She sat by my bedside as the evening thunderstorms rolled past the windows of my 5th floor hospital room and spoke to me of her mother’s Michoacan recipes of pork mole and how one single mole sauce can have over 30 ingredients in it. While I was in and out of that post-surgery twilight zone, she kept me company and my mind both eased and engaged. She shared with me how she and her husband of 25 years had met—a beautiful story laced with an almost perceptible description of the aroma and taste of her mother’s pozole and a serendipitous run-in and exchange of a single flower between her and her beloved. I came to know of her four children–three boys, one girl—all highly accomplished, one an attorney, the other three doctors. She—Doctora Margarita—a devout family woman, a committed doctor with a gift not found in medical textbooks.
We spoke about our mutual love for the movie “Como Agua para Chocolate” and how the passion and love for cooking alive in the storyline (amongst other things) resonates with us both. Dra. Margarita insisted that I am not a “gringa”, but in fact a true Mexicana at heart. I think she is on to something there.
While I slept she rested but not once missed the moment my eyes would open and I was in need of something…water, the bedside tray pulled closer, a repositioning of my very pained body, medication from the nurse, answering phone calls from the other four doctors that were checking in on my status, a simple yet powerful comforting and holding of my hand.
On the second morning of my recovery, Dra. Margarita came to visit me early, bright-eyed, with a radiant smile and a gift of a beautiful traditional Michoacan dress. I was beyond touched and it took every ounce of my strength to express to her my sentiments upon receiving such a symbolic, meaningful gift.
The dress is exquisite, handmade, cream-colored with light brown embroidery on both the top and bottom. I will treasure it always and think of her, our private shared moments and the light she gifted me during some of the darker moments of my life. I assured her that while I am fumbling my way through her mother’s Michoacan recipes, that I will wear the dress and think of her and our strength as women and the blessing that meeting her has been.
Doctora Margarita was my right-hand angel who compassionately cared for and supported me over the course of a three-day hospital stay in Celaya, Mexico. She, along with four other specialists, performed a rather complicated abdominal/pelvic surgery that ultimately will extend the quality and quantity of my life. Doctora Margarita oversaw my pain management, made sure that all the multiple entities were coordinated and that I was being tended to properly by the nursing staff. I will forever be grateful that God, Serendipity, the Universe and my due diligence put her and the entire five doctor team on my path.
With all of my medical records in hand (here in Mexico the patient is responsible for maintaining all records—logical, simple, less overhead), we arrived at 6:30 a.m. at Hospital San José on the morning of May 19th. I checked in with the clerk at the main lobby, showed him the orders from the oncologist, paid a deposit, was assigned a recovery room where Frank could wait for me, signed one piece of paper and then waited for an attendant to come get me. Simple? Yes. Nerves? Yes, for sure, but the time was now to do this.
Moments later an O.R. staff member came to get me and take me back to the surgical area of the hospital. I was relieved to know that Frank could be with me all the way up until going into the actual surgical room itself. I got out of my street clothes and in to the ever so fashionable hospital robe. Within 10 minutes, a nurse came in to start my IV, take my health history, place a penicillin allergy wristband around my wrist along with an ID one listing my name, date of birth and recovery room number. From that point, several other hospital staff members came in to ask me general health history questions, interestingly enough including whether or not I had insomnia and/or bad dreams. Even the security guards came to verify that all was in order.
Dra. Margarita made her first appearance in this pre-op room, went over all of my paperwork and diagnostics and then proceeded to show me about 50 pictures of her redheaded niece to distract my nerves and ease my tears. Gracias Doctora...
Next in were the anesthesiologist, the specialist in charge of the surgery and the oncologist. They each went over all of my paperwork and diagnostics and then told me they would see me in the OR…oh boy, fun, fun, party time!
Two nurses came to get me with a wheelchair and this was the point where Frank and I had to say our goodbyes…not easy, at all. He accompanied me while they wheeled me down to the entrance of the surgical corridor. 25 years as a veteran firefighter does not inoculate you against great emotion when you are saying goodbye, for now, to the love of your life. Neither of us could fight the tears. In fact, the whole morning was very emotional for us both, truth be told.
