Be Prepared at All Times!
It started as a simple, fun weekend getaway to Puerto Vallarta. It didn’t end that way.
Jon and I were only going to spend two nights in Puerto Vallarta, go out to dinner both nights, go to the beach for a couple of hours, and go to Kelly’s Pour Favor Saloon and Cookhouse to listen to music Saturday night. We never made it to anything fun before I became very sick.Nothing contagious. Just my GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder) that acts up once or twice a year. Normally, I take one of my metoclopramide (Reglan) tablets that I carry in my purse and ten or fifteen minutes later, I’m fine. Not this time.Here’s the yucky part of the story, but (stick with me) necessary to understand the seriousness of the medical emergency that we found ourselves in. I started vomiting about noon on Friday and continued heaving acid for another twenty hours. My doctor in the U.S. gives me a prescription every year for four promethazine 25mg (Phenergan) rectal suppositories, just in case I need it to stop the vomiting.
First Mistake: I hadn’t brought my promethazine suppositories with me to Puerto Vallarta. They were sitting in the refrigerator at home, safe from melting at room temperature. I hadn’t needed to use one for over six years. Why would I need one for a quick weekend to PV?First Lesson Learned: Take all medication with you wherever you go, even on a short trip away from home.I was getting extremely dehydrated and couldn’t keep even a sip of water or half of a metoclopramide tablet down. I toughed it out through most of the night, wanting to let Jon get as much sleep as possible. Plus, I figured there wouldn’t be much staff on duty at any urgent care clinic or hospital during the night on a Friday.But at 5:00AM, I knew it was time to get some intravenous fluids, electrolytes, and a medication to stop the vomiting into my system. I woke Jon and asked him to Google a CMQ Urgent Care nearby because I knew this health care company has a good reputation. He found CMQ Premiere was about a mile away and Google said they had an Urgent Care. I also asked him to call our doctor in Punta Mita to meet us there, but he wasn’t answering his phone at that hour on a Saturday.We grabbed all of the money we had brought with us for our weekend getaway, about 10,000 pesos ($500US), walked to the street in the dark, and lucked out. A taxi was just passing by. For 60 pesos ($3US), he dropped us at the front door of CMQ.Only the Emergency door was unlocked, so we entered there and walked up to the admitting clerk, a young man who spoke English. Jon explained that I had been vomiting for over twenty hours and needed medicine. Jon said we knew what was causing it (GERD) so I didn’t need any tests done. The doctor, a friendly, professional woman who spoke perfect English, walked over to the desk and asked me a few questions about my symptoms and said she would need to admit me to the hospital for an IV and possibly some tests. Second Mistake: We didn’t know that “Urgent Care” in México means Emergency Room at a hospital. We just wanted a walk-in clinic to give me some medication and maybe IV fluids. CMQ wanted to admit me to the hospital with full services. Not really what we had in mind.
Second Lesson Learned: For an uncomplicated or minor medical issue, we should have Googled “Traveler’s Medical Service”. Here’s one I found that looks like a place that could have taken care of me, though we haven’t yet gone there: Sanmare Outpatient Clinic. Any comments or reviews about personal experience with this or other outpatient clinics would be appreciated.
Third Mistake: The clerk asked if we had medical insurance that covered my care in the hospital.No, we don’t. We have chosen to pay for our health care out of pocket and, so far, that has not been a problem.The clerk informed us that we would need to pay 50,000 pesos ($2500US) before I could be admitted to the hospital and receive health care. He said the cost might end up being less or might be more than that amount, but we needed to pay 50,000 pesos up front!What? We didn’t have that much money with us!The clerk asked if we had a credit card to pay the 50,000 pesos.No. We had left our debit and credit cards at home, expecting that our 10,000 pesos would be more than enough for our weekend trip.Jon complained. The doctor confirmed that this was hospital policy, that most hospitals require this.Third Lesson Learned: Never leave home without a credit card and a debit card. And maybe we needed to consider Mexican medical insurance—a thought for another day. Right now, we needed to solve this problem before I passed out right there in the waiting room.Jon asked the clerk and doctor for a recommendation on where to go. They recommended the Red Cross Hospital, Cruz Rojo Mexicana. Another taxi ride, another 100 pesos and twenty minutes later we arrived at the dingy building.
Fourth Mistake: I took one look at the dirty white walls in the Red Cross waiting room that probably hadn’t been painted in ten years and the wooden backless bench seats set six inches off the ground that looked like they could double as gurneys and I told Jon that I hoped the examination rooms were cleaner than this. He spoke Spanish to a Mexican woman in scrubs with a scowl on her face and her arms crossed. She said there was no doctor until 7:00. I told Jon I didn’t want to be there. We walked out with relief.
Fourth Lesson Learned: I never want to go to a Red Cross Hospital in Mexico.By this time, I could barely walk due to weakness. I said, “Let’s go to Farmacia Guadalajara (Guadalajara Pharmacy) and see if I can buy promethazine suppositories or the equivalent.
Another taxi ride, another 80 pesos ($4US) and we arrived at an old Guadalajara Pharmacy in the hotel district. They usually have a good inventory of prescription medications. But the pharmacist said Dramamine suppositories were the closest thing they carried. That wasn’t going to do a thing for my vomiting, I was pretty sure. We bought 2 bottles of Electrolit® solution and left.
Fifth Lesson Learned: Don’t assume pharmacies in México will stock the prescription medication you use, or even a therapeutic equivalent. Bring your medications with you.
There was only one thing to do at this point. I said, “Let’s go get Bella, our dachshund, and go home. I have my promethazine suppositories there. Once I use one, I should be able to drink some of this electrolyte solution. If not, we’ll take another taxi to the Unimed Urgent Care Clinic in Sayulita next to the Pemex gas station.”Another taxi ride from Puerto Vallarta to Sayulita that seemed to take forever because there was a massive organized bike ride, over 750 bicycles and many police cars bringing traffic on Hwy 200 to a crawl. An hour later, I asked Jon to give our taxi driver a generous tip since he had to tolerate the sound and smell of my vomiting into a plastic bag every five minutes. I was so embarrassed, I mumbled, “Gracias,” and ducked into the house.
Yes, I was able to treat my illness at home with my own promethazine suppositories. It required two of the precious four my doctor in the U.S. had given me before I could start sipping chicken broth. We were so happy that we saved at least $2500US by keeping me out of the hospital!Another Lesson: Bring eight promethazine suppositories from the U.S. when we return in November. What if I had run out before my GERD settled down? I would have ended up in the hospital eventually.Summary of Lessons: Bring plenty of money, debit and credit cards, all medications, and consider obtaining a “Traveler’s Medical Insurance” for visits to Mexico or “Mexican Medical Insurance” if you live here. Some expats use the IMSS public health system, but I am hesitant for multiple reasons.
We have obtained some Mexican Medical insurance quotes, but they all appear to have that treacherous “Preexisting Conditions” clause. We are still of the belief that we will continue paying out of pocket for health care in Mexico and if we need expensive care for serious conditions, we will return to the United States where Medicare will cover Jon’s health care and my private, high deductible plan will cover mine.
This is an ongoing dilemma for those who decide to move to México. Age and current health will factor into each person’s decision. For us, at the age of 62 and 69, we’ll continue as we have been, but travel more prepared financially and with our medication container well stocked.I invite you to SIGN UP for my “Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico Newsletter”, published monthly with stories about our latest adventures, my recent blog articles, and news about my books.
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