Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the doctor’s office.

Now that you’re following the tale, I’ll add a recent update, one that continues to feed a lack of confidence in the Mexican health system. It’s detailed as always, just so you all can really be withme in this.

I got a lot of caring responses when I first alerted you all to my medical misadventure, which began last May. Thank you for your care as it does mean a lot to me. One response was from a woman who had actually gone through a hysterectomy in Mexico in the recent past. I asked for a coffee date and over bottomless cups we downloaded our respective sordid tales. She didn’t regret having the procedure as her family had a history of ovarian cancer. But the fact that the doctor operated and then FORGOT to take out the ovaries (I sh*t you not) didn’t do much for his reputation. So she had to have a second surgery. But any possible side effects were negligible to non-existent, she claimed. Oh my, we are a forgiving bunch.

What she did recommend, given that my CA markers were elevated but not necessarily precise, is that I have a colonoscopy. Maybe the problem was there, she suggested. I’m nearing the age where it is a suggested procedure so I saw nothing wrong with crossing other possibilities off the list. Being the proactive gal I am, once our coffee date was finished I marched right over to the doctor’s office and made an appointment. Two days later I sat across from a doctor and asked when we could proceed. My friend had mentioned costs – about $7000 pesos, which is about $350 US dollars, so I confirmed it with the doctor. “I’ll need to get this pre-certified with my insurance company so I have to give a general cost.”

“Oh, you have insurance paying for this? No, it’s much more than that. Closer to $18,000 pesos (which is almost three times higher at $900USD)”. I paused. Was he really supposed to say that out loud? I guess doctors here are as good at exploiting the insurance system as companies in the states. The general complaint is that it takes them so long to get paid they feel compelled to charge excessively higher prices for their efforts at getting any money at all. I understand completely. But it did mean we couldn’t just jump in to things, so to speak. (I won’t even get into some of the comments about this specific doc, deemed by some to be “a bad man”, but a good doctor. It’s just too much for one day.)

The doctor asked me to detail my line of adventures from first blood tests to radiology to MRI to oncologist, etc. He then began to berate most the medical staff in our small town. He pulled out his prescription pad and furiously started scribbling. This one is for a radiologist to review my scans. He tore the paper and quickly went back to scribbling. “This is for a mammogram.” Tear. Scribble. “This is for imaging at a hospital in Queretaro.” “This is for another blood test at a different hospital.”

I had my hands full. That day I went to his suggested hospital for another CA blood test – the only location for which I didn’t have to drive an hour. I tossed in another iron reading since the last one had me at overly toxic levels, and then an actual test to tell me my blood type ($75usd for all). With the now 6 or so blood tests I had taken, none told me my blood type, and I suddenly wasn’t sure. Fun fact: In Mexico it’s required to have your blood type printed on your drivers license. A smart detail, for sure.

The following day I received the blood test results and lo and behold my cancer marker was within limits. The iron levels as well. My blood tests were suddenly and completely normal. (and I’m O+, by the way ;). Do you know YOUR blood type?).

Next was an hour drive to the hectic nearby metropolis of Queretaro, one of Mexico’s fastest growing cities. My friend Paul graciously agreed to drive me there, sensing my near paralysis at the thought of my psychically poisonous duo: navigation AND medical testing. The doctor, a tiny man nearly engulfed in a floor length black down jacket, sauntered in ten minutes after our scheduled appointment. He took me into his office, asked for a quick rundown of the details, then pulled my enormous scans out of the envelope and snapped them onto a screen behind his desk. “Your doctor said you had terrible scans but I don’t see anything wrong here at all. And they’re good scans. You have this tumor but it’s benign. You don’t need to do anything.” He sat back quickly as if the appointment had suddenly come to an end. I was stunned. But the markers and the tumor and the adenomiosis and… I stammered. He basically disagreed with each of the other four doctors and made his own conclusion that nothing was up. I kind of liked his diagnosis best.

He suggested I have one more appointment with a different gynecologist to see if her conclusions might be different, then sent me on my way. A thousand pesos, or 50 more US dollars and I walked out of the office as confused as ever.

We drove directly to the office of the recommended gyno in Queretaro and found her office empty—but not before a small boy threw up on the floor right in front of me as I was searching for her room. An omen if ever there was one. In the following days I called several times and sent emails, but to no avail. So I went back to the gynecologist I saw last time.

