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I Had Spinal Surgery in Mexico

Back Surgery in Mexico

It is nothing short of a modern miracle and a testament to the strength of the human body, that I have undergone and survived two major surgeries in less than six months. We’re not talking a broken arm here, but two invasive, complicated, long surgeries...the most recent being a six-hour spinal one that was not without considerable blood loss and a few other challenges.

It is fair to say that I had a “history of back problems”. I fractured it when I was 17 and then as a result of being very active and athletic my whole life—-everything from competitive running to rowing to kickboxing to hot yoga to lifting weights to biking to dancing to you name it—including a twin pregnancy in which I gained 60 pounds and 3 major abdominal surgeries later….had left my back wanting for some more TLC than it was apparently receiving.

I did all the “right things”—went to chiropractic care, deep tissue massages, physical therapy, acupuncture, rest, ice, heat, a prayer that the pain would go away…and it would, sometimes. And lots of times I just dealt with it, brushed it off as part of my reality and hoped for a better, more pain-free tomorrow and always the ability and freedom to work out. 

Exercise for me has always represented and expressed my freedom, my strength and my zeena woman warrior-like personality—that kick-ass, wonder woman part of me that has always known that on any given day and in any given moment I could pick myself up from the bootstraps and march forward! The whole “no guts, no glory” mentality has carried me through life and in my physical prowess I have found the stronger, tougher, never-give-up, courageous parts of me. 

I used to jokingly say that “I don’t do drugs, I do exercise”. A good, deep, cellular-level sweat with your heart pumping and propelling you through time, space and dimension is bound to leave you feeling refreshed, invigorated, peaceful…almost transcendental. Try it….

Being flat out on that hospital bed in central Mexico, like a turtle on its back—so helpless and lacking in independence that I required a bedpan and a sponge bath—left me feeling more defeated than I ever have in my entire life. The streams of tears flowed without restraint as I lay there with eyes closed, not believing the surreal reality I found myself in. There is no dignity in semi-paralysis, peeing in a pan or having your body washed by a complete stranger.

Serendipity would have it that I had already started physical therapy and was into my about 6th session before my back went completely out—i.e. I could not walk. My physical therapist, Dra. Rosario, put me into direct contact with Dr. Salvador Galvan, an angel of a neurosurgeon from Querétero. 

I injured myself on a Sunday and that following day Monday I was at Dra. Rosario’s, in tears and barely able to hobble up onto the treatment table. She did ultrasound, hooked me up to a muscle stimming machine, and applied warm heat.

Dra. Karla (Dra. Rosario’s associate) did a full neurological assessment on me, administered a big intramuscular injection of steroid right in the tuchus and told me that they would reassess in three days. Three days seemed like an eternity based on my pain level and lack of mobility.

I knew I had really injured myself and that there was no amount of strong will nor physical therapy was not going to get me out of this one. As an aside, that appointment lasted over two hours and they only charged me my regular office visit fee of 350 pesos which is about 20 US dollars!

The caring, humanistic component of the medical care I have received thus far in Mexico is not to be understated. I am eternally grateful.

That following Monday I was scheduled for an anesthetized MRI in Querétero, about an hour from San Miguel de Allende where I live.

spinal surgery in Mexico

Getting ready to go into the MRI tube

My first attempt on the Friday before failed due to the unbearable pain of lying down on my back and the fact that I am quite claustrophobic. After the MRI (where I received all images and results within a half an hour), Dra. Rosario escorted us over to Hospital Santiago, where I was admitted for surgery the following day.

spinal surgery in Mexico

Hospital Santiago de Querétero

 

spinal surgery in Mexico

Hospital Santiago Lobby

It was a trying night in the cold, still emptiness of that hospital room, in pain and without my family, but I had many hours of opportunity to process through some “stuff” and truly experienced some powerful revelations.

spinal surgery in Mexico

Night before surgery

My God and I got to spend some good, one-on-one, quality time together…He and I have always been together since I was a little girl, like the Sclemeel, Schlemazel, Hasenfeffer Incorporated song of the good ol’ Laverne and Shirley Sitcom that I so loved as a kid. Connected at the hip, He and I, always present in my little girl heart.

