Tag Archives: Living in Mexico


Two Sets of Core Values

Two Sets of Core Values

I posted this first on my Warren Hardy Spanish website. After some recent discussions I’ve had, I think it bears re-posting here.

Here’s a Guadalupe Gateway

I’m not a diligent blogger. I think I’m too lazy. But happily there are enough of us writing that the “full story” eventually gets out there. Here’s a link to lots of blogs written from and about my beloved “Virgin Territory,” Mexico.

Why This Year We Took the Bus Going North

For those of us who have reached the stage in life when we’ve got more time than money, bus travel offers an affordable travel alternative. For those of us living in Mexico, a long way from loved ones, it is not only affordable. It can be downright enjoyable. I’ll write this blog in three stages, most helpful info up front. Hang in there til the end, and you may still find something useful or entertaining.

Contrary to a favorite travel tale of my husband’s, buses in Mexico do not always involve a chicken in your lap. That was 1972, we were students, and I didn’t know one bus line from another. I’m sure there were differences then. There definitely are now. In February, 2011, I took a bus from Guadalajara to San Miguel de Allende, and fell in love with ETN. My experience with them was so fantastic, I decided that was the way Larry and I would travel north to Texas this year. The trip was a success, and here are the reasons why:

Affordability. The regular one-way fare between Guadalajara and Nuevo Laredo when I purchased our tickets was MN$1,115 (MN indicates pesos). But Larry and I are over sixty and have official cards, issued by INAPAM, to say so. Among other perks, we get half price on bus tickets. So MN$1,115 was what we paid for two of us. That’s right at US$100. Our tickets from where we live on the Pacific coast to Guadalajara had been MN$135 a piece, about US$11.  So our round trip tickets from home to Nuevo Laredo came to just about $222.That’s a heck of a lot cheaper than either driving or taking a plane.

Flexibility. This is a big factor for me. In 2010, due to health issues, airline bankruptcy, landslides, Homeland Security policies and death in the family, I either had to replace, change or forfeit parts of six different airline tickets. That gets very expensive. This past June, we bought our tickets out of Mexico just a day before we left.

Time Schedule. Since the ETN bus leaves Mexico in the evening and arrives at the border in the morning, the thirteen-hour, practically non-stop trip doesn’t take big chunks out of daylight hours. One could conceivably leave La Peñita at noon, arrive in plenty of time in Guadalajara to take the evening bus, and be with family in San Antonio by noon the next day.

Safety. Hi-jacking buses would probably be as profitable as a crap shoot, and a lot more trouble. They’re full of students, middle class travelers and senior citizens like us. We were waved through military checkpoints and border crossings.

Comfort. The seats on the executive class coaches are wide and few, and fully recline. There are extended leg supports, as well. With lots of room below and above for stuff you’ve carried on, these buses have even most first class airline seats beat.

Amenities. Each seat has its own headset. Some have individual TV screens. If not, there are flat-screen monitors strategically placed. There’s free wi-fi on board most executive class coaches. The bathrooms are compact, with an additional door separating the seating area from the bathroom/coffee bar area. A sack lunch (nothing special) is provided. You are welcome to bring your own food on board, but keep it neat, as these buses are really clean.

Stage 2 – Further details if you’re interested:

 I didn’t have a clue how luxurious ETN was until I stepped on board. I should have had an inkling of what to expect from their waiting lounge in the main bus terminal (the “new” Central de Autobuses) in Guadalajara. The white marble floors there were spotless, the personnel dressed in business attire, the bathrooms well-appointed and pristine. It wasn’t quite on a par with the Admiral’s Club, but it was certainly a cut above your normal airport waiting areas. There were even power ports available for recharging cell phones and plugging in laptops.

I might interject here that Guadalajara’s “new” (that’s what you tell the taxi drivers) Central de Autobuses is not just a big building. It’s a series of big buildings set in a horseshoe shape. Look for major names of bus companies, such as Omnibus de Mexico, Primera Plus, Vallarta Plus, Turistar de Lujo. These are just a few. There are other lines, such as Tufesa, which offers executive class service and some “platinum” service to destinations in the western United States, which have their own terminals close to this main conglomeration. The complex is big, but well organized and not particularly intimidating, except for myriads of cab drivers offering their services.

One of the beauties of bus travel is you can stay close to your “stuff.” You check your baggage as you line up to step aboard. That way you can offer advice – and hopefully a tip – to the baggage handler. They accommodate odd pieces, like over-sized picture frames and crates of pottery with no additional charge or grumbling. My friend Hala, here in La Peñita, stocks a large part of her shop Hamaca Maya by traveling and transporting her goods by bus.

