May 10, 2017
Imagine……… The only sounds you hear from the towering mountainsides are the high-pitched squeaking and the flapping of featherless wings of the nesting, newborn pelicans. Just imagine
As I sat watching the red and gold brilliance of the sunrise, sipping my morning coffee, the local panga captains readied their sturdy boats, hopefully anticipating wandering adventurers looking to discover the secrets of the Sea of Cortez. Seagulls flew above us, screeching their morning commands to each other. Tiny waves, sneaking in from an otherwise flat sea, lapped almost noiselessly to the shore. Tony and Charro slept peacefully, as I decided this would be a wonderful day for kayak ride. Oh, what a beautiful morning it was, lending its own promise of a glorious day.
Even the most beautiful promise can be broken. Oh, it all started out fine. Tony and Charro woke up and joined me to enjoy the early morning. The captains continued to wait for their customers, fixing lines and tuning their engines. We readied our kayak, put Charro back to bed and set off in the placid waters, leisurely paddling behind the row of pangas, chatting with the captains.
Suddenly, an upside down, rebar anchor appeared under the surface of the water. I called to Tony to “watch out”. Its sharp points were aimed right at the bottom of our inflatable kayak. “Oh, no,” I cried, as Tony lunged backwards, in a twist of his waist that I could actually hear. He pushed off the dangerous anchor and, in the nick of time, we were saved…….or so we thought. Two o’clock that afternoon would prove us wrong. He could not stand up, remaining bent over at the waist…in relentless pain.
The Innocents The Trouble-maker
Is anyone ever prepared for a medical crisis? The bigger question is…is anyone ever prepared for a medical crisis on a fairly primitive beach, fifteen miles from a town, no idea where a doctor might be found and no idea how to communicate with a Spanish-speaking doctor, should he even exist. I might add that I have no experience driving a 1982 Volkswagen van up and down treacherous hills and through waist-deep pot-holes to get to him?
On the other hand, I think, how hard can this be? I raised three children, held down jobs, was nice to my mother and managed to never get put in jail. I can probably handle this situation. After all, I’ve driven a standard transmission car and know how to use a clutch and how bad can the hills and giant pot-holes be? Someone here must know where there is a doctor. Yup, I decide, I can do this. I can do it all. It would help if I knew where Tony kept the key to the van.
Two of our local friends, Baja John and Captain Chicho gave me instructions to the only doctor in Muleje.
“Go back up the highway and right before you come to the first tope (speed-bump) before town, you’ll see a little blue sign that says ‘Pescadera’ (fish-market) on the side of the road, make a right, go up hill to top, start downhill, pull into red house on other side, doctor live there. He will give Tony shot in his butt, he be better in no time,” they assured me.
Ok. I can do this. I pack up the van and off we go, but Tony insists on driving. As long as he is sitting down, he tells me, he can drive.
We find the sign and then the road. It is solid dirt and washboard. We slowly reach the top of the steep hill. A large, happy looking man, sitting in his front-porch rocking chair, shading himself under a big Mexican hat and clutching a beer, calls out to us, pointing at the next house, “Doctor,” he says, grinning.
We started down the hill and the very next house is the red one. We are on a 180 degree slant and the nose of the van is pointed straight down, aimed at a little house on the other side of the road. There is a car in the doctor’s small driveway and Tony can’t pull the van in. We start to slide down the dirt road and he catches us with the clutch. Managing to turn around in the next house’s driveway, we, with screeching wheels in the dirt, manage to get back up to the top of the hill.
Walking down to the house, I see no doctor’s sign and no visible entrance to the red house. Around the side of the house I find a sun porch with a screen door. The car in the driveway is occupied by a man playing with a baby. Dogs are sleeping everywhere and the man on the porch, in the house above us, is waving to me and still rocking and grinning. Tony waits at the top of the hill as I enter the screen door. The dogs are pit-bulls.
