Knee Surgery at the Red Cross Hospital in Merida, Mexico

I wasn’t expecting the nurse to compel me to shave my own knee minutes before surgery.  She couldn’t be serious, I pondered with a look of shock in my eyes. Looking around at her face and then to over to Allan, I realized she was resolute.  As a result, dressed in a white hospital gown and blue surgical head cap, I was half bent over the toilet shaving an area that has not been smooth since I was a child.  Perhaps this is customary when one chooses the economical Red Cross Hospital in Merida, Mexico for knee surgery rather than a more expensive option focused on client service.

Advance notice would have been appreciated so I could have calmly shaved at home with an electric razor.  The stress of surgery is severe enough. I should be relaxing, trying to calm my nerves – not performing a task better suited to medical professionals.  Luckily I brought my toiletry bag with disposable razor inside. My hands trembled as I pruned my hirsuite left knee while the nurse waited impatiently nearby.

Matt Before Knee Surgery in Merida
Matt Before Knee Surgery in Merida

I was beginning to regret my choice of hospitals before even stepping inside the facility  We had arrived on time at 6am to the Red Cross only to find it locked and with no one in sight.  Did we make a mistake on time? Were we in the right place? Ah yes, we are in Mexico and the sense of time is lackadaisical at best even when it comes to major surgery.  My sense of urgency and impending doom heightened as we waited 30 minutes for the tardy staff to unlock the doors.

At least I had a private room.  The stark white concrete block structure was an upgrade from where the other patients lay together military style, 20 deep in neat rows of cots.  They were paying what they could, which was often nothing. In comparison I was paying around $1,500 USD for a surgeon to repair to my torn left meniscus.  

The Red Cross Hospital in Mexico works off donations, giving the downtrodden access to proper medical care, including major operations for almost nothing.  Volunteers dressed in white outfits and funny white nurse’s hats solicit donations at major intersections throughout Mexico. Often paying clients like me can partake in the same services for a fraction of the cost with normally the same level of care.

Red Cross Ambulance, Mexico
Red Cross Ambulance, Mexico

When it came time to research hospitals for my operation the Red Cross was probably the last place I would have picked.  I was looking for somewhere near where I lived in Playa del Carmen, Mexico that had a level of care comparable with the US. I’m originally from Boston, Massachusetts which has some of the best hospitals globally.  Two 2 hospitals in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico area came highly recommended: Hospiten in Cancun and Star Medica in Merida.

A meniscus repair in the US on average costs $7,000 USD.  At Hospiten in Cancun it figures $6,000 USD. At Star Medica in Merida the price was $2,500 USD.  Through further discussion with my Star Medica surgeon he offered to do the same operation with the exact operating room set up at the Red Cross Hospital in Merida for only $1,500 USD.  After a bit of pondering on my part, to me it seemed like a no-brainer.

Why spend more on a fancy facility when it was unnecessary?  Sure it was a no frills experience. After surgery the nurse handed me a wireless doorbell from HomeDepot to use as a makeshift paging system.  When it came time to leave, it took 30 minutes just to find someone to take our money. We eventually paid in the hospital reception area handing over a large wad of Mexican pesos which then took 15 minutes to count and recount – in plain view of everyone.  Then the receptionist came running after us outside after we accidentally underpaid her $200 pesos (about $10 US).

Red Cross Hospital, Mexico
Red Cross Hospital, Mexico

Ultimately the important part of surgery was that it was performed well with no adverse side effects.  I’m happy to say I’ve made a full recovery and I’m back to running and playing tennis. Despite the added stresses of using the thrifty Red Cross Hospital, I’d return – pre-shaven, of course.  I’d also be contributing to charity since a portion of my operation goes to helping those less fortunate have access to something many of us take for granted.

 

Happy travels,

Matt Weatherbee

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Matt Weatherbee
Matt Weatherbee

Hi, I’m Matt.  In 2008 I quit my job, sold everything and drove from Boston to Mexico to start a business.  Now I live and work in the Carribean, and spend my free time traveling the globe.  Learn more.

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