Doctor Marco Vargas Salas, head of the trauma division at the Children’s Hospital in San Jose, recently voiced his frustrations through social media in the form of an open letter to the selfish drivers of Costa Rica. In the letter he addresses the lack of courtesy or concern for emergency vehicles displayed by many Tico motorist.

Although the doctor’s open letter is a direct response to a particular situation that occurred this past week involving a child that was unable to make it to the hospital in time to be treated, the lack of respect for emergency vehicles is a well known and visible crack in the foundations of Pura Vida that affects everyone daily.

Heres his letter:

We’re sorry … Please excuse us.

Last Thursday night, it was about 6 pm when a lime green fire truck and a couple of motorcycles from the transit police disturbed your peace as they traveled along Ruta 1 towards San Jose.

Hundreds of people opened a “tunnel” between the lanes so that emergency vehicles could pass through, without knowing it in that caravan traveled two Traffic Police, Carol and Oscar, two emergency technicians from the Fire Department named Rubén and Diego, as well as a nurse named Arnaldo and myself.

For fourteen minutes, as we traveled behind them we watched the policemen who escorted us fighting tenaciously against the vehicular flow, traveling on their motorcycles with only their body their as their chassis directing drivers and managing to open a three meter channel that allowed our rescue vehicle to advance. 

We watched as the majority of the drivers promptly complied with the police officer’s orders, but we also saw others who cursed them, and challenged the expertise of the emergency vehicle’s drivers who’s only objective was to make it to the front doors of the hospital as fast as possible. We also watched as other drivers intentionally used their vehicles to block the rescue vehicles progress, and even used them to threaten and endanger the lives of the police officers. For what I will never understand.

Our journey began with an emergency call from the Hospital in Upala, where a small child under a year old, was brought in to the hospital in critical condition due to a car accident. Initially the patient was handled by members of the Red Cross who brought the child to the medical center where it was treated by professionals and support staff who did everything they could to treat the injured baby.

The plane took off at around 5 PM with ground control monitoring every detail, praying that their companions would survive the storm they had to pass through.  

Aboard the small plane a doctor and a nurse sat inside attending the small child in the sky, while their families prayed for all to arrive safely back on Earth. All at one time in space we were frozen in one action, catering to a seriously injured child.

Finally, the plane lands and the cosmic noise accelerates our brain, as the door opens few dozens of years of training and study pours in and sickening anguish begins.

In the distance, less than twenty kilometers ahead of us, a complex group of professionals await us to continue our work of critical resuscitation, each one of them have been in constant communication with our team so that the execution of their work is punctually synchronized. The only thing between us, a swarm of vehicles, each with their own destination. 

Again, it’s a fight for every inch of freeway.

Again hand to hand combat, with an awful disadvantage.

I wonder if the drivers who used their vehicle to block our progress, considered, even for a second, that perhaps it was his son that we were carrying in our ambulance, or perhaps a brother or his father? If they had would they not have tried to completely stop traffic so that the journey wouldn’t take one second longer than necessary.

Finally we arrived, but unfortunately there was nothing we could do as the injuries proved to be fatal.

Today, many hours later, as Director of the Trauma Unit National Children’s Hospital, I have an obligation to thank all those who fought alongside us for this little baby, it is a pride and pleasure to serve the country with men and women like you. The two officers, after fighting a good fight yesterday, tears fall today after being informed the young patient had died. The staff who waited for eight hours to tell the mother face to face her child didn’t make it so she wouldn’t have to read it in a newspaper.

Our apologies to the drivers, who were bothered by the horns and sirens that interrupted your relative peace while driving to and from Alajuela yesterday, but we will do so every time we are called to duty, and now do you know why.

And now that you know, dear drivers, maybe you will now want to help the policemen, firemen and other first responders who only ask for a small space, less than three meters wide, to maybe save a life. 


Marco Vargas Salas
Director de la Unidad de Trauma
Hospital Nacional de Niños, Costa Rica