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Surgery in Mexico~A Tale of Survival

Surgery in Mexico~A Tale of Survival

She sat by my hospital bedside as the evening thunderstorms flashed by the window of my 5th-floor room in Celaya, talking to me about her mother’s Michoacán recipes and how one single salsa de mole can have over 30 ingredients in it. 

As I faded in and out of that post-surgery twilight zone, Dra. Margarita kept me company and my mind both at ease and engaged after a rather complicated surgery. 

She shared with me how she and her husband of 25 years had met—a beautiful love story laced with an almost perceptible description of the aroma and taste of her mother’s pozole at a mandatory family meal and a serendipitous exchange of a single rose between the two on a crowded street. 

Surgery in Mexico~A Tale of Survival

Earth Angel Doctora Margarita & Her Beloved Husband

I learned of her children—all highly accomplished—and that without a doubt, she was a doctor gifted with skills not likely taught in medical school. Doctora Margarita was an earth angel, put on my path to support me through one of the most physically painful experiences I have been through in my life.

While I slept she rested but did not once miss the moment my eyes would open and I was in need of something…anything—water, the bedside tray pulled closer, a repositioning of my very pained body, medication from the nurse, answering phone calls from the other 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, bright-eyed and with a gift of an exquisite, handmade, traditional Michoacan dress. I was beyond moved and it took every ounce of strength to express to her my sentiments upon receiving something so thoughtful and symbolic. 

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 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 their safekeeping—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.

Surgery in Mexico~A Tale of Survival

Surgery Awaits

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 operating room itself. I got out of my street clothes and into the ever-so-fashionable hospital robe. Within 10 minutes, a nurse came in to start my IV, take my health history, and place an ID wristband on. 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 on her phone 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 anesthesiologist 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 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 and prepare me….wait, I’m still awake for all of this? A few other necessary procedures took place, lots of controlled commotion was 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! The 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 began to awake. I remember looking over at the clock which read 10:30, 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 I was 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 in Central Mexico~Preparing for Surgery—you know that the post-operative pain management 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 nor 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 a.m. 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 racehorse because the oncologist said they “dumped the whole pharmacy in me”, and yet still, it did not produce adequate relief.

When Dra. Margarita saw that I was not responding to the pain meds I had already been given, she called the anesthesiologist to authorize a more potent cocktail. At last, the writhing pain was reduced and I was a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. Still incredibly painful, but nothing compared to a 20!

Was this one of the better parts of my surgery experience? Certainly not. But it happened, and I survived. If I had to do it all again, would I still have had the surgery here in Mexico? Yes. 

Everybody’s pain threshold is different, and while narcotics (i.e. a morphine drip) would likely be the standard pain management 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.

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 intolerable pain.

I am aware that for some there might be a TMI 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 eternally grateful for the level of care, compassion, and professionalism you have shown me and my family.

And to Doctora Margarita, mil gracias…you will forever be one of my earth angels.


For more articles and information about healthcare in Mexico:

Post-Surgery Pain Managment in Mexico

From Wheelchair to Walking…I Had Spinal Surgery in Mexico

Retired Firefighter Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico

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{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Joe May 25, 2015, 8:34 pm

    tough little…….glad you’re coming out of it well……

  • Lori Greene May 25, 2015, 9:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, Katie. I hope you’re feeling better soon!

    • Katie O'Grady May 25, 2015, 9:38 pm

      You are welcome Lori…
      And thank you for the well wishes!
      Katie 🙂

  • Paul Spino May 26, 2015, 10:09 am

    Wow! Quite the surgery. I’m glad to hear everything, literally, came out ok. I wish you a speedy recovery. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Katie O'Grady May 26, 2015, 10:21 am

      Hi Paul!

      Nice to see you here on my blog!

      Yes, indeed it was quite the experience.

      One week ago today, my life was very different.

      Today, I am feeling that recovery is well on its way and I am so grateful.

      Thank you for the well wishes.


      Katie 🙂

  • 4dabirds May 31, 2015, 12:57 pm

    Katie, as always, your post provides us an intimate view into both your life, and the spirit of Mexico. Thank you so much for sharing <3

    • Katie O'Grady May 31, 2015, 9:31 pm

      Hi 4dabirds,

      Thank you for sharing that. I humbly accept and appreciate the feedback! 😉
      Now to answer your other questions…


      Katie 🙂

  • Ryan June 5, 2015, 8:53 am

    Katie, glad all went well, thank you for sharing this with all of us, including those of us considering the “big move” to Mexico. First hand sharing, such as you have done, gives everyone such a better understanding of the realities of life in such a special place. It would be interesting to hear, as time goes on, how the follow up process and supports were for you during the recovery phase.

    All the best to you for a speedy recovery!

    • Katie O'Grady June 5, 2015, 8:59 am

      Hi Ryan,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my most recent post and for your kind wishes for a speedy recovery!

      So far, all is going very well and in my favor, thankfully.

      The post-op care has been wonderful…Dr. Margarita checks in with me every couple of days, I have seen the main surgeon Dr. Oscar twice now and will be going back in again in 2 weeks for another post-op check.

      So far, so good.

      This experience has definitely cemented even more our full time/long term connection to and stance in our new country.

      I am forever grateful for the care, kindness and professionalism that has been shown to me and my whole family.


      Katie 🙂

      • Ryan June 6, 2015, 1:53 pm

        Hi Katie, that is great to hear! It’s one thing to read in various books etc about what services are offered in terms of healthcare, but your first hand account really provides a much better idea of the actual “experience” of healthcare in Mexico. Thanks for sharing all of this information, and best wishes for your continued recovery.
        All the best, Ryan

        • Katie O'Grady June 7, 2015, 6:12 pm

          Hi Ryan,

          I know that healthcare issues are at the top of people’s “want to know lists”, and understandably so…thus one of my reasons for sharing, so candidly, what my experiences have been to date.

          Are there bad experiences and stories that recount them? Yes, of course, but we all know those exist in every country of this world.

          Research, community, networking, due diligence, double checking referrals…putting all the pieces together like a puzzle…pay huge dividends…in my case, my health and my life.

          I have many reasons for which I love Mexico, not the least of which being the incredible health care I and my family have received.

          Best to you and yours…



  • Heather Dill August 28, 2018, 6:49 pm

    I’m having surgery in Tijuana in the next month and I am full of anxiety about the differing answers I’m receiving about post op pain management. If there are any recommendations you can provide for the Tijuana area would be forever grateful. I fear waking up in surgery without adequate pain relief

    Thank you

    • Katie O'Grady August 29, 2018, 1:37 pm

      Hi Heather,

      Best of luck in your upcoming surgery!

      I know how unnerving it can be regardless of the country you are in.

      My suggestion would be to have very clear conversations (take notes) with every single doctor that will be involved in your procedure, to ask them your specific questions relative to kinds/types/amounts of meds that will be used for your pain control. Leave no question unasked.

      Kind Regards,


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