And the “stuff” you can carry on board can be pasty, jelled, or liquid. No worrying about whether your tube of toothpaste is under three ounces or if your nail clippers will pass. Bring a paring knife if you want to cut fruit for your lunch. Bring a jar of peanut butter. It’s OK! The security check does weed out firearms with a quick look through hand held bags and briefcases, and you can’t bring on any alcoholic beverages to drink. I forgot I had a bottle of wine I was carrying to a friend. The agent waved me on and told me it was OK, as long as I didn’t open it.

There are twenty-four seats on the ETN and other executive class coaches, instead of the usual fifty-plus that you find on regular coach lines. They are placed three across, two on one side of the aisle, and a single on the other. They are as wide as first class seats on commercial airlines – wider than some I could name – and when fully reclined, your head is far from the knees of the passenger behind you. He or she probably already has the elevated footrest in place. Getting comfortable is the primary object on ETN, and it’s easy to do. I felt nestled in my wide, cushy seat, happy to let the guy in the suit, as well-dressed as any airline pilot, take charge of all the driving. He was not to be disturbed, separated from the passengers behind a sealed door. I wonder, Do they call that area up front the cockpit, like they do on planes?

There’s a cup holder for the drink you were given at the door, along with a ham sandwich in a plastic bag. The ham sandwich was definitely sub-par, but there’s plenty of room to store your own provisions. It’s a good idea to bring something to eat, because the trips are generally long with minimal stops. My trip in February from Guadalajara to San Miguel de Allende took five hours. There were two stops before reaching its final destination, the first in Leon and the next in Guanajuato, but neither offered the opportunity to get off and buy anything. When Larry and I traveled from Guadalajara to Nuevo Laredo, we left at 8:45 in the evening and arrived in Nuevo Laredo at 9:40 the next morning. There was a fifteen-minute stop in the wee small hours of the morning at a mini-super/diner/cantina somewhere in the middle of nowhere. One look at the aging hot dishes in the buffet line, and the processed snackie stuff and I got back on the bus, happy I’d provided our own dinner earlier.

It does occur to me that these long stretches may be uncomfortable for some people, because all bus lines provide a completely smoke-free environment. That means in the bathrooms, as well.

The bathrooms on the bus were better equipped than the one in the cantina, where an ancient proprietor dispensed fragments of toilet paper for three pesos each. Admittedly one has to contend with a certain amount of sway in a bus bathroom, but that’s true on an airplane, as well. At least, you don’t worry about dropping several thousand feet. On the ETN coaches, and its cooperative line Turistar de Lujo, both men’s and women’s were behind a preliminary door, so any objectionable odors were entirely sealed off from the seating area. None of those could last very long, because the ventilation fans were, to say the least, intense. Between the two bathrooms and behind the first door was a coffee bar of sorts, with hot water and instant Nescafe available.

But we chose sleep, not coffee. There was a movie, Indiana Jones and Something or Other in Spanish, which I listened to on the personal headset provided each seat. Then the lights went out and all was quiet. We slept through Mexico, waking sometimes when the bus slowed down to go through a military checkpoint or a tollbooth. There was a major stop in Monterey at 7:30 in the morning. From there we started stirring and getting ready to disembark in Nuevo Laredo. We arrived right on time.

When I go north again this way – and that’s a when, not an if – I won’t do what we did this time around. From the Nuevo Laredo bus terminal we rented a taxi to the Laredo airport and rented a car to go to Lubbock. That was expensive, and time consuming. Hertz didn’t open until noon, so we had to wait around a couple of hours. (We’d sailed through the border in our cab on Sunday morning and got to the airport way ahead of when I’d said we’d be there.) What I found once I got to the bus station in Nuevo Laredo, and what I haven’t found on the internet, is that from Nuevo Laredo you can buy bus tickets to most destinations in the States, including the relatively short trip on up to San Antonio. That’s where we’ve got family who live in the King William district only a few blocks from the downtown bus station on St. Mary’s. This makes getting to see family, literally an overnight affair. Next time we’ll get all the way to San Antonio, and then think about how to get to other parts of Texas. There’s a good chance it will probably be by bus. If you want to know why, read on.

Even further details that might be really tedious to some people.

 We only used the Hertz car for twenty-four hours. It cost $105 plus all the gas. After visiting with my mom for ten days, I thought we’d rent another car, drive to San Antonio, use it there for the last ten days of our trip, and then drop it off in Laredo. Hah! We literally could not drop the car off in Laredo. The rental car companies would not let us do it. Laredo is in a different “region” than Lubbock. It’s also in a different “region” than San Antonio, so I’m not sure just where Laredo falls, except “on the border.” But I digress. Back to the rent car. If we rented it in Lubbock and dropped it in San Antonio, the ten days would cost us $1,020. But, if we were in San Antonio, then the ten days rental would cost us only $276.  Go figger, as they say in Texas. Those are some hefty drop charges! One-way tickets on Southwest on such short notice were over $600 for the two of us. And since to get any where by air in Texas, you have to go through Dallas and wait, traveling by air from Lubbock to San Antonio would take most all of one day.

