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.