The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
The instant I smacked my elbow on a cobbled street in Mexico I knew there was a problem. What I didn’t expect was that it made me start thinking of “what-ifs.”
My husband and I drove from Tucson to spend the summer in the Central Highlands of Mexico, at 7,200 feet, in Patzcuaro, Michoacan. My morning routine was wandering the streets with my dog until hopelessly lost, then check my phone for a clue.
Abruptly, everything changed. Lying in the street I grabbed my elbow, dog leash still in hand. My funny bone was missing, only a big hole where it should have been. I didn’t scream, still struggling to remember the Spanish word for help. One of Mexico’s ubiquitous invisible topes (speed bumps) tripped me up.
Vendors pushing fruit and vegetable carts to market clattered in the distance. Abarrotes (tiny grocery stores) opened up as owners set up tables of breads and tortillas outside.
A small crowd gathered, pulsing me with questions I only pretended to understand. How badly was I injured, where was my house, should they call an ambulance? Someone brought a bottle of water; someone held my phone as I tried to call my husband. No one hurried to abandon me. Could they get a taxi for me and my dog; it appeared in seconds. Fergus was already sitting in the back when they got me seated. As the driver opened the car door at the house, one of my saviors ran up the hill, chasing us a mile.
The following day we sought medical attention other than Google. Patzcuaro has a population of 80,000; no Starbucks, no big boxes, no Tucson Medical Center; it is a town of artisans. And Clinica Patzcuaro.
The first thing Dr. Juan Manuel Velazquez Sepulveda asked was why I waited an entire day. A reasonable question. His English was light years ahead of my Spanish, but called his U.S.-born wife to translate. “I have some bad news” she said, as he explained the X-ray.
The olecranon (funny bone) had indeed cracked off and needed surgery ASAP. Repositioning it required pins, wire, a healthy scar and a few nights at the Clinica. Driving to Tucson would take four days, and the deal was sealed.
Dr. Velazquez wheeled me into surgery at 6:30 the next morning, where the anesthesiologist explained his role in words and pantomime. I barely remember him pointing to my throat saying, “I’m going to punch you there.” Evidence of a needle mark tells me he did just that.
The surgeon, translator and anesthesiologist all visited post-op, often. In my simple private room at the Clinica, nurses bustled throughout my two nights. One follow-up later and basic stretching exercises started, I am not out of the woods but I’m on the road.
I reflect on my new Patzcuaro souvenir, an 8-inch scar and monthslong rehab. How might have this played out otherwise or elsewhere?
One look at me and it’s obvious that I’m not a Patzcuaran local. When I fell, no one hesitated to assist, check my injuries, give me water, help me up and into a taxi.
No one asked if I was a citizen or check my papers.
At the Clinica Patzcuaro I filled out no laborious forms, showed no insurance card, no ID, no proof of payment. They asked my first name. Doctors gave me their personal cell numbers. Yes, I did pay the bill upon discharge: $1,500 for hospital/surgery/anesthesia. Todo — for everything. My hospital room was supplied with toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toilet paper and fantastic food.
Best vacation ever? Best people ever, for sure.