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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkTales of Retirement in Paradise 

Chapter 7: Is There a Doctor in the House?
email this pageprint this pageemail usPolly G. Vicars

Vallarta visitors, Noel and Joan Stasel, part of the University of Kentucky gang who met every year after the guys graduated in the early 50s.

Ellen & Sam Basham, the leaders of our group, arriving at LaPalapa.

Young Bill Page with his gal friend and his mother, Lou Page arriving for the reunion. (Big Bill stayed in Kentucky as someone had to work!)

The whole gang met in Kentucky a few years ago. I think we look better than we did in the old days.

Our wonderful friend and resident joker, Carlos Macis, with Husband at a 1990 lunch.
I don't want you to think every thing has been all sea and sunshine since we made this move. Sometimes the rain does fall, but, somehow, even the rain that falls here is warm and nurturing and is spiced with humor.

(That hasn't changed one bit! We certainly have had some downpours in our lives, but I have to tell you, no matter how Pollyannaish this sounds, the most devastating of these events is still tempered by the wonderful people of this true paradise by the sea.)

A few months after retiring here, as we walked along a narrow sidewalk to our early morning Spanish class, we spied a large dog sprawled on the sidewalk outside the door of a street-side casa. I could see he had an ugly open sore on his hind leg, and my mind told me, "Careful! Don't step on his leg!" My foot did not get the message. It brushed him. The dog jumped up, and in spite of the fact that I was wearing fairly heavy slacks, sank a fang right through the material into my leg, and calmly lay back down. I yelled, "That dog bit me!"

Husband, with a trace of false indulgence, said, "No dear, he just scared you."

I pulled up the leg of my slacks to show him the puncture and the streaming blood. We were within three short blocks of a small, well recommended, twenty-four-hour hospital-clinic. (Of course I was talking of CMQ, the hospital on Basilio Badillo that has given both Husband and me such professional and loving care on several subsequent occasions.)

Husband helped me to the emergency room where a very young doctor flushed out my wound, medicated and bandaged it. Luckily, we had taken the precaution of updating our tetanus shots when we first arrived, but unluckily we didn't know the dog's status in regards to his rabies shots. The doctor, through gestures and hand signals, told us to find the owner and bring the rabies certificate to him later in the day.

Cleverly, Husband had noted the house number in front of which the dog had been stationed. (He's an engineer, you know, and they are great detail men.) Our Spanish wasn't up to conversing with the occupants of the casa to find out about the dog's medical history, so we called Friend, who is totally bilingual, a dedicated prankster, and quick to come to a needy person's aid. (Sadly, Friend, Carlos Macis, was stricken with Lou Gerig's disease several years ago and is no longer with us to keep us laughing, but he will never be forgotten!)

Friend and Husband purposely let me overhear their plot to go through the neighborhood offering pesos to anyone who could come up with a valid rabies certificate. However, I feel sure (well almost sure) that they actually did go to the house in question where they said the owner proudly presented the rabies certificate for the correct dog. At least I was spared that awful series of shots, and my jaw remained loose and unlocked!

The doctor's ministrations did what they aimed to do and the charge was less than $25 USD. This experience impressed us with both the caliber and the cost of medical treatment in Vallarta. (Since then we have had occasion to compare Husband's experiences in one of the finest hospitals in Houston, Texas with similar ones in CMQ and I am happy to report that on a scale of 1-10, the score was CMQ - 10; Houston Hospital - 3. This experience and the wonderful care provided by Dr. Jaime Castañeda, prompted us to buy health insurance we can use here in Mexico even though we have Medicare that pays for hospitalization and doctors in the States.)

Not too long after, during my morning absolutions, (After this book came out, my friend Margaret Tolton loved calling attention to my error in using the word "absolutions, a remission of sins pronounced by a priest" instead of the correct word "ablutions, the act or action of bathing." But then she was also incredulous that I used this little medical episode in one of my vignettes for the IFC's Cookbook. We are still best friends even though we often see things through different prisms.) I mistook the results of an eating binge on beets the night before, for a serious medical problem. We still hadn't begun to master the Spanish language nor had we purchased a car. Therefore, we walked to that same clinic where a diminutive, seemingly even younger doctor, but an English speaking one, saw us.

Having eaten the beets never entered my mind so, of course, I didn't mention it. The doctor and I both thought the problem serious enough to have tests made. He told me where the laboratory was located - clear across town, and then, strangely, asked if we had a car. After learning that we didn't, he asked us to wait.

We were puzzled, but thought maybe we needed to prove our solvency or fill out some of the many forms we would have had to fill out in the States. Soon he returned with a young man who was to drive us in the doctor's car to the laboratory, wait for us, and bring us back. Remind you of your doctor back home?

(This wonderful doctor, Dr. Ernesto Aldape, now has his own clinic out on Francisco Villa and is a good friend as well as a fabulous diagnostician and a renowned acupuncturist who has trained repeatedly in China.)

