Once again I stand sweating and fumbling in front of a Mexican pharmacy counter, having begun my day early knowing anything having to do with a healthcare system anywhere in the world is likely to take up the majority of your day.
At least I have the good fortune of not to having to learn the ropes seeking out a medicine for a potentially fatal disease. Bullet-proof insomnia is my ticket on the train touring the Mexican healthcare system. I don’t think it’s killed anyone yet.
I’m sure the condition is inherited. I learned what a Miltown was (what they proscribed to our parents for insomnia) before I learned how to ride a bike.
First stop on the tour, how to secure a sleep drug (medicamentos in Spanish, not drogas, which mean street drugs - you’ll want to learn that before you ask anyone for any drogas).
Ah, for the old days! When you could walk into any pharmacy in Tijuana or any border town and buy practically anything without a prescription, stock up and mule it back over the border. At least that’s what I heard when I lived in San Diego (One of my friends there still goes there for a gout medication they don’t make in the U.S.)
After four years in Mexico, the one thing I’ve learned is that no matter what something costs, no matter how cheap it sounds by your inflated American standards, always get a second quote.
My first quote for Valium, the stronger, addictive second choice, was easy to get with my American prescription, although the price quoted was $39 U.S. (a fortune by Mexican standards for such a thing). I declined, walked up the street and bought it for $18 dollars as a backup in case I couldn’t find any Lunesta.
The next pharmacist insisted that Lunesta must not be made in Mexico (It is, it's called Eszopiclone). Which sent me running up the street to a clinic, where for 500 pesos (a fortune by Mexican standards for such a thing) they would give me only single month’s supply of another sleep aid.
That would mean making a return visit and making the accompanying 500 pesos payment every month to renew the prescription (Where could they be picking up such racketeering habits - AMA conferences?).
So, in conclusion it was much cheaper and less trouble to have the more dangerous drug, the Valium. Two days without sleep and matted hair gives you just enough crazy to scare attending medical personnel. “No saben ustedes? Primero, no causar daño!” (Haven’t you heard,”First do no harm!”), I yelled at them for not extending the prescription.
Talking my case to my chief adviser and business associate, the Intrepid Elise, I learned that there was one of those little doctors offices was right next to a gas station near the house and also alongside a Farmacia Similares, pharmacies that sell generic drugs only.
Within five minutes, a doctora made up like a Mexican movie starlet gave me a three month prescription for Xanax (Alprazolam) and the phone number of a pharmacy that would deliver it to my home (Since it was a brand, Farmacia Similares didn’t carry it).
She charged me 100 pesos (about $5 dollars U.S). She charges my Mexican-Spanish-swinging associate 50 pesos). The pills cost $8 dollars a month. Satisfied I would make it through the night, I went to Rico’s cafe next door, swilled some coffee and worked.
Such forays make still one more case on why Spanish (and Google) is essential in a country where people dislike saying either “no” or “I don’t know.”
A quick search in Spanish (“medicamentos para dormir”) disclosed that indeed, Lunesta (eszopicione) is a common sleep aid in Mexico. In Spanish, it’s called as “eszipicione.” You really can’t expect a pharmacy tech to try out all the vowels when hunting for your drug. First do a Google search, in Spanish, and go armed with that.
It's an easy mistake to mistake. My first month here I was convinced there were no gyms here because I was using English search terms in Google.
For small daily needs (like sleep), these little doctor’s offices are all over Mexico’s towns and cities, tucked behind pharmacies and around hotels. The trick is to find the doctors in them who keep regular hours. Do not make these your primary doctor. For that you will want referrals from Mexican friends and fellow expats.
Think of these small doctors offices as you would “docs-in-the-box” back home. Learn where the nearest one is before your next migraine, intestinal disturbance or sleepless night. But they really are in boxes - tiny little examination rooms in highly trafficked areas.
Incidentally, the prospect of having to make monthly visits for a drug, and pay for each visit, makes a good case for obtaining your VISA Temporal as quickly as possible. With a VISA Temporal (the next level up from a Tourist Visa), you can begin the process of getting IMSS insurance, their government insurance.
While the IMSS system tends towards inefficiency and long wait times, IMSS insurance would pay for something like a monthly visit if you were on a drug that required it, in addition to covering you in an emergency. I have the visa, just not the insurance yet.
IMSS insurance costs about $400 dollars a year. Once approved, theoretically, you could even come back to Mexico for services that it covers if you were looking at the alternative of paying out-of-pocket in the U.S. for routine exams.
For me, it’s enough to know I know I have at least three drug choices at two in the morning, if not thirty-seven.
Most recent: A two-country life requires a more than average amount of time at storage units. Closetbox is the storage service that this part-time expat (and her friends) had been waiting for!
Next up: I see some amusing articles throwing the Peter Pan Syndrome around, accusing people who don't play by the rules as never growing up. Let's examine that.
About the author: Kerry Baker is the author of "If Only I Had a Place" on renting luxuriously in Mexico as an aspiring expat, and the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free On-line."
As you learned from the story above, some Spanish makes a big difference. Get started today for a cheaper, safer, more interesting retirement in Mexico.