Ajijic and Guadalajara
Turns out, all that mosquito repellant didn’t help at all.
We started off in Ajijic, Mexico with Tom and Irma Henson, friends from our Madison days. The plan was to eat, drink, and play bridge – what could be more relaxing? But on Saturday night Jim was suddenly wracked with pain. Too many spices? Montezuma’s revenge? Food poisoning?
Ajijic has a little clinic that is open all night. At one AM Tom drove us there and the resident Doctora quickly diagnosed parasites, gave him a shot to control the pain, three scrips for meds and sent us home. By Sunday morning the pain was worse, so we went back.
Now the Doctora decided to “admit” him and put him on an IV (of something) for 24 hours to “observe” him. This was a scary prospect for all kinds of reasons, the first being that there is no elevator in the clinic. To get Jim to the second floor, they strapped him tight to a gurney then two men took a running start and pushed him up a ramp. Luckily he was too out-of-it to realize any of this journey. A quick call to our wonderful doc in Rochester, Jeff Vuillequez, confirmed what I was beginning to figure, that this was not parasites at all. Jeff’s advice – get him to a hospital in a big city ASAP.
We were an hour from Guadalajara. But how would I even start deciding what hospital to go to? How could I get him there? I was panicked, and then, along came Zorro! Dr. Enriques Flores, dashingly handsome with wavy salt and pepper hair, a gray goatee and sexy brown eyes showed up and said we should go to his hospital in Guadalajara. He seemed legit, listened to Jim’s bowels and heard no sounds, said a there might be a blockage. These were the same words as Jeff V had used, so off we went in an ambulance at 10:40 AM.
Jim was somewhat secure in the back with an EMT who kept a hand on him to make sure he didn’t fall off the gurney, and luckily unaware of the trip. The driver screamed away from the clinic, sirens blazing, as we went through little Ajijic, sirens still on for the hour-long drive on limited access roads to Guadalajara. Then we hit the city. Guadalajara is big – if it were in the US it would be the third largest city. As we crossed the city limits, our driver turned off the siren, let down his window and began asking pedestrians for directions. It was a long process that included several turn-arounds and a trip going the wrong way down a one-way street and it was another half hour to arrive at Angeles del Carmen Hospital.
It was a long haul for Jim. His intestines had stopped working. If this condition is due to a blockage then surgery is necessary, very quickly, so the bowel doesn’t begin to die. But in many cases, there is no blockage. A rapid diagnosis is called for, and the docs at this hospital were fabulous. By 12:30 PM he had an NG tube in place in the Emergency Room to begin to pump out his intestines, and by 1 PM he was off to have X-Ray and CT scans. Further tests over the next day found no tumor, no blockage, no perforation; nothing, really to cause his problems. They slowly began to resolve as his intestines emptied.
Sunday night Jim was transferred from Emergency to something called “Intermediate Care,” next to the Intensive Care area. There was a private bathroom with a shower, and a day bed for me so I never had to leave him.
Every day was a bit of recovery and a bit of setback. The pain was pretty much gone by Tuesday, but he had side effects galore – high blood sugar, two cardiac arrhythmia episodes, low blood oxygen, bilious vomiting and constant exhaustion. The intestinal sounds began to come back on the third day, and as his bowels became operational again near the end of his stay they went into a bit of overdrive. Through it all, the staff – doctors, nurses, cleaners, all of them – were just wonderful.
Especially the dashing Dr. Flores. In the early days, in my panic, I only wanted to get Jim home. Flores would pat my hand and tell me to relax. I don’t like just being told to relax, but as I spoke with Dr. V from home and realized that all the right things were being done, I was able to trust Flores more and more. And in fact, he and the other docs – the avuncular surgeon Dr. Fresenius who kept joking that he had a scalpel in his holster, and the whacky anesthesiologist – fixed Jim.
All of them could quote Donald Trump, saying “We’re Mexicans. We’re all killers and rapists!!” And even though they smiled when they said it, it clearly galled them, and I was truly embarrassed that a prominent US spokesman could so easily put down a nation of people.
On Monday March 28th, after nine days, Tom and Irma picked us up and took us to a hotel near the Guadalajara airport.
Liz’s Mexican Vacation
I filled my days at Angeles del Carmen several ways.
By far my most time-filling occupation was dealing with a company from which we had bought travel insurance. We have always gotten this, not to recover the cost of a trip, but for the possibility that we might have a problem in some remote location and need to get home. The company is Travelex, and they contract with an “On Call International” to handle travel assistance. We got this insurance to make our lives easier, to have a life-line in a remote location, but it sure didn’t work out that way. I wasn’t asking for much, no emergency evacuation, just plane tickets home when Jim was discharged, first class if possible, and arrangements for a wheelchair at the airports. I called them early and sent what they asked for. They needed to translate some of the documents, a delay of 24-36 hours. They never contacted me to tell me the status, so I called them every day and talked with a different person (I dealt with 10 different Assistance Coordinators over the week.) Each time there was something not quite right so I would send more. I finally gave up and called our travel agent, who arranged everything quite quickly.
The hospital was fairly small and quite modern; in the lobby there was a cafeteria that opened for a few hours each day and a Krispy Kreme donut shop, a surprise in a health-care facility! I couldn’t read the menu in the cafeteria, so I ordered something different for breakfast each day, and got a variety of meals from tasty to not-at-all-edible. I succumbed to four donuts during our stay, those were really good.
I had brought nothing with me to the hospital but Jim’s iPhone; everything was back in Ajijic. The first day I discovered a small mall with a WalMart just across the street. I bought at least one thing there daily: underwear, a couple of shirts, toothbrushes, a charger for the phone. And beer! Each night I bought a single can of beer and sneaked it back in with me. I got busted one night – Flores told me that the staff had noticed and turned me in – he advised me to keep my nightly can better hidden!
There was also a small bookstore with a limited selection of English books. I plowed my way through four popular novels by authors I hadn’t read for years. An interesting selection:
“Gray Mountain” by John Grisham. Girl from a high-powered NYC law firm gets laid off, comes to Appalachia and fights the evil coal barons and the even-more-evil insurance companies who support them. Black and White Hats quite clear.
“Flesh and Blood” by Patricia Cornwall. Kay Scarpetta tackles yet another congenitally evil foe who wants to kill her, her FBI husband and her niece. I’ve read this one several times before under different titles.
“The Murderer’s Daughter” by Jonathan Kellerman. A brilliant, autistic therapist is targeted by evil cult members from her past, yet manages to dispatch them all with ease, not get caught, and go back to her happy life.
“The English Spy” by Daniel Silva. A densely packed spy novel involving Brits, Israelis, IRA thugs, Russians, Germans and Iranians built around the assassination of a British princess recently divorced from her husband, the Prince of Wales. Difficult to follow, but simple when you realize that the good guys are the Brits, the Israelis and the Northern Irish and the bad guys are the Russians, the Iranians and the IRA. Lots of people killed in grisly manners, but it’s a bad thing when the good guys are killed and just fine when the bad guys are killed.
Life in these books is rife with excitement, but really uncomplicated morally!
We made it home Tuesday March 29th. First class, in fact, and it was great – I may not be able to go back to our normal steerage! Jim was tired, but is getting remarkably better each day.
And finally, I was really hampered by my lack of Spanish. We were lucky that there were always a few staff around who could help translate, and that Dr. Flores was quite fluent in English, but I was embarrassed by the fact that I could say absolutely nothing. I have several friends who study a language, really study it, before they travel, and I will do this from now on.