The first four letters should have tipped me off. Codelasa is the real deal. The medication that inspired a Beavis and Butthead episode about teenagers using cough medicine to get high.
Codelasa is codeine. And nobody had it.
Isa hadn’t slept in three days and was starting to lose it, increasingly feeling the urge to tear her own throat out.
It wasn’t until we got to the fourth pharmacy that someone explained why we weren’t finding this stuff. The prescription said Codelasa in tablet form, but the tablet form had been discontinued years earlier. The same medication was available in liquid form, but the pharmacy couldn’t sell that one to me. The controls on codeine were such that whatever they dispense had to exactly match the prescription.
I did a double take. An exact prescription required in Venezuela?
I spent enough time here to know that this was really weird. Controls on just about anything were trifling and easily overcome. Drunk driving fines can be erased for $100. Airport baggage handlers can renew a passport on a dime for $200. Doctors rewrite medical reports to get things paid for by insurance.
I used to joke around with people that in Caracas you could walk into a pharmacy and ask for valium and they’d hand it to you over the counter. I went in to one to find out if it was true. The attendant glared at me for a couple seconds, and finally said “What? Fifty milligrams or a hundred milligrams?” Turns out it wasn’t a joke. (Never much of a drugstore cowboy, I didn’t actually buy it.)
Maybe it’s a change, or maybe it’s just codeine, but the usual grab bag of Venezuela tricks wasn’t working. We went back to the clinic, got the doctor to change the prescription to say Codelasa in liquid. Another half hour later Isa had the bottle in hand. Hallelujah.
I’m glad to see Venezuela’s taking this stuff a bit more seriously, just lousy luck of the draw that it had to start happening while my wife was suffering the worst coughing fits of her life. You spend long enough in a place like Venezuela and the charm of being in a place with no rules starts to wear off. Once you start to realize that it sucks when nobody stops at stoplights, gets anywhere on time or does anything by the book. You start to see how societies corrode, how lives are compromised, how people die unnecessarily.
I’ll never forget a conversation with my friend Nestor about exactly this. Sure, he said, recognizing my boring North American institutionalist approach to getting things right. “But you have to admit,” he pointed out, “this anarchy is fun.”
His words rang through my head during our four-hour quest for cough suppressant, as I remembered the virtues of a system that does things the wrong way.