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In the planning stages leading up to my 2015 abdominal surgery in Celaya, Central Mexico, I researched pain management options online, in discussions with other feet-on-the-ground expats and nationals, and during my consultations with the various doctors that I was vetting. In addition to surmising their experience in the particulars that I needed professional help with, I asked each of the prospective surgeons if they administered narcotics like Morphine, Vicodin or their equivalent for post-surgery pain and recovery.  

I was answered each time with a vague, “well, not exactly”, that there was a “concern of addiction” with meds of that class, but that narcotic “type medications” would be available and sufficient for my procedure—which ultimately turned out to be a rather involved and complicated one not foreseen via pre-op imaging. (Life, always an adventure, may we all keep our sense of humor!)

Having gone through several previous abdominal surgeries in the States (no, nothing cosmetic–we’re talking bringing life into this world and then saving mine), I knew firsthand how important adequate and appropriate pain management would be in those first few days post surgery. I did not want to be uninformed, unprepared nor suffer needlessly. Stoicism has its place, but this was not one of them.

When I asked what these “other options” were, I was told that a combination of paracetamol (Tylenol), non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and other non-opiate analgesics, such as Ketorolac (for light to moderate postoperative pain) would be used. I didn’t think any of those singularly nor in combination with each other were going to cut it. 

I seriously contemplated returning to the States for the surgery, even though none of the other logistics of traveling there were convenient, affordable nor logical.

My home was in Mexico, my family was in Mexico…my life was in Mexico. 

I decided to stay, plan for and literally pray for the best.

To say I was disappointed and dismayed to discover that opiate-level medication was not the standard of care for post-operative pain management would be an understatement. The thought of going forward with major surgery with what seemed like nothing more than slightly stronger versions of Tylenol and Motrin was not easy to digest. I had visions of waking up from the surgery in agonizing pain and suffering through the recovery unnecessarily. 

Some people would state, “oh, narcotics are available in Mexico, you just have to find the right doctor”, never really quite understanding what that meant, where to go nor who to ask for. I hadn’t yet cracked the secret code on this component of my integrated life in Mexico.

So, how did I fare?

Waking up from the general anesthesia after a total hysterectomy, removal of a large (thankfully non-cancerous tumor) and massive endometrial implants was something akin to an out-of-body experience, and not of the good kind. Writhing in my hospital bed, squeezing the very life out of my husband’s hand as they wheeled me into my recovery room, I’m pretty sure I resembled a scene out of the Exorcist as I screamed in agonizing pain. Through the haze of pain-induced delirium, I begged my husband to help me, telling him that what I was experiencing was ‘barbaric’.

I am strong, I am tough, but this was other-worldly. There were whispered discussions of giving me another spinal block but that was not an option I would entertain, as feeling and being able to use my legs, I knew, was part of pulling myself out of this state.

God as my witness, had it not been for Doctora Margarita de Michoacán, who stayed by my side for those first 24 hours, seeing to it that I was being administered the maximum amount of approved non-narcotic meds and that I was paid a midnight visit by the anesthesiologist himself to authorize two single-use injections of morphine (finally), who knows if I would have survived the night with all strands of hair still intact.

Doctora Margarita held my hand in hers and distracted me with tales of her mother’s Michoacán mole, helping to re-route my brain and its response to this all-consuming pain. Mil Gracias Doctora Margarita…para siempre voy a estar agredicida por su amistad, su compañía, su ayuda…para mí, siempre será mi ángel. 

“That which does not kill you makes you stronger?” Well, wiser for sure, and in this case, it provided me a much-needed understanding of how to navigate the medical system here in my beloved, adopted country of Mexico.

Five months into regaining my strength from this abdominal surgery, whilst doing yoga of all things at our home in San Miguel de Allende, two of the discs in my back fully herniated and onto the floor I fell.  I spent the next week and a half-paralyzed on the left side of my body, requiring that my husband carry me from point A to point B in all things necessary to get through the day, which in my case at this time, included from the bed to the bathroom and the bed to the car for my multiple doctor’s appointments. Yes, 2015 was a bit of a rough year for me.

Thanks to already being in the care of an amazing physical therapist and realizing in short order (after multiple failed injectable steroids and consultations with orthopedic docs who acknowledgment the severity of the situation at hand) that surgery itself was likely my only hope for being able to walk again, I scheduled an MRI in Querétero.