So, we sampled bus travel in the U.S. Greyhound style. Lubbock’s bus station is at the edge of downtown, which is absolutely DEAD at night. We know because we left at 9:45 p.m. Tickets for the two of us to San Antonio came in around $80, and again, we bought them just before we left.  The quality of the coach fell far short of ETN or even Primera Plus. Bus drivers in the U.S. don’t dress as “professionally” as they do in Mexico, and they weren’t separated from the passengers in a spacious cockpit. But the seats were more comfortable than coach class on a plane, and they were filled with as colorful a variety of people as you find in coach class these days.

The trip from Lubbock to San Antonio took about nine hours through the night, because we stopped at five different places. When we drive ourselves, it’s daylight, takes about seven hours, and we usually stop once for bar-b-que and a bathroom. We arrived with the early morning light in downtown San Antonio, just across the the Cakery Bakery on the corner of Pecan and St. Mary’s. How handy!

For domestic travel Greyhound allows one bag free for each of us at fifty pounds. The agent in Lubbock winked us by when the scale showed we were a shade over. He charged us $10 for the extra 50-pound bag we had picked up along the way, full of Lubbock purchases. (Well, what else are you going to do in Lubbock except shop and eat out?) By the time we took Greyhound ten days later from San Antonio to Nuevo Laredo, we’d added yet another 50 pound bag. But because our tickets took us across the border we were allowed two free bags each. What a deal!

I’m not going to rag too much on airlines. We need them. I’ll use them. But I can look forward to seeing a lot more of my friends and family to the north, more cheaply and more spontaneously then being limited to just air travel. It’s good to have options, and even nicer to enjoy them.

Waiting for life — while it happens

I’m ready to have my life back, the laid back one I was planning on a while back. One thing is for certain — we haven’t just been sitting around since we got back to Guayabitos. Here’s the update, and then I’m reverting back to whatever this blog was before. Or something different, maybe even better. Like I say, I need some time to think .

We’ve had two house guests, one of whom I accompanied to San Miguel de Allende and spent ten days with. She loves it. She’s moving there. The other stayed with us while considering moving-to-Mexico options.

I let Marta go while we were still friends and her faithful service was fresh in memory. She was a blessing and I’m blessing her on her way.  It was time. ‘Nough said.

Larry has had several follow up appointments in Tepic. He rode his Harley up and back to one while I had a serious talk with a higher, quieter power. As the hour passed for a reasonable return, I was moving into desperate prayer-mode: “Do something, please!” Not exactly standard pro-forma divine petition, but something jarred loose — maybe just my thought. Anyway, about that time a guy shows up at the front gate. “Heard there was a motorcycle for sale here,” he says. “WAIT RIGHT THERE!!!” I respond in a less than laid back way.  And sure enough, only minutes later I hear the whump whump whump coming up the street. It is blistering hot. I have the street gates and the doors to the garage open so Cobbo can drive right into the shade. He cuts the engine and takes off his helmet. He’s wiped out.  I announce why the guy standing outside is standing there. “Good,” he says. And the deal is done the next day. Maybe I should get back in the praying business. THAT one sure worked!

So with pesos in our pocket we’re proceeding with projects that have been set aside for the last few years. Mostly tearing out, scraping, re-tiling and repainting. We’re going to have a sliding glass door at the front of the kitchen, maybe not as picturesque as the French doors, but at least we can open  and close it without two strong people and a crowbar.

We’ve done two more trips to Guadalajara in these last few weeks for various things. On this last one I signed up for Social Security at the American Consulate. That was last Wednesday. The agent was surprised to see me, thinking the appointment was going to be over the phone. Maybe she felt obligated to fill the allotted time with my actual physical body seated in front of her.  “I see you reported no income for 1973, 1978, and 1983. Can you explain those?” Or maybe it was a test for mental capacity, but talk about a trip down Memory Lane!

Last Saturday evening Larry and I boarded a Turistar Lujo bus, and headed to Texas. It was absolutely the easiest trip north we’ve ever taken. Luxurious, fully reclining seats with foot rests, wide as first class seats on American Airlines. Individual headsets to watch a movie on a flat screen television, and lights out at 10:30. We sailed through check points, slept like children, and arrived an hour early in Nuevo Laredo. All of this, with our senior citizen discounts was MN$1,115 (pesos) for the two of us. That’s about fifty bucks a piece.