To the right of the door, a lady sits waiting and smiles at me. Another pit-bull is asleep under a chair, looking at me with one eye. In the middle of the room, a woman, the doctor and a small child are sitting at a table eating cereal and cookies. The woman looks at me and says, “Un momento, por favor, nos comida”. One moment please, we are eating. I want to laugh, but I dare not….the dog is now watching me with both eyes open.
I decide to take a different approach and return to the car in the driveway. Speaking in very inadequate Spanish, I do my best to make the man understand that he has to move his car so that Tony can pull into the driveway, because he cannot walk without being bent over at the waist.
Finally, with some sign language, demonstrations, pointing and repetition, he understands what I need and moves his car all the way out onto the narrow dirt road, grinning broadly at me and offering to help me get Tony into the house. I respectfully decline his help, because I can do it all and I wave Tony in. The guy on the porch is still waving to me and grinning and now the outside dogs are all awake and a yapping Chihuahua has joined them.
Inside, the lady in the chair and the doctor have disappeared. It will soon be our turn, but in the meantime, the little girl decides to show us every stuffed toy she owns, tell us all their names and accepts a lollipop from me. The dogs have gone back to sleep. There are no visible signs that this is a doctor’s office. The doctor’s wife…the little girl’s grand-mother…tries to have a conversation with us and somehow, with the help of God, we are able to do so. It eased our tension with this crisis.
The doctor comes out, introduces himself and happily assists Tony through their kitchen and into his office. The little girl follows us right in and he shoos her out, much to her disappointment. She has one more stuffed animal to show us.
Sure enough, after a nice, thorough little exam, the doctor brings out a box containing a needle and medicine and promptly pumps it right into Tony’s butt. He tells us that he has seriously pulled a muscle and will give us some pills and he will be fine. Right about here, the unthinkable happens.
Now, I should interject here and state that I am not a shy or timid woman. I am not queasy and I am somewhat adventurous. I love the medical field and would have loved to be a nurse. I have always been a caretaker. I am not afraid to get a needle.
The doctor said in Spanish that I would have to give Tony a needle every day for three days. Oddly enough, I understood every word he said. I felt my face start to tingle, my knees go weak, bile rise in my throat and fear pierce my heart like a Knight’s sword. I sat down. I have done a lot of things in my life, but this was not going to happen. I would not learn to give a needle on my precious husband’s butt. Inside my head, I heard screams, but my ears heard my voice whimpering, “No, no, I cannot do this. You don’t understand.”
The next few minutes seemed like a nightmare. Tony stared at me. The doctor held a needle up in the air, explaining how to fill it and then showed me on Tony’s butt where the needle should be inserted. I heard myself again whimpering, “No, no, I cannot do this. You don’t understand.” He explained that this is the way of the Mexican people and it is easy. I continued to whimper, “I am American.” He showed me again.
A plan jumped into my head. “Tomorrow morning, we are coming back and you will give Tony the next needle and then I am driving him back to Ensenada to our doctor.” Nothing from this point on would change my mind. I can drive that Volkswagen. I can get him home.
“I will be here at 9:00 am for the needle.”
“No” he replied, “I still sleep at 9.”
“Then I will be here at 10 am and you will give him the needle.”
He agreed, telling me to knock loudly, that he might still be asleep and, hence, it happened.
I found the key. I packed up our belongings. No pot-holes consumed the van. No cows, mules or wayward goats got run over. I learned to buy gas in Mexico and put it in the VW. We maneuvered around all the hairpin turns on the edges of mountain cliffs, artfully avoiding on-coming tractor trailers. The Baja Buggy took us the whole way with no incidence.
It took one and a half days to get home, record time for us, but we were there, ready to have the next needle on time, need be.
And so it goes for an unexpected medical crisis in a foreign country, which inevitably will have different customs. Our doctor changed the medicine, which did not include any shots administered by me, and all turned out well. The doctor in Muleje was great and kind and doing things the way he did them. Thank God he was there for us. I will always be grateful to him for his help and the peace of mind he gave to us that we would be alright.
US & The Baja Buggy