Refrigeration vs. Air Conditioning

Too cool

Too Cool

It’s only 98 degrees today. Be sure and take a jacket on the bus.

Does that sound like stupid advice? It’s not. In Panama two places you can really ‘chill out’ are on a long distance bus, or in the hospital.

On the bus you will sit under a pair of AC outlets, the kind that have the little nozzle you turn to regulate the output. Either or both of the nozzles are likely to be immovable or missing. That means the arctic air (excellent for preserving your egg salad sandwich) pouring out of it will go straight down your neck. At first, that’s no problem. But it’s a four and a half hour ride to the City of Panama, and longer if you’re headed to David.

You will notice that all the locals on the bus have come prepared. They have hoodies, or sweaters and scarves. Occasionally one even has gloves. Only the bus driver will not be bundled up. I am not sure why, but perhaps he is simply used to it. And he is, after all, at least theoretically in charge of the temperature settings.

Myself, I have an acrylic pashmina that stuffs nicely into my capacious handbag, along with a memory foam neck support that also squashes down. By the end of the trip I find myself wearing the pashmina over my head and doubled across my arms. I seriously wish it would be convenient to bring a large blanket on these necessary runs to the big city, but it’s too much bother to cart one around once you are there and once again ‘enjoying’ the heat of the tropics.

The other place you will want to be prepared to freeze is the hospital, knock-on-wood you will never have to go there. But if you do, take the blanket you didn’t want to take on the bus. Once you are past the portals to medical treatment, the temperature drops significantly. Notice that all the nurses and doctors are wearing long-sleeves and sweaters.

Once you are sufficiently chilled, but stll waiting for the doctor, you might begin to wonder if the temperature is just standard pre-morgue preparation.

Shortly after I moved here, I went in one day for a suspicious pain in my abdomen. While the medical care – once they got to me – was great in spite of the fact that my Spanish was still very poor, I nearly froze. It was not possible to get anything to cover myself, so when the teeth were chattering so badly that I feared chipping one, I moved my chair next to a unit that had those curtains the nurses on TV love to sweep dramatically around the beds. I just wrapped up in the curtain.  It wasn’t a great solution, but it was better than nothing.

The second time I went, I knew more of what to expect. Before I bundled myself and a visiting friend with a middle-of-the-night asthma attack into a cab to the hospital, I grabbed a blanket and my pashmina.

Why do I even have a blanket here in Panama? I never use one for sleeping. It’s for my tiny pooch, who gets chilled at night from the fan. So her blanket was a trifle on the stinky side, but I knew we would want the warmth. My guest did not care to enjoy the dog scent and so took the pashmina. I knew how cold I was going to be and just wrapped up in the blanket, fragrance and all.

The quality of the medical care was excellent, even though the facility was old and in need of supplies.  What was really amazing was the cost, which was phenomenally low.  I talked about it in a previous blog, Asthma Attack in Panama, if you are interested.

The only thing I would NOT take to a hospital here is a bad cold or case of pneumonia as I believe the treatment for either of those does not involve chilling the patient.

But never think this love of 40 degree air conditioning is limited to buses and hospitals.

I have an attorney friend who works in Panama.  She says their office is like the inside of a refrigerator.  We discussed various ways she might convince the office manager to turn the AC temperature up a bit, but at last consult, nothing had changed.  The employees in many Las Tablas and Chitre businesses sport sweaters if their offices ‘enjoy’ air conditioning.

Someone quipped that in their joy at being able to cool off, Panamanians have not made a distinction between air conditioning and refrigeration.  Maybe so.  It is enormously refreshing to step into the chill of an air conditioned building from the heat outside.  It’s just difficult to stay there for any length of time.

So take a jacket on the bus.