Then it was a fifty dollar cab ride to the Laredo airport where our Hertz car was reserved. Only the Hertz office there doesn’t open until noon. Sort of took the steam out of our sails waiting a couple of hours. By the time we reached San Antonio it was almost past 3:00. We were bushed but figured to press on to Kerrville, which would be a good place to put up for the night.

We didn’t count on a Texas wild fire. At 4:00 in the afternoon with the temperature gauge at 106, we came to a complete stop on Interstate 10, along with hundreds of other cars. We ended up doubling back, finding a motel, sleeping from 6 in the afternoon to 2:30 in the morning, and pushing on to Lubbock. We got the car returned in under 24 hours and have settled in to “life at Mom’s.” Pot roast was the first perk. It was worth the trip.

And that’s the news from the Cobb’s. I have another dental appointment — the last one — in Guadalajara on July 11, so we’ll be back in Guayabitos that day or the next. The rains have started, courtesy of Hurricane Beatriz, so it should be getting green there, and certainly much cooler than June. Maybe by then I’ll have my life back. And maybe I’ll have some clue as to what I’m going to do with it.

Final Thoughts on our IMSS experience in Guadalajara

How do you say denouement in Spanish? Shoot, I don’t even know how to say it in English! I think it means winding things up and bringing an end to the story. That’s what I want to do here. Our month in Guadalajara, most of it in the large IMSS hospital Centro Medico de Occidente is over, and we want to get on with life and living. But I know there are many who are interested in, not only the health of my husband and the outcome of his triple by-pass, but also the IMSS facility itself, and the type and quality of care.

So for the record, Larry is doing very well He’s feeling good enough that I’ve left him in the care of Marta and her sister Lulu, and taken some time off to get my friend Janet installed in the house she’s rented for the summer in San Miguel de Allende. She took it on my recommendation and through a contact I provided, trusting I’d be coming along to provide translation and introductions. She arrived in Guayabitos while Larry and I were still in Guadalajara, and waited patiently till we returned and he recovered enough that I could leave. She loves it here. Whew!  I’ll be bouncing back and forth between here and the coast for a while this summer. Larry will just be bouncing back. He’s on the road to full recovery.

Previous blog posts I’ve made these past six weeks (starting here) were done while we were in the middle of what turned out to be a long process. Read them if you’re interested. Friends and family already have.

So I’m writing this blog entry three weeks after the operation and two weeks after leaving Guadalajara. The drama has died down, and I’m ready to share some information and photos — and then move on!

I’ve uploaded some photos of our experience, mainly to give ex-pats in Mexico some idea of what to expect for their IMSS premium. IMSS, incidentally, stands for Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social. It is the national health insurance that almost every Mexican carries, whether or not they can afford private health insurance in addition. Most surgeons in Mexico work for IMSS, even though many maintain a private practice, as well. For instance, the same surgeon that operated on Larry’s back a year ago (and who we paid directly out of our pocket) does the exact same surgery for IMSS patients. There is no deductible, no co-payment when IMSS pays. Larry and I had just enrolled in IMSS last year, and were not eligible to have his back done, as there is a waiting period of one year after your first enrollment. He didn’t feel he could wait that long. But now the yearly premium we each pay is about $320 U.S. dollars. That’s the very highest bracket because we are both over sixty years old.

Good health care is considered a right, not a privilege, in Mexico. The plaque at the main entrance to the hospital notes that it was built in 1977 under the presidency of Lopez Portillo, “para garantizar el derecho de salud a toda la gente Mexicana,” – to guarantee the right of health to all the Mexican people. Mexicans take pride in this facility, which covers I don’t know how many acres. It’s like a small university with at least seven large buildings and a number of smaller ones, including the blood bank. There are wide swaths of park like spaces, and promenades pathways. Take a look at the photo gallery below. One of my favorite shots is the large bronze statue that serves as the centerpiece for the campus and the motif for the IMSS insignia. It is a large eagle, its wings spread protectively over a mother nursing a child. No fragile feminine form is this, but a large boned indigenous woman, over-sized feet firmly planted on the ground. On so many levels this work of art symbolized for me the ethos of Mexico and her people. I had to pause and look at it each time I walked by.

From what I gather, the IMSS Centro Medico de Occidente is world-renowned for its heart surgeons. There was a wide variety of patients on the sixth and seventh floors of the Torre de Especialidades, from the former Orange County day laborer Juan Jose who I mentioned in a previous post, to distinctly upper middle class families from all over northern and western Mexico. Monterrey, as big as it is, does not have a similar facility. The only other comparable heart unit is in Mexico, D.F. While beds in the hospital rooms were reminiscent of scenes from The English Patient, equipment in the Intensive Care Unit was brand new, and whenever Larry had to go in for some test or exam, the machines used were the very latest. The hospital staff were well-groomed and their uniforms were immaculate. There was always a large contingent of nurses around, and they were quick to respond when anyone called for help. Most did not speak English.

