A Miracle in Mexico (where healthcare is good, doctors are accessible, and the cost doesn’t bankrupt you).

(This is the fifth in a new series of blog posts, the focus of which is keeping yourself sane and healthy in the face of Real Trouble. The photos for this series may, or may not, have anything to do with the subject matter. Just some nice photos from Mexico taken during this time.This one is a snapshot of my chemo oncologist, Dr. Juan Feregrino.)

The first thing I knew when the health crisis hit was that I would stay in Mexico to take care of it. The idea of returning to the USA was so hard for me that I don’t think I would have been able to do it and keep my spirits up for staying alive. Fred agreed, and said he would go along with whatever I needed to do. We spoke with the surgeon involved, and he gave us a rough idea of what it would cost to do everything in Mexico. While this was just a general idea, it definitely helped us in deciding to stay. We saw that we could pay for it out-of-pocket, as we had no insurance in Mexico to cover the costs. The total cost of all the traditional medicine treatments—including 5 nights in a hospital (three for the surgery, and two for the last radiation treatment), the surgery, which was long and involved, all the tests and scans, any drugs we had to buy, all the doctors’ fees, the chemo and the radiation, was about $20,000 US. That is a lot of money, but probably not as much it would have cost to live in the USA for 8 months, plus the co-pays that would have been involved if we had chosen to return to the US and use Medicare, and all the many other expenses that would have been part of whole process.
A few of our American friends here in San Miguel that we discussed things with said that they would choose to return to the States. I think a lot of people feel that the US has the world’s best medical care. I never had a really serious health problem while I was living in the US. I can’t really compare the two places, because I have nothing to compare. I can only say everyone has a right to their own opinion. I can also say that you never really know how you would handle a situation until you are actually faced with it. I was so determined to stay in Mexico that all of this advice hit deaf ears. We had just bought our home here, and here is where I wanted to be. One of the earliest realizations I had was that my success for surviving would depend on the amount of normalcy I was able to keep in my life. Normal life to me means being at home, seeing friends, and not giving in to whatever catastrophe that is going on. The thought of us going through the past several months in some place like Houston is simply more abnormal to me than I can imagine.
Now that I am on the other side of this situation I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I know I made the right decision. The health care I have received in Mexico has been outstanding. All the doctors that I have seen have been extremely competent, caring people. They have spoken good English, which I appreciate since my Spanish is still pretty elementary. The nurses and technicians mostly spoke Spanish. I know enough Spanish to communicate in very crude terms, so somehow we all made it work.
The hospitals have all been run very well, extremely well maintained, and well equipped. I had most the treatments in Queretaro, at three different hospitals…one for the surgery, one for the chemo, and one for the radiation. The only treatment I had outside of Queretaro was in León, one of the two hospitals in Mexico where they do the last form of radiation that I needed. I could have chosen to do that in Mexico City, but was advised that in León (which is only an hour from San Miguel) it would be exactly the same treatment at half the cost.
Doctors here are very accessible. My chemo oncologist gave me his cell number and his email, and he always responded if I needed him for any questions. My radiation oncologist used What’s Ap to stay in touch, and sometimes she just sent me a smiley face. She always responded immediately. I felt I could ask these two anything, and that they were there for me. They didn’t ever do that thing where I felt they were in the middle of seeing several patients at once. I felt I had their complete attention.
The doctor I have developed the closest relationship with is my chemo oncologist, Dr. Feregrino, the man in the photo here. In fact, I saw him yesterday to go over the results of my follow up blood work. This guy was so supportive during the chemo treatment process. When I told him I was most afraid of having one of those ports, he arranged my treatments so that I didn’t have to. While I have very small veins and it was sometimes hard to find one to accommodate the insertion of the needle for the chemo, he set me up with a technician who is very experienced and she was able to do it every time. He completely understood my concerns, and instead of insisting I had to go the usual route, found a way to help me avoid what I didn’t want to do. He took the time to consider me as an individual. He showed up for every one of my treatments, hung out with us and visited, never seemed to be in a rush, and always made us feel like he believed I was going to make it. After Fred and I met with him for the first consultation we both had a very good feeling, both about him and about our ability to get through the process.
He was interested in what I was doing with all the alternative treatments I was using. While there seems to be a gulf of distrust between traditional medicine and holistic medicine, I gradually came to see that I could share these things with him. He never made me feel that he disapproved. As I got to know him I came to really appreciate his curiosity and his open mind. I was warned…don’t tell your chemo doctor what you’re doing, he’ll talk you out of it. That was not the case at all.
After my last chemo I had a PET scan. I knew in my heart that I was clear, but I wanted to hear him say it. He was as happy as we were.
I am sure of one thing…every person is different and has a different experience. I can only speak for myself, and I can only talk about my own experience. But, based on my very personal experience, I can say that my medical care in Mexico has been wonderful. I am so glad that Fred and I decided to stay here for this. It was the absolutely the right thing for us to do. I will close this post with a word of advice. When you have a rocky road to travel, your own heart is your best guide. When you decide on the course you will follow, stick with it. Don’t let yourself be distracted by all the advice, articles, and projected fears of your friends and family. That is the main reason I was very, very careful about sharing about my condition while I was in the middle of it. More about that in a future post.

Some Things are Priceless

Several friends have asked about the cost of living in Mexico. I will start by saying that it is most definitely lower, even in San Miguel de Allende, one of the most expensive places in the country. (It is always on the short list of the World’s most fabulous places, so that does jack things up a bit). To give you just one comparison….yesterday was a kind of a play day for Fred and I, and we splurged a bit. We had a lovely lunch at a really picturesque place with a rooftop you couldn’t duplicate. Cost of lunch for 2, with tip, $27. While we were at lunch we started chatting with Brian and Lisa, a really nice young couple from Vancouver, who were here to celebrate their anniversary. We all clicked, and they invited us to meet them for drinks yesterday evening. They wanted to go to the rooftop of the Rosewood Hotel, a very high glam spot designed for wealthy tourists. We said ok, and were kind of glad to check it out as we hadn’t been there since our first visit to town. But, the word that always comes to my mind on the Rosewood is “bougie.” It was actually delightful. Fred and I each had two cocktails…total with tip, $30. (This would have been more like $19 at a more typical San Miguel bar. Probably $72 at a comparable bar in Nashville.) Since Fred and I had thought they might like to join us for dinner, we had made reservations for 4 at a very hip restaurant that we like. They were thrilled, as this was on their list of places to try. La Parada is all atmosphere, and the food is delicious. Total for dinner…2 appetizers, 2 entrees, 2 drinks, with tip, $44. A meal like this in Nashville would have been about $100.
So, this is some pricing on luxury eating out for a fun day with some fun people. And, that’s another thing we love about SMA. There is an atmosphere here that encourages people to just be friendly. The likelihood that we would have started a conversation with total strangers in a restaurant in Nashville, and then gone out with them for an evening—most likely not. But, we enjoyed spending time with our new Canadian friends and it was fun to watch someone else experience this magical little city for the first time. When you’re in San Miguel, it’s hard not to be in love…with the town and with your partner.