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A Medical Emergency In Mexico City

The Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City
Credit: Keith Paulson-Thorp

The journey from Uruapan to Mexico City is lengthy and there is always the possibility of delays, so we left early in the morning. Because of the distance, we stopped twice to refuel. The first stop was quite nice, such as one would find in any developed country, the second less so. Here, the bathrooms lacked potable water. A bucket sat next to a large drum of brackish water to be used for flushing the toilets! I prefer to forego personal comfort in such circumstances, but others could not wait. Later this lack of sanitation would precipitate a medical emergency in Mexico City.

We arrived early, and settled into our comfortable hotel, the Metropol, a block south of the beautiful Alameda Central. A leisurely walk through the park culminated in a visit to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, one of the world’s most spectacular performance venues, and host to a significant collection of murals by Mexican masters Tamayo, Rivera, Siquieros and Orozco.

We purchased tickets for the Ballet Folklorico that evening, always an impressive and entertaining experience. After a first rate dinner in China Town, we were awed by the shimmering Tiffany curtain in the Palacio, and by the energy of the dancers. We returned to the hotel very satisfied.

In the middle of the night I awoke to the sound of voices. It was our friends in the adjoining room. One had become ill around midnight, and by 3 a.m. was on the bathroom floor, unable to move, and seriously dehydrated. A call to the hotel desk brought a doctor to the room within thirty minutes.

The doctor assessed the situation and immediately administered an IV solution he had brought with him. Removing hooks from the hotel room draperies, he suspended the IV bag from the lamp next to the bed and then personally went to a pharmacy in the neighborhood and brought back medications. He administered two further IVs and made sure the medications, including a regimen of ciprofloxacin in this case, had been taken. He recommended that the patient go to a hospital, but she resisted the idea. He honored her wishes, tailoring his routine to meet her needs.

Dr. Rodriguez, it turns out, is part of a consortium of over 100 doctors whose mission is to attend to patients in hotel rooms throughout Mexico City. He speaks excellent English, though we tried to use Spanish as much as possible to be unambiguous. He returned at 9 the next morning to check on the patient. Doing a bit more diagnosis, he concluded that she had a case of typhus, something that is far more common around the world than most of us would like to believe. It is also rather easily treated. He spent considerable time listening to the patient and evaluating her progress.

Our sightseeing plans the following day were seriously curtailed, though we did manage to visit the spectacular Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Art Museum. We returned to the hotel to check on our friend every few hours. That afternoon, Dr. Rodriguez was back again to administer more IVs and a new battery of anti-nausea medication to make taking the Cipro more tolerable.

Tuesday morning our friend was able to eat toast and soup, which the hotel sent up from the breakfast bar. In the afternoon she felt like adventuring out, but we urged caution. The doctor returned in the evening and again the next morning. All told, there were five hotel room visits with six IVs administered, three pharmacy runs and ongoing access to the doctor by telephone.

By Wednesday morning we were all able to visit the Museum of Tolerance, around the corner from the hotel, before taking a cab to the airport. During his final visit our friend turned to Dr. Rodriguez and said, “I wish I could take you back to New York to be my doctor there!” Indeed, it would be difficult to find medical care so personal, so effective and so available almost anywhere in the U.S.

The total bill came to about US$300, including the doctor, the treatments and the medications. Of course it would have risen had the patient entered a hospital, but that turned out not to be necessary. When she returned home she visited her regular doctor. After running tests, he recommended that she continue exactly the procedures Dr. Rodriguez had established.

One hears such stories of compassionate, competent and affordable health care in Mexico routinely. It is comforting to experience it so personally!