My first attempt was not successful for I was unable to lie on my back for the required 45 minutes due to the excruciating pain. The MRI was rescheduled for several days later, this time under sedation. My PT Dra. Rosario knew that the weekend ahead would be a long and literally unbearable one for me without some type of effective pain relief. 

Dra. Rosario took me to the office of Dr. Paulo Gonzaléz of Querétero—anaesthesiologist, angológo and paliativista—a specialist in the pain management of advanced conditions that is licensed to prescribe opiates. Thank God! I sure wish I had known about him and/or his specialty prior to my abdominal surgery! (Now I know the questions to ask and the provisions to be made. I hope the sharing of this experience and information helps you too.)

We arrived at Dr. Paulo’s office and even without any intake paperwork or long office wait, my husband and both doctors lifted me up onto the treatment table. Dr. Paulo began an IV concoction of morphine and some other goodies and for the first time in a very long six days since my spinal injury I, at last, had a significant respite from the pain. The tears of relief flowed profusely.

Dr. Paulo monitored my vital signs throughout this whole process, asked me every few minutes how I was feeling, and adjusted the meds as needed. I think I was able to take my first full, deep breath since the discs had herniated.

Dr. Paulo wrote me a prescription for a variety of pain and anti-inflammatory medications, including morphine, to use while waiting for my Tuesday surgery and as needed for post-surgery pain. To get these prescriptions filled, we needed to go to a Farmacia Especializada (a specialty pharmacy), where my husband Frank was required to show his ID and sign several pages of paperwork. 

As luck and design would have it, Dr. Paulo ended up being the anesthesiologist during the six-hour procedure, who along with my neurosurgeon Dr. Salvador Galván, the amazing OR and recovery nurses and a fair share of my own grit and gumption, I regained the gift of walking.

Prior to and after my spinal surgery, both Dr. Paulo and Dr. Galván would check in with me via WhatsApp to see how I was doing, monitor my pain levels, and adjust my meds accordingly.

Yes, narcotic-like pain management is available here in Mexico, it is just a matter of finding the right doctor, support team and pharmacy(s) to guide you through what could be an otherwise overwhelming, unknown path–especially in the middle of a medical crisis. 

I am forever grateful to my earth-angel doctors here in Mexico who have more than once saved my life and returned to me the gift of health and freedom! Se lo agredezco de mi corazón...

I do hope this information proves helpful to others.

In peace and health to you all…

Saludos,

∼Katie O’Grady

For the full stories on the two surgeries referenced in this article, click on the links below:

I Had a Hysterectomy in Mexico

I Had Spinal Surgery in Mexico 

Do you have your own pain management in Mexico experience you would like to share? If so, feel free to do so in the comments section below.

For more stories about our immigrated life in Mexico, please follow us here:

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At the now four and a half year mark into our full-time relocation to mainland Mexico, there are many things that stand out to me as being unique to our adopted country—features that definitely distinguish it and set it aside from our former lives in the U.S.A.

1. A Different Place, A Different Pace

Market

Artesian Market, San Miguel de Allende

Mexico, often referred to as the “land of mañana”, embodies much more than the traditional meaning assigned to this popular cliché. There is an almost palpable beckoning and invitation to slow down and take it all in, in large because of the colors, vibrancy, and sensory-rich nature of a “typical” Mexican town—so alive and pulsating with energy from the outdoor markets, music, smells from the fresh, local food; filled with people that embrace, revere and honor their national pride and cultural heritage…that assign importance to their identities and mark and celebrate them with intention and meaning.

Dancers in Banda

Christmas Celebration in Banda~Rural Community Outside of SMA *Photo Credit: Katie O’Grady

 

Dia de los muertos

Día de Los Muertos @ La Parroquía in San Miguel de Allende

A culture rich in color and embedded in history not only encourages but coaxes you to slow down and to change your perhaps previously frenzied pace of rushing through life to get from one thing to the next.

Wedding Re-size

Wedding Celebration on The Streets of San Miguel de Allende

I love that here in Mexico I am allured, intrigued, invited to stop and look, to be in the moment. My senses are awake and tuned in, I am aware of the detail and the magic of my surroundings.

Indian

Just running a few errands

Mexico has taught me, and reminds me daily, to relish and thrive in the here and now, to celebrate the present moment and the textures and layers within that moment. 

