I am a very clumsy person (trust me, there are people I know vigorously nodding in agreement at that statement). Whether it’s due to my inattention, an inner ear imbalance or forces at work in the universe putting things deliberately in my path I have no idea. But I have a long and storied history of accidents that have led to bumps, bruises, broken bones and a whole host of other injuries. I’ve fallen up and down stairs, off of bikes, off a horse, off of a treadmill and through doors. I’ve hit my head, my hands, and my hips on kitchen cabinets, corners and once, even, a stop sign.  So because of my clumsy tendencies it’s always a good idea for us to travel with a first aid kit and make sure we know how to find health care in any given location.

In Playa del Carmen there were multiple hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics and even English-speaking doctors who made house calls on Sundays. But here in Xcalak? Well when we first arrived we were told that there was one clinic in town (which is about 25 minutes away from us) that has one doctor who knows just a very little bit of English and has limited hours. For emergencies or severe injuries we would need to head to Mahahual (about an hour away) where there is a hospital with 24-emergency care. I’ll admit, when we first heard the logistics of health care in Xcalak it gave us a bit of pause. Being so remote, Xcalak isn’t really a place that people with major medical problems should live. Thankfully at this point in our lives we’re pretty healthy and we just had to hope that we would escape our housesit without having to seek medical care. Yeah, well….that didn’t exactly happen the way I had hoped.

As Jason pointed out in a post a couple of weeks ago, conch shells have become the enemy, and last week the enemy finally struck with a vengeance. While we were on our morning walk with the dogs I lost my balance and as I was trying to regain my footing I stomped down on the point of a conch. I mean I went down hard right into the water. As Jason was trying to help me up and the dogs were excitedly jumping on me because they thought we were playing a new game I was trying to ignore the spreading pain in my foot. A few bloody steps in the sand later and we realized that this wasn’t just a little cut, it was actually pretty serious stuff, so off Jason went to get a car to transport me home. Once there it was time to assess the damage – oh boy.  Squeamish alert! Gross stuff ahead. The conch had punctured a hole deep into my foot about the size of a quarter. Beyond the blood we could see fat and muscle – and it wasn’t all on the inside of my foot.  The good part, though, was all the bones seemed to still be intact. We debated for awhile about a trip to the doctor in town before deciding to try to take care of it here.  Jason put his Eagle Scout training to use and used our existing supplies to bandage and wrap up my foot to try to keep it clean.

Conch in Xcalak
The point of a conch shell. Although the word “point” is a bit of a misnomer, It’s more like a round, blunt instrument. Imagine jumping onto the end of a fire poker, the result is not pretty.
Our attempts to keep the wound clean. I guess we use the term "first aid kit" a bit loosely.
As you might notice, we use the term “first aid kit” a bit loosely.

At that point, walking was not an option, which is really bad because we walk absolutely everywhere, out of necessity more than anything else. Crutches would have been ideal but we couldn’t really run down the street to a medical supply store so staying in bed and hopping to the bathroom it would have to be. That might work for some but I’ll admit right now, I’m a horrible patient. I hate asking for help, I hate not helping out, I hate staying off of my feet. I couldn’t stand that Jason had to do all the work. I felt so guilty that on top of all the work he has to do around here tending to the property, cleaning the pool, burning the trash, walking the dogs, cooking and cleaning and also trying to get some of his own work done that he would then have to fetch me water or food or my computer.  So I didn’t really stay off my feet as much as I should have. I know I looked ridiculous trying to hop on one foot, flailing about, grabbing onto counters and trying to ‘contribute.’ My efforts, combined with the massive amounts of sand and dog hair that coat the floor of our place and make it really hard to keep anything clean, especially an open wound on a foot, and believe it or not two days later the healing did not seem to be going well. Pain, pain and more pain. And then some more. It was finally time to admit defeat and head to town to seek some professional help.

We drove to town and stopped at the clinic called IMSS. We walked in, well I hopped, and there was a perfectly pleasant gentleman sitting at the front desk. Without saying anything besides hola, once he saw me limping along he pointed to the room behind him and led us both back. I hopped up on the table, took off my bandaging and he peered down for about two seconds before saying ‘infectado.’  Even my rudimentary understanding of Spanish understood that he was saying it was infected. Before I had time to ask what I should do he started squeezing at the wound. Hard. And then harder. From there the details get squeamish again so I’ll save you the details and your lunch. I laid back grabbed onto Jason’s hand for dear life and tried not to pass out. While I was laying there trying to think happy thoughts a few things occurred to me about the man digging around in my foot. Upon our arrival I had not filled out any paper work. I had not told him my name nor had he offered his. How did I know he was actually a doctor?  IMSS is actually the Mexican Social Security Institute, a government office that handles social security, pensions and public health. This guy was the only person working there. How do I know he wasn’t actually in charge of pensions or social security versus the medical stuff? Not to mention I still wasn’t sure that I was in a doctor’s office as I looked around and noticed things that made me think I might be in a storage shed versus a medical center.

The best health care in all of Xcalak!
The doctor’s office. I think.
Health Care in Xcalak
Sorry for the poor camera quality (and the unfortunate pose) but yes, that is in fact a power washer next to the exam table.

Post squeezing and scrubbing I stood up for an antibiotic shot in the butt. As I was leaning over the table trying to ignore the fact that the doctor was diagramming my butt to Jason because he was going to have to give me a few more antibiotic shots at home in the following days I realized I should be a little ashamed of my thinking. The town of Xcalak has a population of 300, many of whom are making very little money, if any at all. I don’t imagine that out here in the middle of nowhere there is a tremendous amount of funding coming from the government to keep their offices looking nice and shiny or there is a budget for the latest and greatest medical equipment and devices.  Regardless of how the offices looked, how he was dressed and our attempts to talk Spanglish to each other,  this guy (fingers still crossed that he was in fact the doctor) gave me immediate care the second I walked in the door – without an appointment, gave me all the medications I needed – without a trip to a pharmacy, and was exceptionally pleasant – as almost everyone in Xcalak is. I also realized that I have not been to a clinic in the United States in a town of only 300 people so maybe I would experience just as much culture shock there. It’s still amazing to me that after a year and a half of living in Mexico I continue to fight my preconceived notions about how things “should” look or how they “should” be done.

About $30 US paid for our (walk-in) doctor’s visit and all of this medicine.

When we got home I finally conceded and played the good patient. I let Jason give me my shots, I took all my prescribed medicines and I stayed off my foot and kept it elevated. You know what happened? I’ve gotten better. Shocker. It’s been humbling to realize how something so small can be completely debilitating.

This man is in no way qualified to administer the shot. And yet he did.
This man is in no way qualified to administer the shot – as evidenced by the bruises he left behind.
The patient
My position for the last week  and yes, I felt about as miserable as I look. The good news is you can blog from bed!

I’m slowly on the mend and I have learned a few things this week – so far we’ve found good, reliable and affordable health care in even the most remote spots of Mexico,  the doctor’s name was Ernesto, I will never outgrow my clumsiness and Jason was wise to not enter into the health care profession. One thing though I’m still wondering about though? What kind of procedures does the doctor do with that power washer?