Making Our Dreams Come True:

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
Sclemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated.
We’re gonna do it!

Give us any chance, we’ll take it.
Give us any rule, we’ll break it.
We’re gonna make our dreams come true.
Doin’ it our way.

Nothin’s gonna turn us back now,
Straight ahead and on the track now.
We’re gonna make our dreams come true,
Doin’ it our way.

There is nothing we won’t try,
Never heard the word impossible.
This time there’s no stopping us.
We’re gonna do it.

On your mark, get set, and go now,
Got a dream and we just know now,
We’re gonna make our dream come true.
And we’ll do it our way, yes our way.
Make all our dreams come true,
And do it our way, yes our way,
Make all our dreams come true
For me and you.

I knew what lay ahead of me and that I had to put my big girl panties on and confront it with determination and courage. And that is what I am doing.

During a six-hour surgery, Dr. Galvan completely removed one disk—my L3 L4—and replaced it with a 12 mm silicone prosthetic spacer. My L4-L5 was also so damaged that it was just a matter of time before it failed, so Dr. Galvan fortified it with a 10 mm spacer. Apparently the trauma to my spine was so severe that I lost over three times the amount of blood that is normally lost during one of these surgeries. No doubt that is part of my recovery challenge.

spinal surgery in Mexico

First Steps. Power of the polka-dot-pajamas!

My surgery was on Tuesday morning and come Wednesday night I took my first assisted steps. By Thursday I was slowly able to take my first unassisted ones and be discharged to come home from where I lay now in the comfort of my bed writing this. 

I have a road ahead of me, a road I am currently on, literally one step at a time. Walking back and forth to the bathroom, taking a shower and being able to stand long enough to brush my hair are huge accomplishments. Poco a poco, I will get there, back to a newer, improved, and bionic version of my former self.

Dr. Galvan says that I should have 95% range of motion once I am healed. I go on the 11th to get my stitches out and from that point forward he says I should start feeling a lot better. I look forward to and welcome that and will work hard every single day to regain my strength. My kickboxing days are likely a thing of the past, but I will learn a new “new”.

Several of my nurses questioned why I didn’t return to the States for this surgery where the medicine is “more modern”….

“Because Mexico is my home”, I told them each, “this is where I live.” “This is where my heart is, where my family is, where my life is.”

Mi Querido Mexico, I love you.

I want to express my extreme and eternal gratitude to Dra. Rosario and her staff, to Dr. Salvador Galvan, to Dr. Paolo my pain specialist and to all of the nurses and operating room staff members at Hospital Santiago de Querétero. 

spinal surgery in Mexico

Me & Dr. Salvador Galvan. My face distorted and swollen from a six-hour surgery!

I always look for the silver lining in all situations. Without a doubt, this incredibly trying time in my and my family’s life has refined and improved who I am as a human being, mother, wife and friend to both self and others.

The gift of walking and of health is not to be taken for granted. I am grateful for the air I breath, the hummingbird that visits me outside my window daily, the ebb and flow of each and every day.

Blessings, Peace & Health to you all….

~Katie

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{ 33 comments… add one }
  • Greguinho G. November 6, 2015, 6:38 pm

    I never knew all of the words to Laverne & Shirley’s theme song until now! Lol… I’m so glad to have read this. Very happy that you and the family are doing well overall and you have a recovery timeline in place in terms of getting back to being a superhero. Keep up the spirits and the positive vibes!! 🙂

    • Katie O'Grady November 6, 2015, 7:23 pm

      HI Greguinho,

      Yes, that was one of my all time favorite shows and tunes as a kid, hahahaha! Loved it then, and still love it now!

