Remember when I was blogging from the beach in Mexico?
That was soooooooooo, three days ago.
Today I’m blogging from an uncomfortable vinyl recliner in a sterile green hospital room.
In Tampa. Florida. U.S. of A.
How did I get here?
(letting the days go by, let the water hold me down…)
On Monday afternoon, my artistic genius Mom (with extra great hair in MX) tripped on the hem of her long gauze dress as she was trying to climb off her bed and ended up on the tile floor. After a trip in the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) ambulance to Galenia Hospital in Cancun and several hours in the Emergency Room, we learned that she had a complex compression fracture in her hip requiring surgery.
Worst. Case. Scenario.
If you know me, you know that I have historically been a worst case scenario person. Give me a situation and I can leap to a worst case scenario conclusion like that.
And, to be honest, when considering whether this trip to Mexico with Mom at this time was feasible, I had imagined several worst case-type scenarios.
I imagined all sorts of things that involved a decline in Mom’s health requiring us to return to Denver for medical treatment/hospice care. I also imagined that her health could decline so rapidly that we would not be able to make it back to Denver and she would pass in Mexico.
I did not imagine that (a week after we got to Mexico) she would be injured in such a way that she would (a) need surgery and (b) not be able to fly on a commercial flight.
In hindsight, some kind of travel insurance that included even partial coverage for medical expenses incurred in, and transportation out of, a foreign country would have been a brilliant idea. As it was, Mom is covered only by Medicare and a supplement to Medicare – neither of which pay for those expenses.
While we didn’t receive an official “estimate” of what the hip surgery would have cost at the hospital in Cancun, the initial amount presented to me was $20,000 (U.S.). They were proposing a hip repair surgery and said that Mom would have to stay in the hospital for 3-4 days after the surgery. I know that many people in the U.S. actually come to that hospital to have surgery, as it has a good reputation and costs so much less than the U.S. Consequently our biggest concern wasn’t quality of care (and by that I mean that we didn’t automatically jump to the conclusion that there was no way she could get good care at this private hospital in Mexico and therefore had to get back to the U.S. for treatment), it was the potential for unlimited financial exposure. I mean, $20,000 for the surgery and related care for 3-4 days sounds relatively inexpensive, but if there’s one thing we know about my artistic genius Mom (with great hair) it is that she doesn’t get out of the hospital easily. And she’s prone to hospital-borne “superbugs” (c.diff., for example). And there’s the whole “compromised immune system” caused by the drugs used to try to kill the cancer. So, a 3-4 day stay could easily bloom into a 6 week stay at several thousand dollars a day. I feel like I’m talking in circles here though, because I’m trying not to diss the medical care at the Galenia Hospital and also trying to not sound like our only concern was financial. We wanted the best care for our Mom and, realistically, none of us have unlimited funds and she has great medical coverage in the U.S.
We decided not to have the surgery in Mexico. And we couldn’t get the Doctors to give Mom medical clearance to fly. And we couldn’t find an airline that would allow her to fly without such clearance and without being able to sit upright for take-off and landing and nearly upright for the rest of the flight. And, although we had undertaken Operation Airlift Marguerite (a/k/a my artistic genius Mom (with great hair)) circa 2007(6?) during which we drugged Mom up and basically smuggled her onto a Frontier Airlines flight to Denver when she had what turned out to be a herniated disk in her neck, that didn’t seem feasible at this time. For a couple of reasons — during the first Operation Airlift Marguerite Mom could actually walk (ok, shuffle) herself onto the plane and maintain some semblance of non-near-drug-overdose until such time as the plane was off the ground, but that was not the case this time. This time Mom couldn’t walk or even sit upright in a wheelchair. Also, when Operation Airlift Marguerite landed in Denver and we arrived at the Emergency Room, Mom was only breathing, ummm, like 8 times per minute. Turns out that isn’t nearly enough and my sister and I probably could’ve been arrested for almost accidentally killing our mother while trying to skirt FAA rules about air travel for sick/injured people.
You would be surprised at how easy it is to find an Air Ambulance/”Medevac” team from a hospital room in Cancun in the middle of a Monday night. (Props to my iPhone) It’s very easy. Probably on account of how they charge Eleventy-seven million dollars for everything. When you can charge that kind of money, you can afford to have someone answer the damn phone in the middle of the night.