Dr Sandra was completely full for months, but managed to find a cancellation and got me in within days. Sitting before her intelligent and warm face I downloaded my frustrations: five doctors, five opinions, markers up then down, tumors that did or did not pose a risk? I was exhausted. Could she just tell me if anything was wrong and what I should do? She gently explained to me some of the finer details of my uterus and convinced me that indeed it was recommended for me to have surgery. Ok. I would do it. I made another appointment with the oncologist and we set a date for January 8. I felt somewhat confident and entirely calm about the whole thing. Let’s just be done with this thing was my view.

And then I got sick.

It was a typical lung funk common in San Miguel when the temperatures drop and the inversion pollutes the town beyond safe breathing levels. Aiden got it first and was bedridden for days, the kind of sick where he actually doesn’t want to use the screen at all: clearly, it was serious. I fell a day or two later and while Aiden bounced back within the week I struggled for close to three weeks. THREE Weeks. I’d have days with a lot of energy then I’d plunge back down into the lung funk abyss. I tried every homeopathic spray tonic and pill. I took vitamin c and ate raw garlic. I drank ginger lemon tea non-stop for two weeks. I even tried some Mexican root that practically sent me into convulsions it tasted so terrible. But my lungs still wouldn’t clear. So I finally went to a nearby pharmacy for antibiotics. I’d heard enough tales of walking pneumonia turning deadly to take too much risk.

In Mexico, many pharmacies have a doctor of sorts on staff, or at least a pharmacist who is supposed to be good at diagnosing and doling out meds. He was an older graying guy with thick glasses. He held my tongue down with a wooden presser and touched my throat glands to be sure. The pharmacist concluded bronchitis and recommended the antibiotic. Then he slipped away and came back with six bottles of various medications, and a box of antibiotic pills. Because the pharmacy wouldn’t take credit cards I had only enough cash for three of the items ($33usd). But even with adequate cash I’m not sure I really needed EAR spray – for the ringing in my ear, he said. One thing I’ve learned is that Mexicans love their medications! Eat em like Halloween candy.

I went home, popped the pills, sprayed the spray, drank the syrup and tucked myself into bed. One antibiotic every 8 hours. It was time to heal.  The next day I did feel better and religiously took my one then two then third pill, which ended up being late in the night. I woke with a start, screaming at someone or something in my dream. I was surrounded by the most vivid images and colors. I was hallucinating!! My heart was racing and I was stuck in my nightgown with sweat. Was I having a heart attack? I was too woozy to get up but stabilized myself enough to go downstairs and drink two glasses of water. I pulled myself back up the stairs and tried to get to sleep, which didn’t happen the entire night. My body was sensitive, I reasoned. Of course it reacts to antibiotics. The next day, in a blur of body pain and brain fog I went back to the pharmacist. In fact, I was getting another box of antibiotics because clearly I wasn’t better yet. Does this drug cause hallucinations, I asked? The pharmacist shrugged it off: Only if you take too much. You just need one a day. But you told me to take three, I said. Only on the first day, he responded, clearly aware he was saying this to me For the First Goddamned Time.

I emailed with a pharmacist friend from the US who, while trying not to scare me, also said to be extremely careful with overdosing, that hallucinations can be followed by cardiac arrest and a psychotic break. When I told him the amount I had been taking he responded with all caps: WOAH WOAH! Then he made me promise I would go directly to a hospital if I didn’t feel better within the hour. I had only taken one that day and my heart rate did seem to be slowing down. I promised I’d be vigilant. But my disdain for Western medicine was raging. And any confidence that medical personnel here could make wise medical decisions on my behalf evaporated.

I’m still taking one antibiotic pill a day as I write this, and my lungs aren’t yet entirely right. I’m also sore all over, including in my tendons, which the US pharmacist also said was a side effect. So I’m back to the drawing board on my surgery and again saddled with a verified knowledge that medical interventions simply beget more medical interventions. Yet not removing potential dangers also seems a silly choice. So I’ll sit on this a big longer and fill you all in the end. I’ve decided that 2018 may have been my year of the medical mystery, but I’ll be damned if 2019 will be anything of sort!

3 thoughts on “Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the doctor’s office.

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