My Kinder, Gentler Appendectomy in Mexico
It was hard to decide in what way to present this blog. The experience of having an appendectomy in Mexico affected me on so many different levels, I wasn’t sure where to start.
Maybe I should start with how much it cost ($3,000), including two night hospital stay in a private room, and then compare that to my girlfriend’s appendectomy experience in Denver, where the costs associated with her surgery cost $40,000 and her insurance company tried to refuse paying the bill, claiming the hospital had made an error in allowing her to stay even a single night afterwards.
I try to imagine if I’d had been in the U.S. when the pain struck. First I would have had to take Uber to the doctor's office, or unable to get an appointment, maybe go to an emergency room.
Then I’d have to drive or take Uber back to the apartment for my things, and then drive back to check into the hospital. Or maybe I would have had a $1,000 ambulance ride back to the hospital. After surgery, I would have been returned to my room to wait for visitors, who would be able to stay according to hospital hours.
In Mexico, the doctor came to my condo to see me when I called complaining of stomach pain. Judging by where it hurt, she decided my pain was more than indigestion and personally drove me to a clinic nearby for the sonogram. She waited for the results with me, then drove me to my apartment to get my toothbrush.
She waited at my place while I took a quick shower (she said I could be in the hospital up to three days) and then drove me to the hospital where they would perform the surgery. She stayed with me until I was in the hospital bed and only had to wait for the surgery.
Maybe I should talk about my the post - op experience instead. Both my primary care doctor and the specialist who performed the surgery stopped by the room to see how I was immediately after surgery.
After spending the evening with me in my hospital room, one of my Mexican friends left her 21-year daughter to stay with me overnight in my room. Mexican private hospital rooms have couches and adjoining suites for family members to stay.
The night after surgery was a night of not much sleep and a lot of giggling about bedpans and shooting the moon. I had to explain to my friend’s daughter what a moon shot was, and she told me in Mexico they say instead “You can point it, just don’t shoot it! "which is a lot funnier in Spanish, especially when shouted out by an adorable 21-year old Mexican girl with a hint of a lisp.
Mexico makes up for some of it’s faults by throwing people at situation. It has a big population who all need to work. As one friend of mine who knows Mexico said, “You will never see a big Mexican event with only two bartenders behind the bar.” Probably 30 people attended to me in two days in the hospital. Every single one was professional, cheerful and attentive.
The next day, my room was full of the same circle of Mexican friends taking care of my every need; admonishing, instructing, soothing and laughing. The second night, since she had to work the next day, another offered to leave her son behind to look after me. He had arrived with a backpack of items, ready to stay the night. It was no bluff. In the States, I would have already been at home preparing my own meals.
Certainly in the U.S. a few friends would have visited me, but never with this kind of engagement. I don’t say that to criticize them. We just have a different culture. I never knew what I was missing.
The final morning, I learned what the cost of the surgery would be: $4,700. I was attended by five people in the surgery room and stayed two nights in a private suite.
When Lupita heard the cost, she quickly got on the phone, texted the doctors she knew in town, and found out the cost for that specific surgery at that specific hospital.
Armed with that information, I was able to negotiate the bill down to $3,000 (still more than she insisted I should pay). Only the week before, I had turned in paperwork for private Mexican health insurance after meeting with a local health insurance broker as described in a previous blog.
While I speak very good Spanish, it’s still a blunt instrument compared to the courtesy expected in native speakers. In spite of what I was sure was a less than a diplomatic delivery of my concerns about the bill, I didn’t see a hint of defensiveness, anger, indignation or offense being taken by anyone in the room. The prevailing dialogue was, “The important thing is that you’re okay. We’ll work the rest of this out.”
After that meeting, which had been attended by a hospital administrator, another doctor, and my primary doctor, she drove me home, stopping at the pharmacy on the way to pick up my antibiotics for me. In the car she shared a little bit of her own personal experience with illness and God. She was lovely.
Carrying my heavy purse up to my condo for me, she promised to stop by again in two days to see how I was doing. The week after, she came back to my condo to remove the stitches. Between that, the drugs that the pharmacy will deliver, and the fruit and vegetables my friends dropped off, I won't have to leave my place until I'm well.
In spite of how well things turned out, it’s unsettling to think of the choices we have to make with our healthcare. My own experiences with hospitals in the U.S. have been anything but reassuring.
Even though the U.S. has ranks 37th in quality of healthcare, the number one concern for hospitals in America is costs, rather than improving their ranking. Over 500 people a day are killed by errors, accidents and infections in American hospitals. I wonder if the 37th ranking versus the 52nd ranking in Mexico is worth the price we pay in so many other ways other than just money.
How much will you need to have to cover healthcare costs after you qualify for Medicare? Hold on to your hat. - Ventanas Mexico
Coming up: If you do have an emergency, you will need two things.
Most recent: You will meet people in Mexico who are learning English. Help them with these tools that teach both Spanish and English.
Without being able to speak Spanish well enough to have Mexican friends, my hospital bill as described in this blog would have been double what it was.
Get started with the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online." The Guide was written for potential expats who want to learn the language from their laptop and get bored with the same format everyday. Spanish takes several years to be conversant enough to negotiate hospital bills. Get started today - Kerry Baker