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Post-Surgery Pain Management in Mexico

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.

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{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Kathie November 23, 2015, 10:02 am

    Although I don’t live in Mexico, I do visit often and your detailed descriptions of practical issues are invaluable. I always pass them on. Thanks.

    • Katie O'Grady November 23, 2015, 10:04 am

      Thank you so much Kathie,

      I appreciate your feedback and do hope that via the sharing of some otherwise painful and personal life experiences, that I can help inform and empower others…

      Cheers,

      Katie 🙂

  • Robbin March 20, 2016, 9:59 pm

    Thank you for the info. I am having a redo Nissan fundoplication in Guad in April 18. It is laproscopic and the pain from the gas used to inflate the abdomin post op is excruciating. My last surgery in the U.S. I had 24 hours of morphine every two hours. I got the same vague answers from my surgeon. How do I make sure I will have the necessary pain control post op? I go to hospital puerto hierro sur

    • Katie O'Grady March 23, 2016, 9:27 am

      Hello Robbin,

      Uiff, I know firsthand how very painful that abdominal gas can be!

      I would for sure consult with an angológo and paliativista—a doctor that specializes in the pain management of advanced conditions and is licensed to prescribe opiates, like morphine—to try and set up a treatment plan prior to your procedure.

      Wishing you the best,

      Katie

  • Chanel November 23, 2016, 8:44 pm

    Hello Katie,
    I came across your website after a long a difficult battle I find myself a part of here in Mexico. I am American andmy husband was is a Mexican national we recently moved back down here to be close to his family, splitting our time between Tijuana and Los Mochis. Unfortunately, in the US I have long battled severe chronic back pain and it’s becoming more clear that another back surgery is around the corner. To put it bluntly im enduring hell trying to find a doctor that is able and willing to help me. I am desperate to tall to anyone who understands what I’m going through and could maybe offer me some advise. Anything you could share with me anything at all be so very appreciated. Thank you very much. Chanel Rienstra Roman

    • Katie O'Grady November 23, 2016, 9:12 pm

      Hi Chanel,
      I am so very sorry to hear of your situation.
      I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Salvador Galvan, the neurosurgeon in Querétero who returned to me the gift of walking.
      Please pm me for his contact information at [email protected].
      Best Regards,
      Katie

  • Timothy Dromgoole December 15, 2016, 2:10 am

    I have angleosing Spondylitis and have problems finding a pain specialist in the United States can you please forward me dr. Paulos contact information [email protected]

  • jason singley February 11, 2017, 2:43 pm

    I need help I have been in extreme pain since major spine fusion for shermans kyphosis I live in Illinois and no Dr. or pain clinic will prescribe any meds that will help. I have no quality of life and am at my wits end I have tried every therapy from injections to snake oil I need releif from my daily misery any contact info on Dr. Paulo and pharmacies would be a godsend.Please Help Me

    • Katie O'Grady February 11, 2017, 3:41 pm

      Jason,
      I sent you a pm.
      Kindly confirm if you received it.
      Best Regards,
      Katie

  • Patricia Cardwell February 20, 2017, 10:48 pm

    Hello Kati I live in Reno Nv and have been going to a pain management doctor for the past 7 years. My problem is my husband wants us to retire in PV Mexico, do you know of any pain management doctors there? I don’t know what the update on Opioids 2017 in PV are and cant seem to find it on the web. I feel like I’m in the dark ages. if you have any info please email me back. Thank you!

    • Katie O'Grady February 23, 2017, 6:59 pm

      Hi Patricia,
      I have contacted my pain specialist in Querétero on your behalf to see if he is able to recommend a colleague here in this region.
      I will let you know.
      Best Regards,
      Katie

  • Eluzabeth April 20, 2017, 11:46 pm

    My husband and I are planning to retire to San Miguel de Allende and we have questions about chronic pain management in Mexico. Can you email me?

    Best regards,
    Elizabeth

    • Katie O'Grady May 3, 2017, 7:42 pm

      Hi Elizabeth,

      My apologies for the delay in seeing and approving this comment to my blog. We have been in communications and I trust that you will find the information and contacts that you need to best serve you and your husband in SMA.

