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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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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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