We arrived on the ferry from Playa in a quick 30 minutes, but man oh man were the seas rough! The Winjet was a comfortable boat within its interior with wide cushioned seats, beverage and snack service as well as salespeople offering tours of the island’s National Marine Park. Chatting with the taxi driver who we easily hailed at the taxi stand situated at the end of the pier and just to the left, she chuckled lightly about “almost always windy in the Playa, almost always beautiful my island”. This was only the beginning of our Cozumel beauty and some unexpected life experience with medical treatment mixed in!
The Mayan driver chatted about living on the island her entire life, she was in her 40’s and explained her family had been here for generations. I inquired “how many?” She giggled and said “all of them”. A little research taught me that meant for 2000 years. We chatted about her childhood enjoying the irresistible turquoise waters and the beauty of the marine park contained within them. She explained the population had grown from 40,000 to 120,000 since her youth. She thanked me as we got out for the fun conversation and being able to understand her English. Everyone I encountered on this island had a really nice handle on my native language which had me yearning again to fully partake of the Spanish program I invested in via Great Escape Publishing and have gotten sidetracked from for whoever knows what excuse! Multi-linguistic mastery would be an awesome goal I might have to include for a future life or maybe I can still muster it in this one 😉
The driver dropped us at our destination for our all inclusive retreat with our flight attendant daughter who has gifted us our nearly free standby flying status. El Cozumeleno stood proudly at the beaches edge of the shimmering Caribbean Sea. The entrance was still decorated in it’s holiday garb. As we began the check in process, we were welcomed with the drink of the day, a tequila sunrise. A refreshing way to start in a tropical paradise. As was the case throughout the region, check in is listed as 3pm and they mean 3pm. We found this a common denominator in all properties we stayed in. We were welcomed to enjoy lunch and our luggage was stored until our room was assigned. The buffet was mediocre at best at this highly reviewed 3 star property. We found during our 4 days that breakfast was the best meal. The view to the ocean made the food quality’s importance negligible. The grounds of the Cozumeleno were beautiful with abundant lounge chairs and two pools and friendly service staff that kept the complimentary drinks flowing. The waters of all pools in the region were a bit chilly for our liking with the sea being the warmest spot for swimming. Winds made for many days of caution flags on the beaches while we were in the area.
We strolled the beach late Monday, the three of us, and upon our return us girls went for one more sit with complimentary beverages while my honey went to the room for a little nap. After the sun had set my daughter and I went to freshen up and reconvene our complimentary consumption in the hotel lobby sitting area until our dinner reservation. This is where my tale takes a turn away from budget travel information to the life experience side of travel. I received a simple text from the hubster about 45 minutes before our reservation. “You coming back?” Weird, when I left to rendezvous with our daughter the plan was for him to meet us. I made my way back to drop off my computer I’d been playing around on and check in as to what he needed. I found him, simply stated, both unable to sit or stand and in more pain than “normal”. Even my assistance could not bring him to these positions without escalating the pain to what appeared to be an unbearable level. Prior to our departure he had been experiencing some increased post 2013 motorcycle accident issues. We recognized these as the results of irreparable spine damage from impact and nerve damage from deep road rash we had been advised would transpire. These “symptoms” had started to show up in early summer 2019. He had been to some chiropractic care and on to physical therapist care, post X-rays ordered by our primary care provider. We had left knowing that some stretching exercises were necessary, some forms of exercise were restricted and light walking and non strenuous water activity were encouraged. Other than some use of stairs and a couple days of more walking than was probably advisable we felt good about how “easy” we were really taking the beginning of this snowbird escape. We were in no way prepared for the incident in life that was about to unfold. I will relate that tale here so that as you consider a life of travel you can determine how you want to prepare for life’s unexpected health issues.
The pain and immobility continued through the night and into the following morning. At one point, as he snoozed a bit after a heavy dose of prescription ibuprofen we had carried with us, I went to inquire at the front desk what procedure there might be if we needed medical attention. I was told that the resort had a house doc who could be called and could arrive within 30 minutes or so. Armed with this information, I returned to the room to wait out the rest of the evening hours to see what morning would bring.
