A Visit to the Doctor | Mexico | Living in Mexico

A Visit to the Doctor

For the last three months, I have been pursuing physical fitness: walking briskly for an hour a day and visiting a gym three times a week where my friend, Joe Hernandez is training me. Joe tells the gym owner, a former Mr. Mexico, that with me, he is "building a champion." One look at my dumpy ass, and you realize that this is a joke.

Last week, I somehow managed to tear a ligament in my left knee. Wow! A genuine sports injury! For the next couple of days, I walked up to the Carmina Posada to drink my morning coffee with my friends, wearing a knee brace just to let them know that I'm a serious athlete.

The fact is, though, the pain from the tear increases after I walk, and decreases when I take a day off, so it's interfering with my exercise program. Time to see the Doctor.

When Jean and I came here three years ago, our friend and first Spanish teacher, Adela Sanchez, recommended an orthopedist to help Jean with a similar knee injury that she got doing yoga. (I believe she was doing the Downward Facing Dog.) The treatment was successful, so today I went to see Dra. Conchita García Escobedo, in hopes of curing my knee as well.


Dr. García is one of those highly capable physicians whose practice consists primarily of Mexican Nationals. Her facilities are modest and her fees are low. But she diagnoses quickly and accurately and her treatments are practical and effective.

If you expect to be treated in a modern building in one of those clinic farms you go to in the States, you'll be disappointed here. I wandered down Mesones Street looking for #62. Walking past a pharmacy, a restaurant, a notions store, I came to the Doctor's doorway, in which sat an old campasina selling pomegranates and tunas (fruits of prickly pear cactus). I stepped over the old woman into a courtyard that looked like the hotel lobby in Apocalypse Now—tropical, decaying.


A mother and four small children sat on cheap, plastic-covered couches, waiting. I peered into a doorway to the right of an oval sign with the Doctor's name on it. Nobody home. Lights extinguished. No furniture. A couple of cardboard boxes on the floor, half filled with old files. Not promising.

I checked my watch. 2:00 PM. Yep. That was my appointment time. I called into the doorway, in case she was in one of the rooms beyond. "¡Hola!" No response.

I took a seat on one of the plastic couches and waited. It's what you do in Mexico. You wait. Everybody waits. Nobody seems to mind. In this poor, poor country, the one thing everyone has plenty of is time. Time for comida, time for siesta, time for amor, time for waiting.

Fifteen minutes later, a nicely dressed lady entered, and asked me why I was taking pictures. I reassuringly replied, "¿Dra. García? Yo soy John Wood. Tengo una cita." (I have an appointment.)

Which didn't explain why I was taking pictures, but nevertheless, she led me into a shabby examination room where she heard my complaint and poked at my knee. And then she asked me something that made my day. "¿Quiere hablar en ingles or español?" (Do you want to speak in English or Spanish?)

Bilingual Mexican people, whenever they hear my Spanish, invariably switch to English. I find this to be embarrassing, feeling as I do that the responsibility for communication falls on the visitor, not the resident. But today, a Mexican Professional thought my Spanish was fluent enough to continue speaking in it.

We take our small triumphs where we can.

After flexing my knee, she announced that I had a small ligament tear. How the hell did she know that? Where were the x-rays? Where were the MRIs? Where were the range-of-motion tests?

Dra. García doesn't have any of that stuff. All she has is 20-30 years of experience diagnosing torn ligaments, which must be common in Mexico, judging by the risks laborers take while building houses.

She told me, "We're gonna fix it. Five ultrasound therapy sessions, and everything's gonna be OK." She led me out of the examination room and back toward her physical therapy clinic.


Beyond a couple of arches, down a dark corridor, past a couple of outdated refrigerators, a fluorescent-lit semi-circular window beckoned: the clinic. Inside, Dra. García lowered herself onto a chair, and told an assistant what she wanted done to my knee. Meanwhile, I looked over at a woman washing towels in a sink. Dra. García left and the assistant took me back to a curtained treatment bay and had me lie on a cot. "¡Cabeza aquí!" (Head here!)

She wrapped my knee in some presumably recently cleaned towels and put a hot pack on it. Then she closed the curtains and left me to endure the heat. The treatment bay could not have been smaller and still have contained the bed. Not a place for claustrophobics.


Twenty minutes went by. The assistant returned, removed the hot pack and applied ultrasound for a while. Finally I got up, made an appointment for the next day, and paid my bill: $150 pesos ($13.50 USD).

I hope this works.

I walked out past the plastic couches. The mother and her four small children were still there. Waiting.