There are no private rooms in IMSS hospitals. Larry shared his room with two other beds. He was happy to have been put in the bed by the window for the time that led up to the surgery. When he returned from the intensive care area, we had a slot by the corridor, which wasn’t half bad. In fact, it had a little more privacy. There are sliding curtains that can be pulled around the bed of each patient.

A family member or friend is supposed to be present or nearby for each patient in order to help with personal business like taking showers and feeding meals. Bed pans and patitos are provided, and there’s a room where you dump them, rinse them and leave them to be professionally washed. (I don’t know the technical English word for patito. It’s the blue duck shaped pitcher thingy that guys pee in.)  There are large bathrooms, one for men and one for women complete with shower facilities. They are not fancy, and it’s a good idea to bring your own toilet paper. It’s provided, but keeping the dispensers filled is not often a priority with the staff. Also bring your own towel, soap and other toiletries. What I saw was a good sense of community, where people cleaned up after themselves and respected the modesty of others.

There is no internet and no television in the rooms. I’m grateful for the lack of TV, as most Mexicans are very generous with their love of music or entertainment and tend to turn the volume way up so everyone can hear. I don’t have a smart phone in Mexico, as just a minimal little Motorola unit has served me well. I am rethinking that situation. I ended up taking a cab to the Telcel Client Service Center and signing up for a 3G USB plugin device, which will only cost me 399 pesos a month for the next year and a half. I filled out a long application which asked all sorts of questions, including the color of our house. I am not lying. After signing my name twenty-four times, I walked out with a tiny little plastic dohicky that gives me the world anywhere in Mexico. Sigh. I was desperate.

The food in the hospital ranged from pretty fair to really horrid. We could certainly tell that most of the kitchen crew was on vacation during Semana Santa and the week after Easter. One memorable meal was a cold hotcake with a half of a steamed chayote. But other times there was braised fish or chicken, and Larry said the one hamburger he got up there was really good. (Maybe that was just hamburger deprivation talking.) The security people at the entrance to the large Torre de Especialidades where Larry had his room, turn back people who are obviously bringing in alimentos from outside, but I found that in my big purse I could carry up yogurt and fruit, tortas, (sandwiches made on bolillos), and even the occasional tamale or taco. There was no problem bringing in Styrofoam cups of coffee from the nearby OXXO or Seven-11. There is also a twenty-four hour café, El Caffetino, in the basement that is pretty good. Familiares (family members caring for patients) are provided meals from the same cart that serves the patients, if they desire to partake. I usually didn’t.

Here is a checklist of the things we found most helpful to have:

Your own pillow – There’s nothing like this comfort. Wish I had mine right now.

A foam mattress pad – the hospital bed mattresses are covered in heavy plastic. Sanitary, but very sweat-producing.

A small folding aluminum chair — A side chair is provided for each bed, but if there’s more than one familiar present, the extra chair is welcome. It’s also a good footrest and place to put other stuff.

An electric power bar with multiple outlets — There is one outlet over each bed, and if you have multiple cell phones, a computer, or a small electric fan, you’re going to need access to more juice.

A small portable fan — Mexicans like rooms to be warmer and stiller than most North Americans are used to. Lulu and Marta spent almost 500 pesos for our little one — worth every penny.

A yoga mat or cardboard and extra bedding for whomever stays overnight with the patient. You’ll be sleeping on the floor, amigo.

Towels, washcloth, soap and personal toiletries. Toilet paper.

A large bag to store your stuff in, so you can lift it up and out of the way of the cleaning crew that comes in twice daily to sweep and swab down the floors. They also clean and disinfect those portable tables on wheels that fit over the bed. Nothing gets stacked up or messy.

Reading material or entertainment.

I was fortunate to have the company and support of Marta, our friend Lulu’s sister. Lulu has worked for IMSS in Tepic for twenty-seven years. Most of her family has worked there, so Marta wasn’t afraid to put on Lulu’s IMSS jacket and blend in with the personnel. She got a lot accomplished for us. She also took the night shift and let me go back to a small hotel room each evening, where I put my feet up, caught up on Facebook, and watched a tiny little flat screen television while eating chicken quesadillas from a place across the street.  This wasn’t the first hotel I stayed in. After two very sub par tries, I settled on the Hotel Durango, which sits right at the foot of the entry ramp for the hospital Urgencias entrance and the ICU waiting room. The hotel was noisy, but it was close and it was very clean. It was 100 pesos a night per person. I think I spent more on buying cell phone time than I spent on hotel rooms. I got one for Marta so she could have a place to runaway to during the day. There was also an elevator (which didn’t run on Sunday) and a restaurant that served a substantial mid day meal for 60 pesos.