I kept trying to get the docs to give Mom a medical release to fly and kept exploring transportation options that cost less than eleventy-seven million dollars until about noon on Tuesday, at which time it became clear that (a) the doctors weren’t budging and (b) my idea of renting a van, throwing a mattress in the back and driving Mom to the Texas border was probably not going to fly and no cruise ships were going to agree to give Mom a ride to Miami (which I think they should reconsider, because HELLO, there’s a market for that kind of service, obviously.)
After one final conference call with my siblings (my brother in Denver and sister in Tampa) around noon we decided to pull the trigger on the Air Medevac plan and get the fuck out of Dodge, as it were…. 🙂
(We chose to fly Mom out to Tampa instead of Denver because Eleventy-seven million dollars wasn’t enough to get her to Denver and my brother’s AMEX card could only take so much, allegedly.)
Eight and a half hours later, an ambulance arrived at the Galenia Hospital to take Mom to the airport in Cancun.
I think it must’ve been a slow night at the Cancun airport, because as soon as the ambulance was allowed through the huge security barrier gates (after two armed Mexican military guys walked around the ambulance, peeked through the windows and, I don’t know, kicked the tires?) we were flanked by a golf cart with a driver and an armed military guy and two jeeps with at least two armed military guys in each one. And by “armed” I’m not talking about little side holster guns, oh no, these boys were packing huge machine guns. So it’s pitch black outside except for the flashing ambulance lights and jeep headlights and there we were in a heavily armed convoy driving slowly across the tarmac towards, I guess, the private jet parking lot. It felt very X-Files/Secret Government Operation-ish.
The Jet I.C.U. people were awesome — the pilot, co-pilot, R.N. and an EMT were all very attentive to Mom and making sure that she was comfortable and safe on the flight. (Me, on the other hand, they shoved onto a back shelf/seat right under the vent blowing arctic air into the plane…)
An hour and a half later we were on the ground in Tampa and after clearing Immigration and Customs (I had to go into a small terminal to be cleared, but the Agent went out to the plane to clear Mom), they loaded Mom into a waiting ambulance and we went directly to the Brandon Regional Hospital Emergency Room.
Where we were promptly ignored for HOURS.
It was SUCH a letdown!!!
I was so relieved (I would say “we” were so relieved, but Mom was totally out of it….) to be back on U.S. soil and in the hands of “expert” medical care, thinking maybe I could relax for a minute and trust that Mom was in good hands.
After the Dr. stopped ignoring us and finally got around to ordering Mom some pain medication, he ordered Morphine.
Thank God I was awake (I didn’t want to be) and paying attention and therefore able to stop the nurse from injecting Mom with a drug she is severely allergic to. A fact that I had told the U.S. ambulance people, the nurse who checked us into the ER and, HELLO, the Doctor himself.
What. The. Fuck.?????
Anyway. I’m running on very little sleep and I’m running out of steam.
Mom’s surgery was Wednesday afternoon and it went fine. She had a really difficult time yesterday due to severe confusion/hallucinations/disorientation/etc. from the anesthesia + very little sleep. She slept much better last night and woke up with some worrisome confusion, but overall seems much better than yesterday (mentally) — physically they are concerned about her hemoglobin levels and some weird cardiac enzymes.
So, that is the nuts and bolts of what has happened, but the bigger issues remain: what’s next? What does this mean for the remainder of Mom’s life? Where do we go from here? I know she is going to want to go back to Mexico (depending on how she is feeling) and I know that, having rescued her from Mexico twice now, at a cost of thousands and thousands of dollars and tremendous emotional cost/loss of sleep/interference with our regular lives, etc. etc. — my family is NOT going to be supportive of any plan involving Mom going back to Mexico.
It’s all so sad. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring.
p.s. and I ran out of steam before I could add in the part about how my sister-in-law showed up at our house in MX about half an hour after Mom fell and about how her mom, Barbara, then “surprised” us about an hour later — right when we were leaving in the ambulance for Cancun. Sooooooooooooooooooooooo, they were amazingly helpful to me with emotional support and helping me at the Hospital in Cancun and helping get stuff packed up to take on the Air Ambulance and for taking care of all the things that were left undone at the house. They are staying through next Monday. They are awesome and I love them. I just didn’t write the story very conherently.
p.s.s. NaNoWriMo? Heavy sigh. I was getting really excited about my story, but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to complete 50,000 words by November 30. Seems unlikely. And, or course, this all plays into my theory that whenever I commit to do something for myself, something dramatic and awful happens with Mom that requires me to drop everything. Oh look! A wisp of resentment floating by.