Safe Sex Revisted


One thing I’m up to here in Panama is starting a gluten-free baking business.  Right now, I have a few small cafe customers; in order to sell to larger vendors like supermarkets, I need a Carnet de Salud.  Mom researches this health certification process and informs me that it includes getting a pap smear.  I don’t think much about this requirement until I mention it to my friend and doctor sister, both of whom ask, “What does THAT have to do with preparing food?”  Good question.

Ali tells Mom I can complete a pap exam along with the other steps of the process at one of the local health clinics.  The closet one is in El Chorrillo, a neighborhood that suffered greatly during the 1989 US Invasion of Panama.  Today Chorrillo is poor and dangerous.  Mom and Dad got lost coming home one night and were stopped by a police officer who asked what they were doing.  After Mom explained, he told her to lock the car doors and to drive without stopping until they reached home.  Needless to say, no one in Chorrillo is going into my vajayjay.

Mom becomes interested in the reasoning behind this protocol as well and asks a doctor friend.  According to her, the requirement exists because the carnet can be used by both food handlers and prostitutes.  So in order to safely prepare muffins one must also be safe to perform sexual acts for money with strange men.  Makes sense.

Fortunately, we discover that I’m able to submit pap results from my own doctor.  I maintain that the pap requirement is bogus, but since I need to establish myself with a gynecologist here anyway, I go ahead and do the exam privately.  With results in hand I head to the next closest clinic in Paraiso.  What a nightmare.  Even though I am prepared with all of my paperwork it takes me 3 separate visits totaling 6.5 hours to have blood drawn, receive a dental exam, receive 3 vaccinations and put up with generally poor attitudes and inefficiencies by clinic employees.  I’m also subject to a rather intrusive medical history wherein I must give information about the year of my first menstruation, the date of my last period, whether I’ve ever had an abortion and asked to name the relation of any family members with disease.  I don’t generally have privacy issues but feel that this too much.  I also sympathize with the woman who wants to work at a bakery, for example, and has to answer very personal questions about her body in front of a stranger in order to do so.

If you live in Panama and happen to have additional information on this process or know someone who can fix it, please let me know.

In the meantime, I now have my carnet.  If this baking venture doesn’t work out, I suppose I’m *pre-approved* to engage in the world’s oldest profession.


10 responses »

  1. Laura, that was a very interesting report on your encounter with the Panama bureaucracy. Public safety is of course most important, but they should make it easier for people who are trying to comply with the rules. I hope you will keep reporting on such adventures. I’m sure it will help us understand what to expect when we try to navigate the bureaucratic maze.

    Also it would be interesting to hear more about your experiences with the Panama healthcare system. From your posts it seems like you have family members who are physicians. Of course we expats and soon to be expats are very concerned about healthcare quality and availability. In my trips to Panama I have had only one encounter with the healthcare system. Luckily I have always been healthy. But on one occasion my friend suffered an orthopedic injury at Playa Blanca beach. I took him to Punta Pacifica Hospital. As I’m sure you know, it’s affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine International. I was very impressed with the care they gave him. I am very observant and I can be very critical when it comes to healthcare issues. In my litigation practice I have always handled medical cases, and I have represented numerous physicians and hospitals. And my friend who had the ankle injury is a physician, a board certified ophthalmologist. So, they probably have had very few people show up at their hospital who were more knowledgeable, curious and inquisitive than we were. And we were both very impressed with the facility, the staff and the quality of care. Of course this was just one relatively minor encounter and we can’t put an ultimate stamp of approval on that hospital. And I’m sure there must be other excellent physicians and medical facilities in PTY. But I would say that based on that one experience, if we got sick in PTY, that’s where we would go first.

    Regarding the Panama blogs I follow, your’s is the freshest, very well written and interesting.

    Some of the others I follow at least occasionally are:

    I like to read about Panama culture, politics, economics, legal issues, investment issues and news.

    And I’m very happy to have found your blog!

    • Hi Richard. Thank you for the comment and the links. Great to hear that your friend received great care in Panama.

      Since I don’t have much first-hand knowledge of the healthcare system here in Panama — thank goodness — I’m asking Mom for help in replying more thoroughly. I will either reply to this string or create a post for all to see.

      Be loved,


    • Hi Richard. Mom got back to me. According to her, the medical care in Panama ranges from good to great. For the health certificate I received, I had to visit a facility run by the Ministry of Health. As with many government offices — worldwide, really — they are short-staffed and the ancillary staff they do have is, regrettably, not well-trained. In addition, most ancillary employees have a low education level, are not well-paid and, therefore, have poor attitudes.

      That said, the professional staff at these center is very good. Many of them work in a center like the one I visited and also see patients in private practice. Privately, the care here is excellent. Panama has a great medical school and many who are not trained here received training in The States.

      Mom was very pleased with the medical care she received in May when she fractured her hip . She had a top-notch surgeon, Dr. Saldana, who I have a crush on. I look forward to accompanying her on her follow-up appointments. 🙂

      In Mom’s opinion, the best medical centers in Panama City, where we live, are Punta Pacifica, Centro Medico Paitilla and Clinica San Fernando.

  2. Interesting info. I am a New Zealand doctor living in Panama and have not yet had occasion to receive medical care. I have only heard good reports about the standard of medical care in Panama.

    By the way, I love your style of writing and sense of humor…… it makes for an easy read.

  3. So sorry to hear about the odd “red tape” you encountered. I’m interested if you ever opened up this bakery? I relocated to Panama City in April and I’m looking around for healthy options. 🙂

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