Tuesday, July 5, 2022

An Emergency Vet Visit in Sayulita (Mexico For Better or For Worse Episode #2)

     This story is fiction, but all fiction includes truth. Reading about life as expats in México in a novel format can be fun, yet enlightening. I hope you enjoy my story, an excerpt from my upcoming novel, “Mexico For Better or For Worse” (In Sickness and In Health eBook #3).

June 2020

The trip to Costco revealed that businesses in Puerto Vallarta were taking the pandemic more seriously than in Sayulita. Signs about required coronavirus precautions were posted at the entrance to the store. Masks were required, people in line stayed separated, standing on yellow Xs marked with tape on the sidewalk, and temperatures were taken at the door with a hand-held electronic thermometer by a hefty female attendant. She looked more like a security guard than a friendly door greeter.

Only one person per family was allowed to go into the store at a time, according to the signs, unless a person was elderly or handicapped. Jake was told we couldn’t go in together, but he quickly and firmly informed the security woman in Spanish and English, “Tengo 70 años. I am 70 years old.” The Mexican woman scowled at each of them but waved Lindsay through.

Lindsay thought, I guess I was allowed in as his helpmate, though he doesn’t seem elderly to me! I love how the Mexican people give great respect and extra care to anyone who is in what they call the Tercer Edad, the Third Age, anyone 60 years old and older—another kindness in this culture.

As they entered the store, Lindsay said, “Since we didn’t make it to Fredy’s Tucan, let’s have a slice of pizza and a soda before we shop.” She couldn’t focus on shopping or any other activity if she was hungry and Jake was well aware of that. He could tell she was hypoglycemic when her grumpiness and complaints of a headache started. While he could easily skip a meal, Lindsay had to eat every three or four hours during the day.

They slipped through an empty checkout line to the food court and then stood there in shock. The food court was open with associates behind the counter selling pizza, but according to the menu board, that was all that was available. Even the hot dog and ice cream sundae signs were missing. Yellow tape marked the line to the order counter and yellow Xs marked places to stand, keeping people at least 1.5 meters away from each other. But beyond that, it was not recognizable as the Costco food court.

The soda machine, the onion and jalapeno dispensers, and all other condiment counters were sealed off with clear plastic shrink-wrap. The dining area was empty—all of the plastic picnic tables were gone.

Lindsay shook her head in disbelief. “This is very weird.”

“I guess we can order our pizza and take it outside to eat it.”

“Okay, but no soda, I guess, since the machines are sealed off. Good thing we brought a bottle of water with us.”

When they got outside, they looked around for a place to sit. All benches were taped off with yellow caution tape and the concrete footings of the exterior pillars were boarded up with plywood to prevent people from sitting on any raised surface. No lingering or gathering in this area, I guess.

They walked down the side of the warehouse toward the loading dock and found a six-inch-high curb to sit on while they ate their pizza. “Can you believe this?” Jake said, incredulous. “What is the world coming to?”

“I can’t believe it. This is insane. Fear of a virus has made the world go crazy. I think people are panicking because of their fear of death. Of course, Costco is an American company so they may have stricter protocols than Mexican companies.”

“Let’s get our shopping done and go home. Seeing that gave me a mild case of anxiety.”

When they started shopping, their anxiety over the state of the store became even worse. Massive amounts of plastic film were wrapped around most of the merchandise in the store. Entire departments were bound up in miles of plastic wrap, including clothing, fans, furniture, and even the air conditioners. Signs posted throughout stated in English and Spanish that “Only Essential Items Can Be Sold at This Time”. Few products were apparently considered essential and available to purchase. Over-the-counter medications, food, drinks, and, oddly, the alcoholic beverage department weren’t shrink-wrapped.

It didn’t take long to finish shopping in the food department. After dealing with the tense associates manning the checkout line, and then using the restroom, Jake and Lindsay pushed their cart toward the exit. Jake was especially disgusted. “Well, that was pretty much a bust. One bottle of alcohol per person is all they allowed? What a waste this trip was!”

“Let’s catch a taxi. I’m ready to go home and relax after that stressful shopping trip.”

