I mentioned in my last posting (on empathy in King Lear) that I had a close brush with death. Here’s the story.

About twenty years ago I was plagued by the emergence of two inguinal hernias. I had them repaired and all was well for several years until around 2019, just before the Covid outbreak, I visited my surgeon (I live in Victoria, Canada) to tell him that I had another hernia and would he please take care of it. He examined closer and said, “You’ve got another hernia on the other side of your groin and, what’s bears watching, even a third hernia underneath that. It could spell problems for you.”

The doctor said he would contact me when he could book me for surgery. “Great!”, I thought, he will take care of it. Well, Covid came on the scene and for  two years I badgered the doctor by telephone. I was never able to speak with him (and not even his secretary).  Every time I phoned I would get a recording thanking me for my patience (I was becoming livid with impatience, I can tell you.) But I didn’t get anywhere.

At the end of this time of waiting I broke up a long-standing relationship and decided to visit Puerto Vallarta, a beautiful resort town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. I wanted to get recuperate from years in a bad relationship, bask in the sun and swim in the Pacific.  In this whirlwind of packing and movement south I forgot all about my hernias. They weren’t bothering me and I had more or less forgotten about the potentially dangerous (even lethal danger) posed by the hidden hernia.

So one morning in Mexico I visited my favorite Mom and Pop restaurant for a healthy plate of their delicious “eggs rancheros”.  As usual, they tasted great—spicy and interesting.

Later that afternoon I was seized, out of the blue, by the most painful stomach ache I have ever had. I was throwing up quite often and was thoroughly miserable. It was so bad I couldn’t sleep for two nights.  I checked into a Mexican general practitioner’s office for an examination and after what I thought was a pretty thorough exam he said he thought it must be a case of food poisoning and prescribed a few prescriptions. I took them for the next two days but they didn’t seem to do much good. In fact, at the end of the two days I felt sicker than I remember ever feeling in my life, so sick that I was beside myself with fears, of pain and death. Then it suddenly dawned on me: “What if it’s the hidden hernia (technically known as “an incarcerated hernia” the “carcere” literally “jail” being, in this case, my groin.)

I rushed (read: hobbled) to my computer and did a search. I think my search words were “severe pain in lower stomach”, “hidden hernia”, “much vomiting”); Immediately the computer screen showed two words: “incarcerated inguinal hernia”. Bingo!  Right on the mark! How amazing the computer can be!

I phoned my good friend Russ in Victoria and he advised me to fly back to Victoria as soon as possible and get myself booked into a Canadian hospital. I booked a flight, the earliest available being one that would leave in two days.

Meanwhile, the following night (a Sunday) I was in intolerable pain and knew I stood a good chance of dying if I didn’t get to a surgeon.  Funny how reliable this gut feeling feels! So I went on the computer and looked for emergency hotels in Puerto Vallarta. There were three. I looked them over. I knew they would all be expensive but I chose the one that looked the least like a big high-priced American style hospital, the kind that I think are now found pretty well all over Mexico. (The cheaper hospitals in Mexico and not available to tourists unless they have a coveted ‘permanent resident” card.)

I checked myself in and got surgery at 6 a.m. the following morning. I thought the treatment was good although I no nothing about the details as to what is and what isn’t a good repair job. (I guess only time can tell that.)  Two days later the surgeon looked me over and told me it would be okay for me to check out and go back to my hotel where I could recuperate with lots of rest and inactivity. That’s what I am doing right now.

What did I learn from all this? Maybe Canada’s much-admired medical system is not without serious flaws, the flaws often being caused by doctors who are unavailable and/or overworked. I will try to claw back some of the $7000. (Can.) that the operation and hospital cost me. Okay, maybe I should have got private insurance, but, hey! I consider myself fit and healthy and I had forgotten all about the Victoria hernia doctor’s remark (and he had never followed up on it). Maybe there are so many demands put on Canada’s medical system that it can’t cope 100 per cent. I also learned that to survive medically in Canada you have to seize the initiative and monitor your own health. Use the computer. Enter the key words and you might be enlightened  by what its electronic mind will spew out.  

I have to laugh. Here I am, in the old Azteca Hotel in Vallarta, gingerly, slowly walking down the street to buy some groceries. As I slowly hobble along I notice a Mexican man sitting on the sidewalk with his back leaning against a building. He has a quart bottle of cold beer in his hand and is feeling no pain. He looks up at me and says, “Que pasa con Usted, Senor? Que tiene?”

I, often one to dramatize my encounters with chance strangers, reply to him,

“Oiga, Senor. Estoy recuperando de cirurgia en la panza y sufriendo un dolor infernal. Creo sufrir como sufrieron los pobres soldados de Cortez durante la desdichada ‘noche triste ! » (Listen, Sir. I am recuperating from surgery to my gut and suffering hellish pain. I think I am suffering like the poor soldiers of Cortez during the wretched ‘sad night’. (when they tried to recover from a bloody skirmish with Aztec troups.)

He :  « De donde es Usted, Senor?”

Me: “De Canada y me gusta mucho la historia de Mexico. »

Well, that’s my story.

Robert Thomson

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