Once in the operating room, I was assisted onto the surgical table and from that point forward, things started moving very fast. Told by the anethesiologist to curl my knees up to my chest and tuck my chin down far, I knew this meant the spinal was on its way—wait, can’t I be put out first?
“Te vas a sentir un poco mareado” he told me, “you’re going to feel a bit dizzy”…”Bring it on” was all that I could think as I was welcoming of an altered state of consciousness to take the edge off of what were now lots of emotions. Doctora Margarita didn’t miss a beat and immediately came to my side to hold my hand and talk me through it. The spinal was no treat, but clearly numbing me from the waist down was imperative.
Once the spinal was in place, I was rolled over onto my back and Doctora Margarita proceeded to disinfect my abdomen thoroughly….wait, I’m still awake for all of this? A few other necessary procedures took place, lots of controlled commotion going on and many people in and out of the room. At this point I asked if I was going to be put fully under…apparently it was an option…? Um, yes please! Last thing I remember is the anesthesiologist holding a large mask by the side of my face, and I was out.
Two hours later, Doctora Margarita was repeating my name over and over until I showed signs of waking. I remember looking over at the clock, which read 10:30, and feeling so grateful and relieved that I was in fact, alive! No surgery is without risk, and while I have always taken good care of myself and went into this surgery in the best health possible, there are no guarantees.
Once transferred to the recovery room and the anesthesia began to wear off, therein began about five hours of the most excruciating pain. For those that have followed my blog and this medical journey specifically—Health Care and Health Care Part 2 —you know that the post-operative pain control was a significant concern for me. I discussed this extensively with all of the involved doctors and was assured that while narcotic-type pain management would not be used/available, that “something similar” would be and that my pain would be controlled.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I was at a 20 for the first several hours after surgery until all entities coordinated and were able to knock it back to about a 7. Doctora Margarita was instrumental in this, and for that amongst many other ways she supported and helped me, I will be forever grateful.
Not only was the standard protocol not effective in my case, but apparently the post-op nurse also forgot to give me my 10:30 loading dose of approved pain meds. How this happened, I’m not sure, other than to say it was the human error component. Additionally, I must have the metabolism of a race horse because the oncologist said they “dumped the whole pharmacy in me”, but still it did not produce adequate relief.
When Dra. Margarita saw that I was not responding to the meds I had already been given, she called in the anesthesiologist to come examen me and authorize a more potent cocktail. At last, the writhing in my bed subsided and I was able to hold at a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 versus a 20.
Was this one of the better parts of my surgery experience? Certainly not. But it happened, and I survived it. If I had to do it all again, would I still have had the surgery here in Mexico…? Yes. The backstory to this surgery is that my condition was a result of a previous abdominal surgery, a botched one gone very wrong in the States that caused me multiple and extensive issues.
Everybody’s pain threshold is different, and while narcotics (i.e. a morphine drip) would likely be the standard pain management approach in the States (and an initially more effective means of pain control) along with take-home narcotics at discharge, anybody who has had a major abdominal surgery, or any surgery for that matter, knows the many downsides to narcotics—slowed and difficult digestion being one of them! The last thing I want to introduce into my body during this recovery would be any type of medicinals that would further inhibit my body from functioning and healing.
I was discharged on Thursday and have been back home now for four days, being tended to with loving care from my amazing husband, mother and children. My take-home medicines, while not as powerful as narcotics, have no doubt taken the edge off of what would otherwise be an intolerable pain. In the short and long run, it will allow me to get back on my feet sooner, although I also know that I need to allow myself the time to heal.
The doctors were successfully able to remove a large tumor, extensive endometriosis and other bits and pieces that I no longer need. The preliminary pathology results have come back benign and all reports from the surgeons state that nothing looked cancerous! Talk about dodging a bullet! Can you imagine how relieved and grateful I am?! I literally have a new lease on life.
I am aware that for some there might be an “eww” or “too much information” factor to this post. But, I stand firm in living truthfully and if I can turn an adversity into something beneficial or informative for others, let alone myself, then it has served its purpose.
To all of the doctors and staff at UNIDIM and Hospital San José in Celaya, Mexico, I am forever grateful for the level of care, detail, compassion and professionalism you have shown me and my family. Thank you. Muchísimas gracias…
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