It was a dull, rainy day as I exited the local grocery store in the village of Byron, Ontario. In front of me was a lady (not young) with a purse in one hand, bag of groceries in the other and pushing, or bumping along with a walker, trying to make forward progress, unsuccessfully. I asked if she needed a hand to the car and she accepted my offer. As she approached her car she commented that she was struggling because she was impatiently awaiting a hip replacement that was scheduled for six months away. I made a casual comment that I knew someone in Mexico who had recently had two hip replacements with great success. And then casually suggested she could probably catch a flight down south and have her hip "done" by the weekend! Her expression changed from casual and light hearted to incredulity and disbelief. "You have got to be kidding!" Before I knew it she was gone and now had a story to tell to her neighbors. And a warning, " Do not make eye contact with this guy or let him carry your groceries!"
I think that for the general population outside of Mexico this impression is well established and believed. When in fact, if you investigate further you would find that Mexico, indeed, has what can only be described as "world class." health care. This would be attributed to the reputation and skill of the Health Care Policy, promotions, hospitals, clinics, general practitioners, specialists, surgeons, etc.
The above may establish the reputation but the system cannot run and be successful without the "supporting cast". It may be the brains but not the "guts" of the system and everyone knows that the real brains of your body reside in the communication center known more generally as "the gut bacteria." And that is who I would like to speak about in "our, acute and serious introduction into the health care system in Ajijic/Guadaljara.
I am speaking of the unheralded. You will never see their name on the website or pamphlet or poster. But they are there as stabilizers and foundaitional players in the system. They are indispensable and the system survives or falls on their efforts and commitment. Patient peace, wellness and satisfaction is their goal.
Let me share some representative examples. A sensible place to start would be at the beginning after my wife started having chest pains during our stay in Ajijic.
Getting to the hospital in Guadalajara from Ajijic.
Let me introduce you to "the taxi driver". He patiently waited at our home while we frantically gathered together what we would need for what we thought would be a round trip. After arriving there he dropped us off at what he thought was the emergency entrance. It was not, so we were escorted to the rear of the building to the proper location to be registered. I began to think we should keep him around since this was going to be an in and out situation and we would need him for the round trip. I slipped outside to see if I was lucky enough to find him and ask if he wanted to "hang around" to take us back home. He had parked and was on his way back in because he was worried about leaving us at the wrong door and wondered if we were O.K.
The nurses on duty at night (one of the most unnerving times for patients) performed their duties quietly and calmly which instilled confidence in "their” patients. This approach confirmed they had their patients best interests at heart. They entered rooms with only a flashlight tucked under their arms so not to disturb any more than necessary. They were generous in sharing what they knew and keeping the patients updated on their progress and schedule for other staff that ought to be arriving.
Formal translators were not regularly "on call" but staff volunteered generously because they understood how vulnerable patients were in a hospital, in a foreign country and trying to make sense of their condition in a foreign language. Mistakes made in a casual conversation usually have very little consequence but in a medical situation small errors can create misunderstandings that can lead to big problems. They did their best to patiently recognize and mitigate this problem.
Patient and family advocates were available to help explain, guide, counsel, direct you to departments around the hospital, translate, provide telephone services and make calls for you. In one day they knew you by name, room, and spoke to you in the hallways.
Our kids had lost track of us when we left Ajijic in such a hurry and as they ran out of the contacts we had left them back in Canada, they started to call all hospitals in the Ajijic, Chapala and Guadalajara area. We wondered why they would assume we would be in a hospital and not check the bars or jails. They advised that we lead such dull lives that they eliminated the latter two immediately and assumed, rightly as it turned out, that one or both were in a medical "situation" somewhere in the area. At last they found us!
More Help On The Way
Our kids helped by phoning their Aunt who contacted her son working in Singapore, who called a colleague in southern Mexico, who called a friend in Guadalajara to see if she would contact the hospital - which she did - not having any idea who we really were except we needed "help" and she was there to provide it. We waited in the front lobby for this person; not having any idea who we were watching for but as soon as she approached the front entrance we "knew" it was her. We had a wonderful conversation, as if old friends, shared similar thoughts about spirituality, and had lunch. She offered to drive us home to Ajijic, which we declined, and then she informed us that in rushing out of her house she tried to think of something to give us. She grabbed a loose "black stone" in the shape of a heart! Exactly the symbol to represent our medical emergency! Lucky guess? Not a chance! A stent had been put in my wife's heart within hours of entering the hospital possibly saving her life!
Why do these people make a difference in the care and well being of patients? What are the aspects that these folk bring to patient care that the big players do not. The health system needs to see people as people and not as patients or diagnosis or illness/diseases. They need to see people as holistic beings, serving the healing of not just the physical but mind and spirit as well. The doctors and nurses all called us by name, smiled, made eye contact, and asked how were feeling as if they really wanted to know. We recognized their gestures as "heartfelt" and not just "head felt".
In closing I believe their underlying motivation was a theology of "kindness" - which made us feel understood and valued.
The health system is, after all, not buildings or equipment or procedures or tests. It does not depend on "things" but on people like those we have introduced and recognized above.
With thanks for our blessings.