Sunday 17 January: Some time around the end of December I busted my gut. I have no idea when, where, or how. I remember that it was bothering me as I ascended the rectory steps in the last moments of 2009, having been invited to supper there after the late evening mass of 31 December. I do not think I had busted it as early as Christmas.
It was an interesting thing. It hurt a little once in a while but the pain was mild, and usually there was no sensation. The right side of the “devil's triangle” region swelled up but the swelling kept changing shape and size, and sometimes went away. The swelling was not correlated with the sensation. The constant change made it easy to think that this might be a passing abnormality that would clear itself up. I know you are thinking right now how foolish I was to nourish that hope, and not to recognize one of our race's most easily diagnosed mishaps. But wait until you bust your own gut, and let us see if you dodge reality for a week or two before knuckling down to face it.
I faced it last Tuesday when I called a doctor friend in Dunlap who assured me of the diagnosis. On Wednesday I consulted a couple of neighbors for recommendation of a surgeon. One neighbor recommended Dr Marco Verdeja, called his office, and made an appointment for 1100 Thursday.
From there things happened very fast. At the appointment the surgeon said, “Let me see what you have here.” I showed him and he said, “Yes, it is a hernia, and the only correction is surgery. Do you want it corrected at once?” “Yes,” I responded. “Very welll. You can get your labs right now. Then go home and get your overnight stuff, come back and check in to the hospital at 1600, and we will operate at 1800.”
Wow! I am accustomed to American medicine. You wait two weeks to see your GP. Then he gets you an appointment with a specialist several months out. Then the specialist gives you an appointment for a procedure another few months out. Here I started with the specialist, and was at home and recovering less than twenty four hours after meeting the man.
Here in Mexico small hospitals are usually owned by a group of doctors who have their clinic adjoined to the hospital. Hospital Juárez is no exception. It is strictly a no frills place, but thoroughly up to date. And efficient. In less than an hour after arrival I was in my room (private), stripped and in a gown (semi private), IVed, scrubbed, and shaved, and left to relax and focus on my growing hunger. I mentioned this hunger when Dr Verdeja came by and asked how I felt. I knew that the hospital kitchen would be closed well before my procedure was done. I had thought of bringing a snack from home and regretted not doing it.
Off to the OR, where I amused the staff by insisting that they bring in a mirror so I could watch them work. Nothing doing. Maybe getting me to hush about the mirror is why they gave me a heavy sedative? Probably not. I was there at least half an hour before they put me under. Then I woke up back in my bed and saw an astonishing sight. It was Verdeja with a bag. After the procedure he had gone out and got me a hamburger and fries, which he personally delivered to me so I would not have to be hungry all night!
That was not the only marvelous thing that happened. I had not mentioned this hospital trip to anyone except Betín, Delia's hired man, who took me to the hospital in her car. But Ceci at the grocery store saw us leave, and Teri at the beauty shop saw Betín return alone. The ladies' network telegraph clattered into action. And within minutes word flashed out to the whole village, “Joe just went to the hospital! They're going to operate!”
I became aware of this after I got back home on Friday. I limped over to Ceci's for some tortillas and she said, “What do you mean? You have had surgery. You need to be in bed. If you need something, call me and I will bring it to you.”
The hospitality continued Saturday, as Socorro brought me a bag of groceries. And it continued today. I dropped by the store and was told that Ramón from the restaurant was out looking for me. “For what?,” I said. And just then he drove up, came in, and handed me a styrofoam box containing my favorite dinner from his kitchen. Bani had called him and ordered my dinner delivered to the house.
All in all a perfect experience—assuming healing proceeds normally. There is no place like México!
Would I change anything if I could? Yes. This was not a major procedure, but it was more of an operation than I had had before. There was considerable pain for forty eight hours and when Verdeja had offered a pain reliever I had said, “No. I am tough. I can handle this.” In fact I usually do prefer to suffer through pain rather than to have the side effects of strong pain killers. But I could have toughed it out a little easier if I had just had the pain pills on the shelf where I could see them.
The other thing I would change is that I would arrange to have someone with me round the clock for the first two or three days out of hospital. I realize now that there are just too many opportunities for trouble when a sedated, operated person is alone. I am grateful to the Almighty for bringing me to this insight the easy way. I am also grateful for a successful procedure, and for learning that I have many friends who will stay with me if there is a next time.
© 2010 Joseph Mansfield
2010.01.17 First draft