Thinking about the weeks I spent there, I can’t think of any bad memories. All that remains is the good — the caring families who were generous with their help and support, the efficient staff. Gosh even the “queen of programming” who I referred to in rather unflattering terms in one of my posts, ended up knocking herself out to get Larry down for the final X-ray that we needed in order to leave the hospital. And it turns out she speaks excellent English! All we needed was a little patience with each other.

Like I say, the aim of this blog post is to provide information. People have said, “Well, you’ve got the subject matter for your next book.” I really don’t want to “go there” for a long, long time, if ever. It’s not that our experience was horrible, as some have thought. On the contrary, we learned a lot, were deeply moved and touched by much of what we witnessed and went through. We are also extremely grateful to Mexico and its people for providing this system and allowing us to join.


Still in Guadalajara…

I had to review what I wrote the last time. Did I actually say that maybe last Thursday we’d be headed home? And here we still are in the big G. But OUT OF THE HOSPITAL! That finally happened last Wednesday, almost a week after the operation itself.

The time Larry spent in Intensive Care was grueling for us all. I kept thinking of that movie Hands On a Hard Body, where a group of people are trying to win a car, and they have to keep one hand on its surface constantly or be disqualified. That’s the way those seats in the ICU waiting room were. Somebody responsible for the patient MUST be available at all times in one of two designated seats per patient. The seats depend on what bed the patient is in. It is a detailed system designed to minimize transfer of germs and keep track of people. it also insures that when a patient is moved OUT of ICU someone is on hand to know where they’ve taken him.   It makes a lot of sense, once you see the logic of it. But the execution can wear you out. Didn’t help that we had the lousiest seats in the place — the only two left that were that fiberglass egg-carton shape with no padding and no “give,” where the front lip of the seat cuts off the sitter’s circulation mid-calf. (I know: gripe, gripe, gripe. Sorry.) Marta and I took turns, she spending the majority of the night hours there. I was allowed in to see Larry three times daily: nine in the morning, one and six in the afternoon.

When they moved him, it came quickly. Late Monday afternoon they called out “Mish-ah-el, arriba!” Because of the way Mexicans write out their names, they settled on his middle name of Michael as the family name instead of Cobb. So I grabbed up everything around me and followed Mish-ah-el’s gurney down the hall, out the door, and up to a room on the fifth floor.  There he was until after amazing amounts of paperwork (which Martha handled for me and I therefore know nothing about), her parting the waters to get a final x-ray, and then “borrowing” a wheelchair to shove him through “Urgencias,” we bundled him into the Hummer and made our get away just in time to dive into five o’clock traffic.

The AC in the Hummer didn’t work, and I took a wrong turn some place, but we got to Ray and Deb’s house out in the Palm Spring golf club atmosphere of Santa Anita about seven in the evening. Sweet refuge: big trees, birds, breeze and quiet. That’s where we’ve been recuperating — Larry getting stronger, the Hummer getting fixed, and my finally attending to the tooth that I fractured down the middle the first day we arrived at the hospital. I have one more trip to the dentist on Monday morning. I will go with the car loaded: bag, baggage, Larry and Martha, and as soon as dental surgeon extraordinaire Dr. Abraham Waxstein says I’m good to go, we will!

This is a bare bones update that doesn’t cover half of what’s been going on, but it’s enough for now. We’re headed to a bautizmo for the other Martha’s baby this afternoon. That’s Ray and Deborah’s housekeeper. We have a wealth of Martha’s around us, every one of them worth their weight in gold. I’m starting to think “our” Martha will be with us a long time more. She’s the wife I’ve always wanted. 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day!

We’ve Got a “Go”

It’s finally set. The operation will be Thursday, tomorrow. The Queen of Programming and another doctor just came in, took a blood sample and had Larry sign reams of papers. His surgeon, Dr. Oscar Mercado will be by either this afternoon or early tomorrow morning, to introduce himself and get acquainted with Larry before the operation. It’s got to be official, and it can’t be as hard as this time leading up to it. we have been here three weeks now. If you’re going to have by-pass surgery in Mexico, don’t try to do it around Semana Santa, and try not to have O negative blood.

I reached a nether point yesterday morning. We had come to the point of having exactly two O negative donors. We needed at least six, plus a platelets donor of the same blood type. If you read my blog entry from Monday night you know that I was thinking we had three in hand and three more on the horizon. It turns out one of those “in hand,” Pedro, was not O negative. Raquel was rejected again, and our friend Ruth — who arrived at six in the morning from La Peñita, turned out to be AB-, an even rarer kind of blood than O negative. Seems less than 1% of the Mexican population is O negative. We’ve had a total of six definite potential O negative donors rejected for one reason or another, including Marielena (whose mom passed on Easter Sunday morning), Marta, Wendy DeBoer, Teresa, Raquel, and one other from the Red Cross list. We have placed radio station announcements, gone to the military hospital, called the Harley Davidson HOGs organization here, contacted the American consulate, placed notices on community boards in all the gringo conclaves, called all the names on Red Cross donor lists. I’ve been busy and on an emotional roller coaster with each possibility that surfaced, and each who was rejected. I came to a really low point Tuesday morning with all the bad news.