When the results were negative, the eating of the beets came to light, and the young doctor and this old lady shared a good laugh. Though this was only a false alarm, the professionalism displayed by the doctor, coupled with his compassion and helpfulness, reinforced our feelings of confidence in the medical care available in our new hometown.

We were soon to have another medical emergency that would prove the point again, and give us another good laugh and still more reasons to proceed with our Spanish lessons. We were expecting friends from college days for their first visit to Vallarta, and we borrowed the condo next to us to augment our guest quarters. (Wonderfully, all these friends are still alive and well and we still get together here or in the States.) Wanting everything to be perfect, I cleaned the condos until they were sparkling. I thought no one could do it as well as I. Have I learned better!

I've always been an extremely early riser and do some of my best work in the early morning hours. This particular morning I was up especially early, bustling about, checking everything while Husband snoozed peacefully.

I checked the guest bathroom shower and decided I needed to clean the top railing of the sliding glass shower door. I dragged a stool into the bathroom, stood on top, and carefully wiped the metal railing (of course I found it didn't need it.)

As I started to step down from the high stool, my heavy gold wedding band set with my beautiful diamond, a thirty-year anniversary present from Husband, was turned toward my palm, so as my body stepped off the stool the diamond caught in the metal rim; all of me, held only by my ring finger, dangled in the air.

Quickly I got myself extricated and saw the blood gushing from my finger. I grabbed a towel, wrapped my hand, and ran to wake Husband. Can you imagine being awakened from a sound sleep at five in the morning by the pitiful whine of your loved one that a finger has been almost severed? If so, you can understand the pandemonium that followed. Husband crushed ice, packed it around the finger, tied a clean towel around my hand, and propelled me out of the building into a passing taxi bound for the familiar hospital-clinic.

Another very young doctor (if I didn't know better, I would swear none of them were a day over sixteen,) answered the ring of the night bell. After having discarded the ice and the towel, and examining my swelling finger, he used what little English he had and universal gestures to tell me the ring would have to be cut off the finger. He also managed to convey that he had no cutting tools and we would have to wait a few hours until one of the jewelry stores opened. Husband, ever the practical engineer, said he believed he had cutting tools that would do the job. Leaving me with the doctor, he taxied home to assemble his tools.

Meanwhile, the pain was getting to me, and I thought perhaps more ice would help deaden it while I waited. Feeling quite smug with my Spanish, I asked the nurse, "¿Hay helado?" and she, without looking at me as if I were loca, simply answered, "No, Señora." Well, I just felt sure there had to be ice someplace in this clinic, so I repeated my question a time or two. She always politely answered in the negative. Then a light dawned! I had been asking for ice cream (helado) instead of ice (hielo) and I guess Nurse just thought the crazy gringa was hungry. Though I solved the language problem, I didn't get the ice. They had neither.

By this time Husband was back with his array of tools - diagonals, a small saw, wire cutters, and a triangular file. No success until they got to the triangular file. The doctor eased a tongue depressor between the heavy ring and the swollen finger and held it while Husband filed slowly and carefully. The doctor wouldn't give me anything to deaden the finger because he wanted me to be able to tell them if they were sawing into flesh. That sounded like a good idea to me!

For at least thirty minutes, the doctor and Husband took turns holding and filing, and finally the ring was severed! The doctor gave me a shot, sewed up my finger and sent me on my way with the two pieces of my beautiful diamond wedding band in a plastic bag. Once again a minimal fee was charged and the healing was quick.

* When I related the story to Brother in New Orleans, hoping for some commiseration, he commented tersely, "Cooler heads would have cut off the finger and saved the ring!" (Unfortunately, this is still his position!)

* Even though you probably won't believe it, I am not accident-prone and have spent very little time in doctor's offices or hospitals. Happily, these three incidents closed the book on my medical experiences. Don't expect to hear any more about doctors from me!

(Except for this one: this year I slipped on a wet step up at our swimming pool at the peak of a birthday party for Alex and Yesi Cortes. The resulting broken right wrist once again sent us to CMQ where another young doctor, Dr. Manuel Hernandez, attended me, set my badly shattered wrist, later operated to insert a metal plate that left me as good as new with the scar now barely visible! Seems Puerto Vallarta is a medical Mecca filled with competent, caring doctors and nurses! Who would have thought it?)

Polly G. Vicars and her husband of 57 years, Hubert (a.k.a. "Husband") retired to Puerto Vallarta in 1988 and soon became active members of several charitable organizations. Polly is the author of "Tales of Retirement in Paradise: Life in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico" [a sell-out!] and "More Tales of Retirement in Puerto Vallarta and Around the World." Proceeds from the sale of her books go to the America-Mexico Foundation, a scholarship foundation that is their passion.

Click HERE for more articles by Polly Vicars.

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