Red Cross personnel at accident scene in the State of México Red Cross personnel at accident scene in the State of México. teotihuacán en línea

Are you prepared for a medical emergency?

Insufficient training and drug shortages can create perfect storm

Friends of mine moved to San Miguel de Allende 10 years ago when they were in their early 50s and in excellent health. Like so many of us they stayed because they loved Mexico, and with modest savings were able to purchase a home.


And because they were informed health care consumers they sought out and received excellent medical care — most of the time.

Paradoxically, though, their ease may have contributed to complacency, leaving them ill prepared for a looming disaster.

Tom (not his real name), with no history of illness, passed out while preparing a meal. Hearing him crumple to the kitchen floor, his wife rushed in to find him unconscious.

Luckily, the Red Cross was on speed dial and the call was quickly made, leaving her to wait nervously by Tom’s side as the ambulance crept through traffic to reach him. Unluckily, though, not all the components were in place to prevent Tom from being disabled by the stroke.

Even with a speedy trip to the general hospital Tom had faced three powerful adversaries: the ambulance medics not being trained in advanced lifesaving protocols, the absence of commonly available drugs to reduce the consequences of a stroke and, finally, no attending trauma specialist waiting in the ER. A perfect storm, some would say.

Tom survived, but awoke with a useless left arm and hand, as well as impaired speech. Of course, all concerned are grateful for a life saved, but a case like this in the States would have had a far different outcome.


Unfortunately, clot busting drugs and advanced care protocols are still not in use in much of Mexico, nor are similar drugs as used in the U.S. for heart attack victims. In large urban settings such as Querétaro, yes, but it is rare indeed that transit time favors the patient.

Similar scenarios play out daily on Mexican roadways when care is delayed or first responders are insufficiently trained and equipped. It is a truism that delayed care after a major motor vehicle accident can be lethal.

The bright side is that many communities in Mexico are earnestly striving to improve emergency services. In San Miguel, a fully equipped trauma center is in the works, including on-staff trauma physicians, comprehensively equipped ambulances and English-speaking, highly trained paramedics.

Meanwhile, if one is at risk, perhaps learning to enjoy caution is worth the effort. Keep your local emergency numbers visibly posted in your home and prepare those around you for emergency action.

Most of Mexico uses 066 or 065 for emergency response. If driving, use seat belts. If afoot, be mindful of irregular surfaces. If taking regular medications that are working, stay on schedule, but if they are not, seek other consults and remedies. In short, do what you can avoid your critical emergency.

Consider carrying a list of medications and contact numbers in your wallet or purse. If you have insurance in the States or in Canada and would want to be cared for there after a life-threatening event, consider subscribing to a reputable evacuation plan. If you don’t have U.S. or Canadian medical insurance consider purchasing other coverage.

Deborah Bickel is a patient advocate living and working in San Miguel de Allende. She is a physician assistant trained at Stanford University and has a master’s degree in public health from University of California at Berkeley.

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  • Doña Barola

    Well, this was a non newsworthy article. Lots of should do”s with nothing news. Did your editors put on a coat of whitwash? Lets hear some facts please not generalizations. First response care in Mexico is in an appalling state. Why not report on that and report on the predators that take advantage of a medical emergency? The Ambulance drivers who won’t do anything unless you pay them upfront. The doctors and others of the medical profession who prey on the victims at their most vulnerable recommending unecessary procedures for personal gain.
    A little more investigative journalism please.

    • PintorEnMexico

      Doña, MND is essentially a translation service, passing on for the most part translated synopses of Mexican news articles. If you look at the headings LIFE follows NEWS. The Mexico Life articles like this are submitted by readers and others on subjects such as food, culture, and recently, medical concerns from this author in SMDA. The standard isn’t investigative reporting, more like opinion pieces. It seems the author’s intent is arming expats here with common sense precautions in a country where things don’t run as smoothly as in other countries. I would be most interested in article following up on the concerns you raised, but who is going to do it? Perhaps you can find some facts to support your anecdotes, enough to interest an editor. But I don’t think that’s the job of Ms. Bickel.

      • Doña Barola

        Interesting. I thank you for your candor and for the insight that MND is a translation service versus a news service (perhaps a name change is in order?). Anyway, as I am now a tad confused why you offer a commenting section in future I will go direct to source.

        BTW, my comment originated in personal experience, ergo the steam that came out of my ears when I read this opinion piece.

  • S. Fiona

    Beware of certain Insurance Companies:



    PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE IN MEXICO I do not generally post negative comments when it comes to dealing with a company however in this case I would like to warn people about how totally unethical and inhumane Allianz Mexico is. I have had personal Health Insurance through this company for 9 years. In 9 years I NEVER had a claim. This past year the cost of the insurance increased about 30 percent. In order to keep my payments down I increased my deductible to 24,000 pesos per incident which seemed manageable. Recently I was diagnosed with Macular holes in both of my retinas and cataracts in both eyes. In order to repair the retinas it is necessary to remove the cataracts. I submitted all of the necessary paperwork through my agent to Allianz Mexico in order to be prepared for the surgical procedure. It took approximately 10 days to obtain approval for the surgery. I was told at that time they were considering it as TWO events as I have two eyes…thus 2 deductibles. I and my surgeon was told that I needed to pay the first deductible (24K) have the surgery on one eye…then pay a second deductible and have the surgery on the second eye. The night before the surgery within 12 hours of having the surgery I was told by the agent that both deductibles needed to be paid up front before any surgery (48K). I went to the surgeon’s office, he called the coordinator and stated that is not the instructions you gave last week. The coordinators response was “That was Last week, this is a different week”. So I show up the next day, psyched and prepared for the surgery, transportation, recovery assistance. I fill out all of the forms about blood transfusions, last rites, etc….only to be told by the surgeon that he had just received paperwork from the coordinator and Allianz was now considering the surgery as FOUR event for each cataract and an event for each retina. Or in other words another 48,000 prepayment of a deductible. Because I did not have 48,000 in cash in my bag I was denied surgery. Lest than an hour before the surgery. The surgeon was prepped, the anesthesiologist on hand..and the hospital operating room reserved. Needless to say now the doctor is completely frustrated and I am beyond livid. In my opinion this is unbelievably irresponsible if not unethical on the part of Allianz MEXICO.