Marta was there to witness the meltdown. I am so grateful for her presence and support. She’s been sleeping on the floor next to Larry’s bed every night, doing our laundry during the day, and running interference for me, because frankly these last few days my Spanish has gone south. I see people’s mouths moving, and I either can’t believe what they’re saying or I can’t understand it. Marta had bought a little plastic wind up dog for Larry, because he misses Zack (and Cody, too, but let’s not go there). You pull a string and the dog’s head nods up and down and his tail wags. Marta pulls it and says, “Make you hoppy, hoppy. No sad. Hoppy!”

Straight from the blood bank, Marta dragged me to the hospital director’s office where she helped me pour out our tale of woe. She has learned this place inside and out. The director was very helpful and agreed that the blood bank accept the five comprobantes bequeathed us by the other patient’s family. We just needed to get them processed through the blood bank director. Who told us they were copies. We needed to have the originals. I had taken Manuel’s cell phone number (he being the son who handed them over to me last Friday). We got through to him, wonder of wonders, because my cell phone has not worked well in these buildings. He explained that the blood bank had the originals. Lots of phone calls and confirmations later it was determined that yes indeed there were five units of O negative blood residing in the bank, and with the two we had from the gentlemen from Lake Chapala, we could go ahead. Plus, the director went into a long explanation of how he could acquire plaquetas — which I didn’t understand other than we don’t have to come up with a donor. He wrote a long letter in his own hand to the Queen of Programming, and Marta and I came back up to give Larry the good news,

Love us through tomorrow, friends and family. Our hearts are full of gratitude for your presence through prayer.

Mixing with the natives

We have another saint tacked to the head of Larry’s bed, a gift from yet another well-wisher who comes by, counseling us to “Héchale ganas,” and “Anímate!” – Mexican versions of “keep your chin up.” Our sense of community here has grown. Larry and I are now good friends with quite a few patients and their familiares. Among them are Juan Jose and his wife Patty. They live in a little ranchito up near Santa María del Oro, with a view of the crater lake down in the center of the old volcano. Juan Jose worked for twenty years in Orange County, working two nine hour shifts a day, the first in the strawberry and tomato fields, and the second in a parts factory.  He lived in Santa Ana just a few blocks from the Civic Center, where I spent so much time volunteering in the jail. Juan Jose took advantage of the amnesty offered back in the eighties, is a U.S. citizen, and his three daughters live and work in Santa Ana today. He is fifty-one, and is in for heart surgery. His daughters send Patty money for her daily expenses here. She is sharing a room with Marta in our hotel. All those years driving the 405, looking at those strawberry fields and the men working them as I was stuck in traffic – interesting where we can end up.  

It has been a day of what seems like three steps forward and two steps back. Of the three of the donors Marta and I met early this morning at the blood bank, Pedro, Teresa and Raquel, two were rejected — rosy robust Teresa for anemia (hah!), and Raquel for not having slept through the night. Raquel had come straight from her night job to give us aid. Today I’m paying her wages to stay home and sleep, and then sleep through the night. She’ll give it another try tomorrow. Her brother-in-law just brought her federal ID by to us, so we can get the date early tomorrow morning. The donor we had lined up in San Miguel de Allende found no one who knew anything at the IMSS clinic there. She will also try tomorrow.

And tomorrow we have a hearty French Canadian coming in from Lake Chapala, a well-rested Raquel, and Ruth Suarez from La Peñita. Johan from the on-line community Jaltemba Jalapeño is driving her up. Ruth called early this morning, just having heard of our plight, and informed me she was O negative and willing to give. “If I need to go to Tepic,” she said, “why not just come all the way to Guadalajara and do it there?”

“Come on down!” I responded. Easier said than done. All the buses out of our area are filled with happy vacationers headed back to Guadalajara. So Johan and Ruth are leaving at 1:30 this morning and driving straight through here to the blood bank below. Sleep well, querida amiga! We want those globules fat and juicy. Yum! I’m feeling more and more like a character out of Twilight every day.