By mid morning my concern was growing. My husband had not slept, he expressed constant pain measured at a level 8-10 and still had not moved from the lying position on his back with legs slightly elevated by pillows which was the only relief we could find. I escaped to the desk to request the doctor. As promised, he arrived to our room very rapidly and after some questions and an examination prescribed two shots, one for muscle relaxation and one for pain. His opinion was that the severity was at a point that oral meds alone would not budge what my honey was feeling. He also provided oral meds that would follow these shots 6 hours later if the pain was eased in order to keep it under control. He requested we give him a check in call at that point and advised that if the symptoms continued there would be necessity for an IV, which would mean the ER. We felt reassured by his knowledge and level of decision making and my husband tried to rest. Throughout the afternoon and evening there was not much pain relief and he was still immobile, unable to adjust himself in the bed or roll on his side let alone sit or stand. When it was time to phone the doc to check in we were sad to report no improvement. He humored my husband (who has needle phobia and severe puncture/medical invasive phobia that is REAL) and allowed him to take the oral meds and give it two hours more to see if they could take hold of his symptoms. Deep down, I knew the hospital ER was inevitable. I inquired of the doctor’s recommendation for hospital and we discussed the need for complete assistance due to lack of mobility and he calmly assured me he would take care of all necessary arrangements should we decide that was the direction we had no choice but to go. My honey continued to writhe in pain with no relief of any kind. He expressed the overwhelming feeling of pain in his right buttocks and lower back and tingling sensations in right thigh, calf and foot. My daughter and I were both greatly concerned. I did some quick research with the assistance of google on the facility the doctor had mentioned. I found mixed reviews but they weighed more heavily to the positive and I knew we would have no choice but to go somewhat blindly the direction we were led. Unable to make it to the full two hour point we phoned the doctor and he confirmed he would call for ambulance and the recommended IV “cocktail” which he felt would surely knock the pain on it’s ass would be waiting on our arrival to the ER! My daughter went to the front desk to insure they were aware the ambulance was on its way and what room we were in. As we waited for the emergency personnel to arrive, my daughter gave way to her emotions and could not hold back her tears. I steeled myself for being in charge of the task at hand and thanked the Lord for the gift of being able to calmly rise to the occasion of any problem put in front of me in life. I’m not sure if the pills my husband had taken were affecting him or maybe it was the lack of relief from pain he had now been experiencing for over 24 hours, in any case, he began to experience hallucinations of “things” flying on the ceiling. Taking a look from his perspective we saw the shadows cast by the bedside lamp which had his mind whirling. I waited in the hallway for the ambulance personnel’s arrival which only took about 15 minutes. They wheeled the gurney in, followed by two male hotel staff members. We watched as they devised the plan for getting my 6’4, 250 lb husband from the bed to the gurney. I also watched his trepidation grow about the ensuing pain. The staff shuffled furniture and the responders communicated their plan. All in all it was probably as seamless as it could have been. None the less, the jarring movement as he was lifted with sheets acting as a sling for his body had my husband exclaiming over the fierce increase in pain. The next challenge was the elevator. Not exactly large enough for the gurney, let alone the large American who hung off the end by 4-6 inches. Somehow these gents managed the “just right” angle to make it happen and we were out the service exit and my husband was loaded into the back of the ambulance where I rode holding his hand. My daughter sat in the front seat, cautiously looking over her shoulder as the driver slowed for each bump or dip in the road. At the time I took the picture below, I was simply thinking of documenting things should a situation I did not trust should arise. I took many such pictures over the next days.
