Hello. Miss me?
So sorry. I have checked out — in a number of ways — and the Bound for Belize blog has fallen by the wayside.
Then I popped back up the other day with that number on violence and murder in Belize and I know it felt more like a hard slap than a cheery wave “hello” to many.
Sorry about that.
The trouble with this blog is that I write about what moves me, what’s on my mind. Since I am beholden to no advertiser or revenue stream or reader, it comes and goes as I am moved most — or least.
I hope you enjoyed my friend Jeff Drew’s guest post on spending the day with Jose/Salva, a solitary fishermen at sea in his kayak. I see Jose paddle out nearly every day in fair weather and foul. I find him incredibly brave and determined. Thank you Jeff, for sharing your story.
I once asked Jose why he goes out every day to fish and he laughed. “If I had to stay in town,” he replied, “I would go crazy.”
Well, as some of you may know — or may have surmised — I’ve been sick.
Last year started with a stent implant to unclog a very clogged artery. That went well, if rather more expensively than I had hoped. And I am proud to say the operation was done here in Belize by a talented cardiologist.
Then in May I had a mysterious case of internal bleeding that sent me to the public national hospital in Belize City, Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, on a holiday weekend. It is an experience I shall cherish and never want to repeat again. The bleeding was stopped; the reason for it was never discovered.
Then, at the end of 2015, I developed a serious prostate problem. I spent a couple of days in a private clinic in Belize City where the urologist made several observations: 1. It may need to be removed. 2. It may be cancerous. 3. Get it done in Merida, Mexico, not here in Belize.
I took the doctor’s advice.
I booked a flight to Merida, right after booking a consultation with a urologist.
This was all made possible for two huge reasons: 1. My good friends Dennis and Tamara Rossi now live in Merida. 2. An amazing medical “concierge” named Teresita who serves as a guardian angel between the vast and sprawling Merida medical community and terribly confused and stressed medical tourists. Like me.
Teresita booked my appointments, drove me to them, translated, assisted with pharmacy needs and generally made sure the who experience went down without a hitch. She has been doing this for Belizeans for 29 years.
Teresita, a Belizean by birth and a nurse by training, has never charged for this service. She leaves it up to you to decide the value of her efforts.
Meanwhile, Dennis and Tamara, and Tam’s mom, Bobbi, opened up their house to me with a level of generosity that still staggers me today. (I displaced Bobbi from her beautiful casita at the back of the compound and she was the most lovely and gracious person imaginable.)
My urologist, who is also an oncologist, recommended prostate removal. “We could do a biopsy now,” he said, “and if there is cancer we would have to remove it anyway. As it is, it should be removed regardless.”
As The Donald would say, “It’s huuuuuge!” (Sorry.)
This was my second time around with prostate problems in three years. I was over it.
I returned to Merida several weeks later for the operation.
This time I took the water taxi from the lagoon-side of San Pedro to Chetumal, Mexico, (90 minutes) and picked up the ADO bus to Merida (6 hours). I would go that route again in a heartbeat. (There are two water taxis to Chetumal and they alternate days.) Sorry, Tropic Air, I love your planes but I just can’t always afford them.
I won’t belabor you with the details, but with Teresita watching over me, the operation and five days recovery in the hospital went off extremely well.
OK, one anecdote to illustrate the indispensability of Teresita.
The ADO bus arrived around 7 p.m. in Merida and my first instructions were to head immediately to the hospital for blood tests. (I fasted the whole trip for those tests.) I raced from the bus to the first cab and pointed the driver toward the hospital. At the blood lab I ran into an insurmountable language barrier. It seemed like they wanted 18 hours of fasting instead of my eight.
I was beside myself. The operation was set for 7 a.m. the next day and everything hinged on the blood test results.
In my deepest despair I heard a voice behind me. “Mr. Hawkins?” It was Teresita.
Unbeknownst to me, she had come to the bus terminal to pick me up, saw me jump into the cab and chased us to the hospital.
Teresita quickly cleared up the misunderstanding. The blood samples were drawn and then she drove me to the little B&B where I was to stay that first night. Bright and early the next morning, she drove me to the hospital and stayed by my side until I was wheeled into surgery.
And of course, she was there to greet me when I came out.
So, operation and hospital stay — very very good. Couldn’t have asked for better care.
No, literally. I couldn’t have asked for better care.
Nobody spoke English. And my Spanish is horribly deficient.
I was in a Mexican hospital, not a medical tourism facility. We muddled through with sign language and sharing of translations, word by word.
Like a Pavlovian dog, I quickly learned that “dolor” (pain) yielded pain killers. “Mucho dolor” yielded even more. Mostly though, Teresita stopped by periodically to smooth the path between our two languages.
When it came time to leave the hospital, Teresita gathered up my billing and two inches of documentation. She cross-referenced every charge against my hospital account number to ensure the accuracy of it all. She also negotiated a reduction in the surgeon’s fee because I had to stay an extra day in the hospital.
Now, health care should never be approached with a bargain-hunter’s mentality. You want the best care, not the cheapest. That said, surgery, biopsy (clean) and hospital stay with all medical supplies and medications, came to a grand total of $4,100 USD. I think that is less than many insurance deductibles in the U.S.
What can not be calculated is the five days I spent recuperating with Dennis, Tamara and Bobbi. They gave me the space to be my miserable self (and I was miserable) and yet insisted that I not starve myself to death. By the end, i was gingerly taking afternoon walks with them. and sharing meals.
But seriously? I was no fun for anybody.
Now, at home, recovery is maddeningly slow but my own angel, Rose, has patiently and lovingly paved the way with nurturing meals, appropriate concern and encouragement.
The question that often comes up is, “Hey Bob, you’re 65 and now on Medicare why didn’t you have this done in the U.S.?”
Here’s my thinking — and jump in if you think I am wrong: I have been two years in Belize. I have no doctor back home and no residential base from which to operate. To get it done I would first need to secure a general practitioner who would run a series of tests and then, pending results, recommend me to a urology specialist with whom I may, or may not, get an appointment. He or she would then run more tests and maybe, with the passage of time, an operation would be scheduled. Then I would need to find a place to recover, post-hospital. Then there are the flights to and from Belize, the need for transportation in the states, room and board.
In my head it adds up to a logistical and financial nightmare. Assuming I could find a doctor who still takes Medicare patients.
Merida, by the way, is home to 99 hospitals and specialty clinics, including one hospital just for South Koreans. It’s doctors are among the finest anywhere. My own is the head of oncology at one of the major hospitals and has his own private surgical urology practice. His competence and credentials were never in doubt.
My mental state through all this, has been a whole other thing. I hate being sick at my age. I hate deferring the joy I’m supposed to be experiencing in retirement. I hate burdening Rose and friends with my infirmity. I hate the feelings of helplessness and mortality that define me. I am surrounded by beauty and life on a lovely tropical island and I struggle to appreciate it.
Oh, I’m getting better, stronger. I’m healing slowly and my outlook is improving. During a spell this last week when my medications ran out I was able to taste my first beer in more than two months. And my first cup of coffee!
Maybe that’s why I am running on and on right now: Caffeine!
I apologize. But so many of you have asked me where I went to (in a literary sense). I just thought you should know.
I’m doing fine, getting better and pretty soon hope to once again experience the joys and challenges of living here in Belize — and tell you all about them.
Meanwhile thanks for your well wishes, concerns and prayers. They all sustain me and I am most grateful.
And I promise you, no pictures of the operation.