      Yes, a timeline is a good mental focus indeed. The 11th, the 11th, the 11th….!!! These stitches are coming out baby!!!!

      Loving your music….what a gift! Thank you…

      Un fuerte abrazo,

      Katie

  • Ryan O'Grady November 6, 2015, 6:55 pm

    Katie, what an ordeal with two surgeries in under a year. Glad you’re recovering and very appreciative of you sharing this experience with us all. It is so helpful to those of us considering the big move to hear such candid experiences with Mexico’s health care system. Stay strong.

    • Katie O'Grady November 6, 2015, 7:22 pm

      Hi Ryan,

      An ordeal indeed. I’m still sore from my first one, ha!

      Thank you for such a supportive comment to my article.

      Cheers,

      Katie 🙂

  • Miguel November 6, 2015, 7:26 pm

    Hiya Katie – so happy to hear you’re on the mend. I really appreciated your discussion of insurance coverage, because so many expats have conflicting opinions of how to “game” the U.S. system. New regs say exactly what you explained about ACA compliant systems dropping expats who live outside the country more than six months per year.

    • Katie O'Grady November 6, 2015, 7:30 pm

      Hola Miguel,

      Indeed it is important to be informed!

      Cheers,

      Katie 🙂

  • John Hall November 7, 2015, 12:12 am

    I love your writing and I am so glad you are recovering. JH

    • Katie O'Grady November 7, 2015, 2:31 pm

      Thank you kindly John….

      Having the best post-surgery day yet!

      Sun is shining and I am with my family!

      Best,

      Katie 🙂

  • 4dabirds November 7, 2015, 12:52 am

    Katie, thank you for always being so open about your health care journey in Mexico! Where does Seguro Popular factor in to all of this? Would a surgery such as this be available under a plan such as that… Not that I want to have surgery anytime soon, but it would be nice to really understand and plan for unfortunate eventualities!

    • Katie O'Grady November 7, 2015, 2:16 pm

      4dabirds,

      You are welcome…. 🙂

      What do we have if not our truth? I think being able to stand in it and share it boldly is indeed a gift, and I am grateful that I have been blessed with an ability to express myself and my experiences in this human realm in the written word…..and to have it received so favorably by so many.

      Like my daughter’s room poster reads, ” Love What You Do, Do What You Love”..

      We are insured by Seguro Popular but it was our personal preference to go with a private doctor and hospital for this particular situation. Time was not on my hands and I needed treatment ASAP lest I further damage my spinal nerves and ability to regain maximum function.

      My understanding is that something such as a spinal surgery is covered under Seguro Popular, the particulars of which I am not very familiar with, but if you would like more information, I would recommend that you contact Sonia Diaz here in San Miguel at

      Best,

      Katie 🙂

  • Bill Thornton November 7, 2015, 8:27 am

    I read your article with great interest. After five surgeries, I had to have major surgery on my lumbar. The result was 26 screws, 3 cages and 2 rods. That was almost 8 years ago done by a great surgeon in Albuquerque who had studied mechanical engineering at MIT before going on to med school. He’s moved on, but I will never forget Dr John Ray who gave me back my life. You to, Have your life back!!!! YIPPEE!!
    Get on that dance floor now!!

    Fondly, Bill Thornton

    • Katie O'Grady November 7, 2015, 8:33 am

      Wow Bill!
      You truly are Bionic Man!
      That is an amazing amount of work you had done, and thankfully successfully!!!
      I can’t wait to get my dancin’ shoes on again!!!
      Best,
      Katie 🙂

  • Kate November 7, 2015, 8:38 am

    Thanks for sharing about the insurance issues. We’ve had interesting involvement with being expats and US insurance over the years! My 12 year old son had major spinal surgery 6 months ago and we chose to head back to the US and not have it done in Dubai because we wanted the children’s hospital and topnotch pediatric spinal doctor. The Middle East has good care but not specific to children and we weren’t willing to take any risks with him. Half a million dollars later, my son is doing well and healed up nicely (thank goodness for his father’s military insurance!). Happy healing to you.

