A common question asked by residents of the United States and Canada is whether or not they should consider heading south of the border for that operation they have been putting off.
Several months ago, I underwent just such a procedure and took notes which you may find useful should you choose to have your surgery in Mexico.
My story begins with the discovery that a bump on my groin was a hernia. I had imagined that all mysterious lumps must be tumors.
“No,” I was told by a doctor, “this is an inguinal hernia probably brought on by you trying to lift something very heavy at some point in the past.”
The second surprise came on the day I discovered my hernia had moved to the other side, just like Igor’s hump in Young Frankenstein. However, better observation revealed that I had not one but two hernias, which – individually or both together – might appear at any time.
The surgical procedure for hernias involves sewing up the hole in the abdominal wall and inserting mesh. A non-surgical approach apparently also exists, requiring you to do certain exercises that would supposedly make the hernia go away by itself. You can learn a lot about this subject by googling “Hernia Bible.” Ultimately the big question is “to patch or not to patch.”
While thinking about what you are going to do, you need to wear a truss (faja, in Spanish) which applies constant pressure on the lumps as you go about your business. This truss I found annoying and uncooperative, moving about with a will of its own and forcing me to go find a private place where I could readjust it.
Just mentioning “truss” in conversations revealed that many of my friends were either wearing one or had once worn one before being operated on for a hernia. It seems five percent of the general population has a hernia problem and the percentage is far higher among men over 75.
Ultimately, I opted for the double-patch solution. Step one was a visit to a very good Mexican surgeon, who confirmed that I did indeed have two hernias. Next, I had to have an extensive blood test, an electrocardiogram and finally the operation itself, which is done with a local anesthetic, leading me to believe I would be wide awake the whole time. However, the first thing they did in the operation theater was to give me a sedative, which knocked me right out. I later learned that a total of three doctors collaborated in my operation, a comforting thought as I understand this procedure is considered so simple in the United States that it is frequently performed by novices.
I woke up in a private room with an IV in my arm and my wife and her sister by my side, following an old Mexican custom which says a family member must watch over a hospitalized relative night and day. I felt fine, with no pain and was surprised it was all over already. When I eventually asked to go to the bathroom, several nurses were right there waiting to see what would happen when I first stood up.
“Some people feel dizzy and others faint,” they told me. I had neither problem, so they showed me how to unplug my IV and wheel it along beside me.
More difficult than walking was the simple act of sitting up. As a hernia-surgery patient, I would have appreciated a rope tied to the foot of the bed, for me to pull on. I was in a private room in a modest private hospital. The facilities, care and food were fine, but in the middle of the night I felt thirsty. I knew there was a bottle of water somewhere in the room, but I didn’t want to go look for it, nor did I want to awaken my family caregiver. So I decided to press a button right next to my arm, which would summon the night-shift nurse. Well, I pressed and pressed and no-one came and suddenly I realized how practical is the Mexican custom of having a relative at your side day and night in the hospital. “Hey Ivan, wake up! Por favor, help me find some water!”
If you opt to have your operation in Mexico, find a volunteer to act as your caregiver. Don’t even think of going it on your own!
Before leaving the hospital the next morning, my doctor showed me how to change the bandages on my incisions and prescribed all sorts of pain killers and laxatives.
At home I could walk about fine but was not allowed to lift anything weighing more than 10 kilos (20 pounds). Taking so many pills (mainly for pain) required a written schedule and an alarm clock, but after a day or so I found I only needed half of those pills and things became more manageable. A few weeks later I stopped taking them altogether.
After a month, the doctor removed the stitches and at the end of a second month he pronounced me “back to normal,” free to play racquetball again, to run and go hiking.
I decided not to publish my story for six months, just to be sure my operation was indeed fully successful. Time’s up and I’m happy.