I was to do the exercises that the physical therapist showed me the day before.

Knee after Surgery
Knee is twice the size, one day after surgery.  Bruising increased over the following week, but thankfully the cuts were minimal.


When I got back to Boquete I started laughing on the way to my room.  This is another odd family trait.  When we have extreme pain we start to laugh, for some reason.  I could barely do the exercises on the first day and I used my other foot to help lift my leg.  But with each passing day, I’m amazed at how much better it is getting.

I’ve been having physical therapy sessions twice a week, and it has been excellent.  They seem to have all the modern equipment that I had found during my research.  The staff has been wonderful.  I’m excited to soon have a reliable knee back.  It shouldn’t be too long now.  There are just too many mountains I want to climb and trails I want to hike.

14 thoughts on “Surgery in David, Panama”

  1. Glad that the surgery is now behind you. Looks like laparoscopic surgery from the 3 little cuts. Best way – less chance of infection. Love you

  2. David Robinson

    I wouldn’t mind watching YOUR surgery, BUT NOT MY OWN! Glad you’re on the road to recovery. Take care.

  3. I hope you heal quickly. I know there are so many more place you and Trin want to see. Take care of yourself so you can move on to your next adventure!

  4. Holy cow!!! This post gave me a spike of anxiety. Here’s the big question…how is your knee now? And, how much did the whole procedure cost? I’m going to try to forget the image of your blood spilling all over the place for the rest of the night/my life.

    1. The knee I had surgery on is great now. It took a long time to build it back up to full strength but I have minimal issues now. The entire surgery with hospital stay was a little over $8K. We have a $5K deductible, insurance covered the rest along with PT and Glucosamine and Cologne supplements that helped it heal faster.

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