Los Mariachis

Mariachis in The Parroquía on A Break

2. Personal Freedom & Responsibility

There is a certain aspect of “controlled chaos” on the streets of Mexico—families of four piled atop a motorcycle, off-leash dogs dodging in and out of moving cars, traffic police standing in the middle of busy four-way intersections, the clashing symphony of sights, smells, and sounds emerging from the tianguis (outdoor markets), corner cantinas, garbage trucks, city buses and hard-working street vendors.

A Bus Standoff

It’s a bus standoff! *Photo Credit: Katie O’Grady

It seems that in the States personal freedoms are pervasively being taken away—walking your dog off-leash at the beach and having a beer while doing it are completely out of the question (and illegal) in San Diego. Yes, in an ideal world, humans could self-regulate and self-moderate, throw their cigarette butts in designated trash cans, buckle in their kids, and not text while driving. There are indeed certain laws that are sound, make sense, and that I absolutely agree with.

But akin to good parenting and teaching, over-regulation and modification of one’s behavior—which ties into a perceived limitation of freedom and autonomy—inevitably tends to backfire, creating a culture of resistance and sometimes defiance. Throw in there human nature’s capacity to be rebellious, and well…you just might have the perfect cocktail for disorder.

No

Just Say No

Here in Mexico, the disorder and the coloring outside of the lines just seems to work itself out in a “let the cards fall where they may” kind of way. 

3. Family Time

IMG_1602

La Cañada de La Virgen

Different pace, personal freedom…FAMILY TIME—by far the most important and remarkable difference in our Mexico life versus our stateside one. I love the Mexican culture’s emphasis, focus, and importance placed on the family unit…and the extended one at that, including second and third cousins—some related by blood, some not.

A very good friend is often referred to as a primo (cousin) and they are taken into the family as such. Conversations at gatherings and casual run-ins are sin prisa (without hurry)—not vapid or full of fluff, but rich in sincere inquiries as to how each other’s family, businesses, and other social affairs are going…and most often an invitation to get together again soon. The art of conversation is well preserved in the Mexican culture. Greetings and farewells? You can count on the customary hugs and kisses on the cheek between men and women, young and old alike.

There is a strong sense of community and connectedness amongst the Mexican people. They are united, loyal, hard-working, welcoming, and generous of their time and help. Recently one of our neighbors saw Frank out in front of our house working on our car, and offered to take him to the auto-part store. He accompanied him in, helped him out where needed with Spanish translation, waited for the transaction to be done, and then gave him a ride back home. Some friends that heard of a recent respiratory illness that went through our home gifted to us bags of medicinal plants and herbs, all labeled with their indicated usages. These are only two examples of the many kind, demonstrative acts of care and community bestowed to us in the three and a half years that we have lived in Mexico.

4. Fresh, affordable, local food

Street Tacos

The Reds enjoying ten peso street tacos on a Friday night!

10 peso street tacos, 20 peso super-sized fresh fruit cups, 5 peso sweetbreads, 25 peso organic coffee, bags full of fresh produce for 100 pesos, 100 peso chicken rotisserie dinners complete with tortillas, rice, salad and grilled peppers….shall I stop?

Fruit Cups

Less than a dollar fifty for one of these delicious fruit cups!

 

Rotisserie Chicken

Mairead and I picking up our seven dollar family dinner!

 

Panaderia

La Colemna Panadería, San Miguel de Allende

With the current value of the dollar to the peso about 18 to 1, you can calculate how amazing these prices are! There is never a shortage of readily available, fresh, locally grown produce, meats, cheeses, wines, breads….and many, thankfully, are organic.

Via Organica

Vía Orgánica, Colonia Guadalupe

5. Photo ops

This was not meant to be a pseudo-ad for Coca-Cola, but I just love this shot that I captured at La Parroquía in San Miguel de Allende of a cowboy with his horse, taking a break from the day’s work.

Coca-Cola

Break Time at The Parroquía

I have personally taken all of the photos on my blog, often with nothing more than my cell phone camera. From the jungle to the desert highlands, I have thousands and thousands of images—many published, many still in the queue waiting for their turn. I am grateful that I live in a country that provides plenty of sensory-stimulating experiences and that I am able to express myself creatively in this blog forum with an audience who appreciates my work.

These are but a few of my favorite things about Mexico….

What about you? What are some of your favorite things about Mexico? I would love to hear about them in the comments section below!

Cheers,

~Katie

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