    • Katie O'Grady November 7, 2015, 2:01 pm

      Oh goodness Kate,

      Blessings to you and your boy….what a journey you have all been on no doubt. I absolutely get the no risk-taking sentiment with our little ones. And yes, thank goodness for military insurance!

      My best to you and yours,

      Katie 🙂

      P.S. I just went to your blog, and with tears and a heavy heart, I made it through the post. You have an amazingly strong son, and he—clearly, and amazingly strong mama!

  • Sherri Chessen November 7, 2015, 9:57 am

    Tears for your little girl heart, Katie. Not ones of sadness for the pain and absolute suffering you have endured, but ones of pride at your strengths and healing, positive attitude. You are, indeed, beyond Wonder Woman. Endless love, Shooie

    • Katie O'Grady November 7, 2015, 1:58 pm

      Awwww, gosh Miss Shooie!

      Thank you for always being in my camp and one of my greatest cheerleaders!

      Much Love,

      Katie 🙂

  • C. Enrique November 7, 2015, 2:54 pm

    I hope you get better and make a full (or practically full) recovery soon. I felt your pain as I was reading your ordea, but you certainly have lots of courage and strength within youl. Take care and continue inspiring everyone who reads your blog, thanks for sharing your experiences!

    • Katie O'Grady November 7, 2015, 3:00 pm

      Thank you C. Enrique…

      That is my hope too, to make as much as a full recovery as possible…

      My family and this beautiful life is my inspiration.

      Poco a poco…one step and day at a time I am and will get stronger.

      Cheers,
      Katie 🙂

  • michael Williams November 12, 2015, 9:15 pm

    Hi Katie……….we have never met but I worked with Frank for many years……enjoy your postings and so sorry you had to undergo surgery on your back. It sure is a complicated device but has marvelous healing abilities. You are a strong lady and we wish you a complete recovery so you can resume your active lifestyle………..Tell Frank….. Mike and Colleen said hello…..

    • Katie O'Grady November 12, 2015, 9:49 pm

      Hi Mike and Colleen,

      Thank you for such a nice message.

      You are right, the back and human body in its entirety is something magnificent—I am amazed at its ability to recover from trauma and pain.

      I indeed will pass along the greetings to Frank! He speaks often and highly of you!

      Saludos,

      Katie 🙂

  • Babs November 23, 2015, 8:12 pm

    Thanks for commenting on my blog, Babsblog and telling me about your blog! I just read of your back surgery with compassion and interest. I’m so glad you are on the road to recovery!

    I know very few expats who have surgery in Mexico as we have Medicare and head home if surgeries are needed. I just jump on a plane, head to Houston and have the surgery and head back.

    However, many can’t make that kind of a trip. Several Part B insurers under Medicare Part B do pay costs of surgery in Mexico! It’s reimbursable after the patient pays up front. We also have many medevac programs here in San Miguel as well.

    I had never heard of the insurer you mentioned. Very interesting information. Thanks for sharing.

    Your determination and positive attitude will lead you to a pain free life. I look forward to hearing more of your journey.

  • Shelly King November 27, 2015, 2:23 pm

    Hi Katie,
    I’m just catching up on past emails and finally got to read about your back surgery. Having had 2 spinal surgeries myself, I appreciate what you’ve been through. It sounds like your ordeal was way more involved, so I’m so glad things went so well for you. Having had that horrible dental experience, I’m sure you were a bit hesitant to have something so major done. Thank God it went well.
    Blessings,
    Shelly

    • Katie O'Grady November 27, 2015, 4:48 pm

      Hi Shelly,

      Great to hear from you!

      Yes, things have been pretty “exciting” around here.

      I am now almost 4 weeks post-surgery, but honestly, it has been a painful and trying recover…HOWEVER, I am getting there, literally, one day and one step at a time.