Costamed staff were waiting for us as we pulled in. The IV drip was started almost immediately with vitals tallied and information taken. This included our insurance information as well as a $4000 hold on my credit card I was assured would not be ran, but was simply a guarantee. About an hour into the drip my husband was down for the count and my daughter taxied back to the hotel to try to get some rest before her flight out. At this point, I was relieved we were not scheduled to fly out until the next day. I sat as watchman as the remains of the concoction flowed to the pain via my husband’s arm vein. He slept for three hours and at 5:30am I started to see him stirring. The ER doc came and inquired about pain levels. What had surpassed any ten on the pain scale that my husband had felt in the previous hours dropped to a four. I started to feel relief. The staff worked with my husband to prepare for his departure. I worked with clerical staff who came to the room with the discharge information. I honestly thought we would have no coverage. As I worked with financial personnel who advised they were unable to confirm insurance due to the time difference, which I knew was legitimate, the hold on my credit card was released and with a certain level of relief I signed for the charges of slightly less than $1000 for the ER treatment and ambulance transport. I was provided detailed invoice with medical codes to submit for reimbursement. While I tended to these financial duties, the emergency crew assisted my honey to stand. Tender, still painful, but he was able to do it. Sadly, in no time, he began to collapse. Crew had to literally lift him back into the bed in a lying position. The doc provided oral meds and advised she could not discharge him because of his instability and that an ortho doc was on his way to size things up. We waited about an hour for the ortho doc who ran a metal object along the legs and feet on both sides of my husband, testing his nerves for sensation. The doc went to raise the right leg straight up and did it so rapidly that I thought my honey would rise right off the bed and punch him because of the pain I saw shoot through him. The ortho doc advised he was requesting the neurologist who was in without much delay and advised that the IV drip would begin to be administered again and that a room in the hospital was being prepared for my husband who was going to be admitted. The waves of emotion began to wash over me but there was no resistance from my husband. I knew his pain was warranting his agreement to whatever would need to be done to control it.
I will not bore you with every detail of the next 7 days that we spent at Costamed but I will tell you we were treated well. The care was incredibly attentive. All staff did their absolute best to communicate in English. The hospital standards were high. The food was fresh, tasty and plentiful. CT scans and an MRI were administered all while my hubby was kept in a semi comatose state as a result of heavy sedation for the first three days. The neurologist spoke of his desire to first control the pain and then achieve a level of mobility that would get us home via commercial airlines. The test results indicated severe need for a surgery but he was willing to try to help us get home. Air ambulance was out of the question with minimum quotes of $40,000. I communicated often with family in the medical field at home as well as via email with my husbands providers and the neurosurgeon promised to do his best to get my husband stable enough to get home. I was appreciative of the private hospital room with daybed for my use at Costamed. They allowed me to stay in the room with my husband, providing linens, towels and a hot shower. I was offered meals as well for $7 a day. Honestly we could not have asked for more in the care we were provided. Below are a few pointers should you have medical needs arise in your travels in Mexico:Always carry your insurance card and produce it regardless of what you think your level of international coverage might be.It probably goes without saying but passport and some local currency is important as well.Carry a credit card that has a large amount of credit line available so that you do not get turned away. A hold of $1000-$5000 will be placed on your card prior to admittance and if you don’t have it you can be turned away. (This would have been equivalent to the estimated care costs if I could not produce proof of insurance. Therefore I advise card(s) be carried for emergency need of at least $25,000)Do some research before you travel to see what you think your risk/reward ratio would be to invest in travel insurance. I did this as I sat in the hospital killing time and personally we honestly don’t feel like we’d be any further out of pocket than if we had invested in travel insurance for each of the international travel excursions we’ve taken over the past few years compared with actually using it in this one instance. This, however, is only because our own policy did allow some coverage due to the emergency nature of the situation.If you do find yourself or a family member hospitalized outside your own country, RELAX. Realize that a large share of the world is no longer a “third world” status and while our customs may be different and our languages may be different, people are simply people, and those who choose to serve in the medical field are well trained and do so because of their desire to care for others.Insure you have google translate app loaded to your phone and you load the library for use while you are offline. I cannot explain how much I needed and used this app to insure I knew what was going on with my husbands care. The staff all used theirs as well to help with our understanding each other.Do learn the importance of management of your own health care whether home in your own country or if incidence arises while traveling. Learn the lingo, ask the questions and question the answers. Do some of your own research and push for what you want addressed.Document. Even though I was being promised copies of charges, medications and documentation of care provided from the hospital on check out, I still kept my own records. I’m glad I did. I took photos of labels on IV meds and documented everything given via syringe or orally. I kept a log and have already referred to it several times.Self care is important as well. Be sure to eat, try to rest and escape for fresh air. It’s important to be healthy and strong for your loved one. I did not take advantage of the offer to eat with my husband. Instead, I took the liberty every afternoon to go on a walk to the beach or to drop off laundry or to a local spot for food and drink. My favorite was Recuerdo on Benito Juarez Ave straight out the main door of the hospital and one block away where the owner Omar and his staff treated me well with the Mexican tradition of “snacks” served with my drink. ($2 American for the Sol and the snacks that came with it was enough to fill me up!)