      Best Regards,
      Katie

  • Mary K May 11, 2017, 12:17 am

    Hello, I am very happy to have found this blog. I am moving to Peurto Vallarta in a little over a week and I suffer from what they are saying here in the states from either severe ovarian cysts or endometreosis. I have been on norco for the past 2 years and it has helped my daily life tremendously, but I am worried that I will not be able to continue the same treatment and be in severe pain again. Is there any way that you may forward my information to your doctor so that I may be treated without getting to the point of cringing everytime I move?
    My email is [email protected]

    I would be very appreciative of your help.
    Thanks again,

    Mary K.

    • Katie O'Grady May 17, 2017, 10:20 pm

      Hi Mary K,

      I sent you a pm about a week ago.

      Kindly let me know if you are in receipt of it.

      Thank you,

      Katie

  • Beth June 2, 2017, 2:03 pm

    Hello Kaitie,

    This was very informative and I’m grateful for the information. I am unable to locate any contact information for dr. Paulo and I was hoping that you might have a contact number or email address for him. If so I would be grateful if you could contact me with that information. Thank you very much,

    Beth
    [email protected]

    • Katie O'Grady June 7, 2017, 8:31 am

      Hello Beth,

      I am happy this information was of help to you.

      Dr. Paulo is a pain specialist located in Querétero, Mexico.

      I am happy to email you his contact information and will do so after responding here.

      Best Regards,

      Katie

  • Kevin June 26, 2017, 11:58 am

    Hi, my wife has severe back pain, I would like for you to please forward the information of the Dr. that helped you. We have tried everything here in the states and no Dr. has helped her yet. I would like to give this a chance. I thank you in advance if you would please do this for me. My email, [email protected]
    Kevin S.

    • Katie O'Grady June 27, 2017, 12:48 pm

      Hello Kevin,
      I am very sympathetic to your wife’s situation.
      I will email you my neurosurgeon’s contact information.
      Best,
      Katie

  • deb October 1, 2017, 10:55 pm

    tramadol is available over the counter. I rarely need it / thankfully, but when I have, a small dose has proven effective. BTW redheads have different reactions to pain and anesthesia … especially

    at the dentist. I have a wonderful dentist here in the Patzcuaro area that understands this and uses a different technique when i am in the chair.

  • deb October 1, 2017, 10:58 pm
  • Sara October 2, 2017, 6:52 am

    Hi Katie,

    I have had two major surgeries in Mexico as a visitor and found the pain management to be barbaric. I am moving to Lake Chapala later this month. But I never again want to wake up from surgery panicked instantly and for the first week by unbearable pain. Will you please message me your pain docs contact info so I can ask for a referral to a pain doc Lakeside or in Guad? I’ll be having knee replacement next year and want a relationship set up in advance with a doc able and willing to provide post-op opiates. Thank you!

    • Katie O'Grady October 2, 2017, 12:13 pm

      Hi Sara,
      Smart thinking…
      I will p.m. you Dr. Paolo’s contact info. in the hopes that he will have a reputable contact for you in the Lake Chapala/Guadalajara area.
      Best Regards,
      Katie

  • Rose October 2, 2017, 2:04 pm

    I am coming to Puerto Vallarta for a procedure called Disco-gel with a Dr Jorge Porto. It is minimally invasive. I have had many spinal surgeries and the only part I have that is not fused is my lumbar. USA Drs say there is nothing more they can offer. My lumbar now has 4 levels ruptured . I have been on morphine for a few years now in USA. To have the procedure offered to me by DrPorto( please God I hope he is good and it works) I must stay for 45 days. . So I have two questions. Do you or your doctors know anything about this doctor and this procedure and since I will be there over a month is there a clinic I could obtained my regular medication while there since I can not travel with more than 30 day supply into MX. Thank you for any help you can provide me.

    • Katie O'Grady October 2, 2017, 3:14 pm

      Hi Rose,

      All of my contacts for my spinal surgery are based in Querétero, Central Mexico.

      I recommend that you contact Pamela Tompson at [email protected] for your specific questions.

      She is the go-to person in the Vallarta area for medical referrals.

      Best Regards,
      Katie

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