      Best to you and greetings to all in Dr. Johnson’s office!

      Katie 🙂

  • Steve June 6, 2016, 7:35 pm

    Hi Katie,
    Your perseverance is legend! Have been reading your blog for months and admire you so much. As someone who has L4 and L5 issues and has had surgery, I know that the recovery was not easy, to say the least.
    My wife and I are moving to Oaxaca. I have a health coverage through my retirement plan and have been told that we have overseas coverage that involves paying upfront and then being reimbursed. That is great, since we will not qualify for Medicare in Mexico. How did you go about reading the fine print on your husband’s coverage? I am assuming that you continue to pay your premiums for your retirement benefits. Our BCBS plan says we are covered for life, but wonder what will happen once we become permanent residents, which we will do within 30 days of arriving in Oaxaca.
    Enjoy your move! Suerte, Steve

  • Sidney Emmer February 19, 2017, 8:04 pm

    Recently I underwent Spine surgery in Queretaro. My spine surgeon is Dr Aparicio. This was four weeks ago now. I’m recovering well. One can find excellent specialists and high tech facilities in Mexico. I have always had the best of care from caring professionals.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. Happy you had a positive experience and on the road the recovery.

    • Katie O'Grady February 20, 2017, 7:22 am

      Hi Sidney,
      So happy to know of another spinal surgery succcess!
      May you have a strong recovery!
      How was your pain management pre and post surgery?
      Best regards,
      Katie

  • Lucy Karrys February 22, 2017, 10:21 pm

    Hi Katie , your back surgery story has a wonderful ending . I hope that you have recovered well . As a Retired Yoga teacher I practice a low impact Yoga and lots of meditation and castor oil packs to heal my severely disgenerated and injured spine . I get by now with almost no pain along with supplements like bromeline and quercetin . I’ll send you info on it if you want .
    My daughter Katerina Barron is planing to immigrate to Mexico with her Mexican born husband . She is in contact with you . In order for us to safely visit SMU we must have a neurosurgeon available for Katerina’s sister Jacquelin who had massive brain issues and surgery as an 8 week old . At 26 Jacquelin is an amazing high functional Special needs adult . She has a shunt in her brain . If Jacquelin is injured by accident or has a shunt failure she must be able to get to a neurosurgeon as soon as possible . Knowing about your Docs is great . Could I have their contacts to see if they are able to do surgery on my daughter incase she needs it . Also do you know any one in SMA involved in Special Needs events and Special Olympics . I’ve seen they have a Special Needs school there . It will probably be months before we visit I always prepare way in advance . Thank you , Lucy Karrys

  • Maureen June 21, 2017, 11:06 am

    Oh Katie!

    I just now read of your spinal surgery. I had NO idea you were going through all of this on top of Franks Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Just too much! Thank God for your faith. Wishing you ALL the best from Ajijic my friend. Xo

    • Katie O'Grady June 22, 2017, 6:33 pm

      My Dear Maureen,
      Thank you for your care and concern.
      The spinal surgery was over a year ago now, but it is a recovery and reality I live with daily…
      BUT/AND…I am FOREVER grateful to not be in a wheelchair and to have the mobility and activity that I do!
      xx
      Katie 🙂

  • Robin McGrew June 22, 2017, 4:19 pm

    Katie,
    My son who is a paramedic here in TX had hurt his spine a little over a year ago, they say he herniated his disk in l5 and something else. The poor thing put it out again last night. Because of workman’s comp he can’t get disk replacement… I am searching for alternatives and found you. Would you please provide the surgeons contact information to me under separate cover? My kid is only 29 years old.. way too young to be treated like this.

    thank you
    Robin

    • Katie O'Grady June 22, 2017, 5:53 pm

      Hi Robin,
      My heart goes out to you and your son.
      My neurosurgeon’s name is Dr. Salvador Galvan.
      He is in Querétero, Mexico.
      I will pm you his contact information.
      Best Regards,
      Katie

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