I am learning a lot more about blood than I ever wanted to know. I am also learning a lot more about health care systems and those who use them than any practicing Christian Scientist ever thought she’d need to know. It’s humbling, and enlightening. The courage, persistence, tender loving care, generosity, that we are being shown, that is being shared throughout the hospital – it’s a privilege to witness so much goodness in action. Why should I be surprised? Don’t I know that God is infinite good, and God is expressed in and through the lives of each and every individual son or daughter? Well, just because I know the potential beauty of music, I am still amazed and awed when I hear it played well by musicians who give it their all. Right now we are surrounded by a symphony of goodness, and we are amazed at each and every player. Bravo!

So, if we get all the proofs of donors copied and stamped and registered and into the queen of programming tomorrow by 9:30 in the morning, Larry will be scheduled for surgery on Wednesday. Or maybe Thursday. At least some time this week. Which is progress. You never know when or where you might end up, or with whom!

Watching and Waiting with “La Guardia”

La Guardia is what they call the skeleton staff that remains here at the hospital during this biggest of holiday weekends in Mexico. Footage of bikini-clad multitudes frolicking on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas, and multitudes of other beach resorts along the Pacific Coast fill television screens in deserted Guadalajaran taquerias. My hotel is open, as well a small 7-11 across the street. There are two taco restaurants, which I think have doubled their prices because of the scarcity of any other choice for eating.

The food choices on the hospital trays aren’t much better. Before everyone went on vacation the food was actually very good, but what the minimal kitchen staff must do these days is dump vegetables and fruits into a big steamer with little or no prep, and send them up to be served. So Larry is faced with a shriveled looking apple, soft and squishy and whole, or a big chunk of summer squash, or half a chayote . The usual accompaniment is a big slab of panela cheese and four of those tasteless little Maria cookies. So I smuggle up  gourmet items from 7-11. Is your mouth watering yet? Think of us when you dig into that Easter ham tomorrow!

Our number of potential and actual O Negative blood donors is growing, thanks to internet connections, and faithful, hardworking friends. We have a donor from San Miguel de Allende, and another from Lake Chapala area, both ready to be tested and to give next week when the blood banks open back up.

Yesterday morning, the son of the woman who is O Negative and does NOT need the donors she had gathered, (see previous post) brought her comprobantes to me. We don’t know if we can use them or not as they are in her name, but they are at least proof that there is blood sitting there in the bank ready to be used and that her family is willing that we make use of it. Such sweet people. New friends.

Larry’s Spanish is improving, and he’s been going around with a bottle of lotion, offering it to guys up here waiting or recovering on this floor. The climate here is dry, dry, dry, and skin gets really crinkly.  A couple of potential donors have been found among friends and families of these patients, though he didn’t set out with that purpose in mind.  Among them is another potential plaquetas donor, something we need after our faithful Marta was rejected for lack of a crown on a molar.  My valiant friend Marielena didn’t pass either, after being tested last Friday. “Muy exigente,” people describe the blood bank here. English translation: picky.

So we seem to gain and then lose and then gain some more. But actually each new contact is a friendship added to our growing circle. We’re settled in, practicing patience, and being so grateful for those who keep in contact and offer encouragement. Have a happy joyful Easter. Ours will be joy-filled, as well.

Living Out Loud, in Public, and in Gratitude

I’m not used to the whole world knowing what’s going on in our lives, but this O-Negative blood business has necessitated lifting my head, opening my eyes, un-pinching my nose, and engaging with the world out there. Writing this blog obligates me to stay positive, receptive and courageous. I refuse to become a black hole. Larry and I were raised with the saying “the hole that you give through is the hole that you get through.” So in the interest of widening channels, here are five things I’m grateful for right here, right now.

The IMSS staff with their impeccable grooming and crisp white uniforms. They are unfailingly polite and helpful. All I have to do is stick my head out the door and ask for help and they’re here. And this is a skeleton staff, as almost everyone has left for vacation.

The vendors outside who dispense not only tamales made with pineapple, strawberries, or green chilis and cheese, but also cups of liquid sweet avena (oatmeal) and atole in the mornings. And the vendors who sell jugos, fresh squeezed orange juice or jugo verde, a combination of orange juice, celery, apple, parsley, pineapple and a few nopalitos because anything with cactus leaves is interesting.

My hotel which for 100 pesos a night is so close by, spotlessly clean, painted a pretty color, and has a high definition flat screen television on the wall. I watch about a third of an English language movie a night before falling asleep. Oh, yeah, a good mattress, a ceiling fan, and motherly maid.

The fact that Larry has a bed by the window on the sixth floor. We have a panoramic view towards the soccer stadium, the plaza de toros, and the hills beyond. I brought opera glasses and gave them to Larry. “I see a Domino’s Pizza sign,” he said. He can also see my room from here.

The trees around the hospital and the medical campus that surrounds us. They’re huge, full of birds, and provide much needed shade for those waiting their turn to visit loved ones. They are full of birds, the names of which I would know if I were my mother-in-law. I’m not, but they sing sweetly for us anyway.