Doctors and Hospitals in Mexico

Monday, May 27, 2013

Are You Prepared for an Emergency in Another Country?

Today's post is an experience from Monica Rix Paxson, author of The English Speaker's Guide to Medical Care in Mexico.


Emergencies are always a surprise. If we could see them coming, we would prepare for them, but we don't by definition. Many people in the US only know they have to call 911 and that's it. Also, ambulances are available pretty much anywhere (although their prices, as you find later in the hospital, are ridiculously expensive). Nevertheless, you probably feel confident that that call will keep you safe.

Mexico is a different country, and things work differently here. Not worse, just differently. That's why it's important not to assume that things will work like at home. I say this because of a recent event in my life: I found myself  in a medical emergency. Although I wrote a book about health care in Mexico, I still made assumptions that weren't right. Here's the story:

Like many people, I ate much more than I should have at Christmas. Later on, I got very sick. At around 3 AM, I knew I needed to go to a doctor. I could walk, so we drove from our little pueblo to the city, which is 40 minutes away.

There's a small hospital and a doctor that we usually go to. It has at most 15 beds, which is not unusual at all in Mexico. However, it has an ER and a doctor on duty. Because we've been there before and we liked the treatment, it was the logical choice.

However, Navidad is much more important in Mexico. Mexicans spend much more time with their families and they often go on vacation, which means that many businesses are closed. The small city we went to was practically a ghost town so we arrived to the hospital in a very short amount of time.

BUT, it turned out the hospital was closed! The doors were covered with metal shutters and the windows were licked with iron bars.

Apparently, they didn't have any patients, so they decided to go home and spend time with their families.

While I had an emergecy, it wasn't life-threatening. But I was scared to be on the street in the middle of the night, in a deserted city with no idea about what to do.

Fortunately, my partner knew the city and after asking around (how he was able to find people at 4 AM, I don't know) he knew where to take me. We arrived at a larger hospital and when its gates opened, an security guard welcomed us and showed us where to park and where to go.

The emergency room was impeccably clean, well-litted and well-equipped. The doctor saw me inmedately. She took my vitals and then made a diagnosed and wrote a prescription. She was very professional and compassionate about it and she made me feel reassured.

So, what was the cost of this emergecy treatment? About 25 dollars. But the icing on the cake was that the doctor told me that if I wanted to buy the medicine for cheaper, I should go to a 24 hour pharmacy that was close to the hospital. She assured me that the medicine would be exactly the same. And it cost me only 4 dollars.

We really didn't have any problems, just assumptions on how things worked. Now I know that public hospitals are always open but private ones may not, specially small ones.

I also learned that I have to get to know the local emergency phone numbers in Mexico, where there isn't a national 911, the numbers of public and private ambulance services, the location of hospitals and whether they are open or closed on holidays. This now makes me much better prepared in case of another emergency.

Want to know more? Compare the prices of cosmetic surgery in Mexico vs the US.


Robert Ervin is a freelancer who writes about healthcare, medical tourism, and living in Mexico.

If you're considering traveling to Mexico for healthcare or retiring in Mexico, you may want to get yourself a copy of The English's Speaker's Guide to Doctors and Hospitals in Mexico, in order to find a good doctor or hospital in the main towns and cities of Mexico, or The English Speaker's Guide to Medical Care in Mexico, to understand how the Mexican healthcare system works.

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