Every three or four years I have to have a routine surgical procedure if I expect to keep on living.  I don’t like to tell what it is but since you will keep asking me until I give in, I will tell you that it is a colonoscopy, usually with polypectomy.

For many years I had this procedure at a veterans’ hospital in the States.  Going there from here would be prohibitively expensive and complicated.  So I set out to get the procedure here.

The first thing was to find a doctor who performed this procedure.  I consulted Dr Amaro, a friend of mine, whom I know because he sings in the choir at church.  He referred me to Dr Cristóbal Meneses, and told me Dr Meneses kept hours in his consultorio from one to two daily.

The following Wednesday I went to Dr Meneses’s office at the appointed time and found he did not speak english.  But I was able to get across what I wanted.  I also had a doctor’s report from the last colonoscopy which Meneses was able to read fairly well, since most medical terms are about the same in one language as in another.

To my great surprise, Meneses at the end of the interview said, –Fine.  How about ten o’clock Friday?  –Well, yes, I guess I can do that.  –All right.  Give yourself a good gastric lavage and be at the hospital an hour early.  –Yes, sir.


Next, off to the drug store for the prescribed purgative.  It was sold over the counter, as are most medicines in Mexico.  Even antibiotics and Efudex are over the counter; about the only controlled items are the narcotics and psychoactives.

Being properly prepared, I arrived early at the hospital and checked in.  And what a hospital!  It was La Nueva Maternidad—the “new maternity” hospital.  How embarrassing!  But it happens that that is where Meneses has his consultorio and keeps his equipment.  And as he is the only doctor in town who does colonoscopies, it was his place or no place. 

The hospital has two storeys, with pharmacy and operating and delivery rooms downstairs and patient rooms upstairs.  The patient rooms are grouped around a central nurses’ station.  Mercifully, there are a couple of other rooms removed down a corridor for non-maternity patients, and I was given one of these rooms. 

I was ordered to get into bed, which I did, and a nurse checked my temperature the mexican way, with a mercury thermometer under the arm, and my blood pressure, with cuff, stethoscope, and wrist watch.  Then she started the routine IV, having the routine trouble finding a receptive vein.  But we got the IV going.  And it was nine-thirty, and I waited until ten, and until ten-thirty, and eleven.  And it was, I think, a little after twelve that the doctor arrived.  He had had to perform some sort of emergency surgery at another hospital that morning.

Off at last to the OR.  A nurse arrived with a wheel chair and I said I’d prefer to walk.  She, like any nurse anywhere, shot back, –I’d prefer you ride.  –Yes, ma’am.–  And down we go on the elevator, and we pass through the scrub room to get to the OR.

The OR was small, and looked much like the OR in the hospital that was built in my native town in the States in 1955.  But Meneses had the same modern equipment that is used for the procedure in the States, the only difference that I saw being that his computer had a smaller screen.  There were only three of us: myself, Meneses, and his anesthesiologist, to whom I was introduced.  I said I preferred to take a light sedative, so as to be fairly alert during the procedure.  The doctors said that would be fine.  Then I was floating.  And then a nurse was helping me back into my own bed.

Next came a nurse with one hand concealed and ordered me to bare a hip.  I did, and Bang! my flesh was just set on fire, and I looked around and saw her withdrawing a medium sized horse syringe, and she said, –That one hurts, doesn’t it?  That’s why I didn’t tell you it was coming.  –Yes, ma’am, that’s a good idea.–  It would have hurt a good deal more if I had had to see that needle coming.

Having fasted all the day before, I was terribly hungry.  But the nurses insisted on a couple of hours’ observation—without food.  I toughed it out. 

Finally they said I could go.  Now Mexico does not require a designated driver after sedation; or, more likely, there is probably such a law on the books but no enforcement.  Actually that is the way many things work in Mexico—prescription medicine, seat belts, building codes—there are laws on paper, but no one pays attention to them.  Anyhow, between my starving low blood sugar and the heavy sedation I did not want to attempt driving.  I had Delia with me through this whole day, but she does not drive (I have never asked why; she just doesn’t).  But she called on her sister-in-law, who came right up to drive us home, and who also picked up a friend to drive my car back.

Medical care in Mexico is generally a cash proposition.  One is expected to pay at the front desk on the way out of the hospital.  There is such a thing as medical insurance; I don’t know how they handle it at the desk.  In my case, however, it did not matter.  My Blue Cross PPO has a deductible of $1000.00 and the bill at the hospital came to 8000 pesos, about US$750.00.  As for paying it, Dr Meneses had assured me the hospital accepted Visa cards.  This turned out to be erroneous.  The hospital wanted cash, and I had only a couple of thousand pesos.  This led to an interview with the owner of the hospital; yes, mexican hospitals are usually small, like this one, and owned by a doctor or partnership of doctors.  In any case the doctor-owner was most gracious, saying it would be just fine if I paid the following day.  Which I did, after a trip to an ATM.

All in all, a routine bit of medical care, except for the parade.  That’s right, we had a parade.  It was shortly before Halloween.  Now apparently the kids in Mexico don’t know about trick-or-treat.  But they do know about the ghost and goblin costumes, and right down the street, headed up by a band, came a schoolhouseful of students all costumed to the limit of their imaginations.  And it so happened that I had the only room in the hospital with windows facing the front street.  So when the music was heard, everything stopped in the hospital—I suppose any laboring mothers were told to relax a while—and here came all the nurses and aides to my room to watch the parade!  Now I had a private room but semi-private gown.  Managing the gown as best I could, I got out of bed, took down my IV, held it aloft like Liberty does her torch, and joined the nurses at the window.  In no more than six or seven minutes the parade had passed, the nurses returned to their station, the mothers went back into labor, and the practice of medicine returned to normal.


© 2004 Joseph Mansfield