Doctors and Hospitals in Mexico

Monday, June 3, 2013

Attack of the One-Inch Scorpion

Today's post comes from an article that Monica Rix Paxson wrote months after her Christmas emergency. She's the author of The English Speaker's Guide to Medical Care in Mexico.


The other day, I wrote about how I had to go to the Emergency Room in Mexico on Christmas. Which was great because I was more prepared when half a year later, I had an encounter with a scorpion sting.

Scorpions can be found anywhere in the American continent, yes, even Canada. And where I live, in central Mexico, they're rather common. They are reddish and measure about an inch. Fortunately, they are not fatal. They do show up in the house and everybody is adviced to shake out clothes and shoes before putting them on.

The ones around my house like the kitchen sink for some reason. That's why I always watch out for one before doing the dishes, except that day I was absent-minded and while I was pulling out a plate, I felt it.

It was extremely painful and it burned. I looked at my finger and I wasn't able to see anything. However, I could feel the intense pain. I didn't see the scorpion but I knew it had to be one. I had to do something fast.

Only around 35 of the currently known 2,000 species of scorpions are lethal enough through their poison. The danger is actually the allergic reaction and the anaphylactic shock. That's why you should seek medical attention right away. I took an antihistamine that I keep around precisely in case this happened. Later on, the doctors who treated me told me that it doesn't do anything against the poison. However, it can delay the reaction and buy you time at the expense of making you wait for a longer period of time at the hospital while it wears off.

Speaking of hospitals, there isn't one where I live. Instead of making the trip to the city, we thought it was a better idea to go to a small clinic we'd driven by many times before. We thought they would have more experience with this type of problems.

It was a public clinic, run by the government sponsored Seguro Popular program that gives limited but free medical care to people who aren't covered by any other type of health care.

As you can imagine, this means the poorest citizens, the people who can't afford the minimum of care and for whom family planning, child care, and treatment for common diseases (like a cold) are just out of their reach. I encourage people who read my book “The English Speaker's Guide to Medical Care in Mexico” to use any other health care system so that these resources are really used only on the ones who need it the most. With one exception: emergency care. And it was my case.

I've often heard that public hospitals and clinics are overcrowded and that you have to wait hours to get treatment. However, the building was modern-looking and no one else was there. In minutes, a doctor checked me and told me to wait for a while to see if I developed any reaction. Every 15 minutes, another doctor or a nurse would come and ask me again and told me to report any changes.

Sure enough, after an hour, I felt it in my nose. It was like a “sneeze” feeling except I didn't want to sneeze. That's what the doctors were waiting for and they immediately administered me the anti-venom in a clean bed in a white ward. The feeling went away very soon and I could go home afterwards.

During the research I did for my book, I learned that a small vial of anti-venom in the United States, which has saved countless lives, costs about $10,000 dollars. If you need more vials, the price increases accordingly. Adding other expenses, which is typical, you can end up in deep debt. A woman in Phoenix recently needed 2 vials and the total fee was $83,000 dollars. Her insurance company only paid some of it, and she had to come up with $25,500 from her own pocket.

In any hospital in Mexico, the price for such a vial would cost about $100 dollars.

However, because I was treated in this clinic aimed at helping extremely poor citizens, my total bill amounted to... zero dollars. They didn't accept any money donations, so I went back and bought them a cake the next day.

Incredible, isn't it? Even I find it hard to believe that the US health care system is so broken that even if you have insurance, you still have to pay a hefty amount for a life-saving vial. Even the poorest of the poor in Mexico get better treatment than that.

Want to know more? Read about the first implantation of an artificial heart in Mexico.

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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