When Jake and Lindsay walked in the gate at about 5:00, Rosa came to greet them, dancing around their feet, tongue lolling, her smile communicating how happy she was to see them. But Cocoa wasn’t her usual energetic self—she didn’t even come to poke her head into the grocery bags to see what they’d bought today. She sat on the patio scratching her throat with a hind leg. She didn’t come to be petted and hardly looked up to acknowledge them. She had an itch she couldn’t stop scratching.

Lindsay set her bags on the patio and went to kneel next to the troubled dachshund. “What’s wrong, Cocoa?” She petted her head with one hand and gently held Cocoa’s foot with the other, stopping the persistent scratching. “What’s wrong with your throat?” Lindsay cooed as she felt the area. “Poor baby, you have a little swelling there. No more scratching. Come have a drink of water.”

Cocoa followed Lindsay to the water bowl they always left outside when they were gone for an extended period. She pointed and said, “Here you go, have a drink of water.”

Cocoa, always eager to please, lapped up a few sips of water and then looked directly into Lindsay’s eyes as though to say, “Was that good? Is that enough?”

“Good girl. No more scratching now.” Then she turned to Jake and said, “Cocoa has a swollen area on her throat. We need to keep an eye on it.”

At bedtime, Lindsay checked Cocoa’s throat, gently palpating it. Cocoa didn’t whimper, so it didn’t seem to be painful. A long, golden, curly lion’s mane of hair covered her throat area so that the swelling was visually unnoticeable, but Lindsay could feel it. It didn’t seem any larger. Should I give her some Benadryl? No, I’ll check her during the night and give her the antihistamine if the swelling gets worse.

“Jake, I’m going to take Cocoa upstairs with me tonight when I go to bed so I can check her throat every hour or two. I’ll give her some Benadryl if I think she needs it. We have the phone number for the 24-hour vet on the refrigerator if it gets serious. If it swells too much, she could have trouble breathing and could die.”

“Do you think she got stung by a wasp or something?”

“Maybe. Let’s hope the swelling goes down during the night. I’ll be able to hear her if she starts scratching again or her breathing sounds raspy during the night and I can check her.”

By morning, Cocoa’s swollen lump was the size of a golf ball. “Jake, we need to take Cocoa to the vet. Look at this huge swelling—it’s like she developed a cyst on her throat overnight. This could be serious.”

“You want to go right now?”

“Yes, let’s take the golf cart. We can leave Rosa here.”

Jake frowned. “She’ll be upset if we leave her here by herself. I’ll take care of her while you handle Cocoa.”

“Okay, but I need you to come into the examination room with me to interpret. The vet doesn’t speak much English. Let’s hurry—I’m afraid the swelling could impede Cocoa’s airway. She could die!”

“Is she having trouble breathing?”

“No, not now, but it could happen quickly if the inflammation gets worse. Let’s bring our masks to wear when we go into the clinic.”

The vet, Dr. Marcus, was able to examine Cocoa right away. He was a calm, gentle Mexican in his forties, his manner immediately putting animals at ease. He and his staff were mask-free. Dr. Marcus appeared unconcerned about COVID-19 as he didn’t don a mask when he, Jake, and Lindsay all gathered in the small examination room.

Lindsay reflected as Dr. Marcus greeted them with a friendly smile, It seems that many Mexicans don’t worry about what could happen. They just live their normal everyday life and appear unworried, even happy, no matter what is happening, including the coronavirus pandemic.

Lindsay lifted Cocoa onto the stainless-steel exam table, keeping both hands on her torso to stabilize the little dog on the slippery surface. Lindsay indicated the large lump, covered with long, wavy hair at Cocoa’s throat so the vet could understand what the problem was. After checking her mouth, ears, and eyes and feeling the inflammation carefully, he said in Spanish, “Un insecto le picó, posiblemente.”

Lindsay understood enough of the language to get the meaning of insect bite. “A scorpion?”

Dr. Marcus understood English about as well as Lindsay understood Spanish. But he chose to speak in his native tongue. “No, un escorpión causa más dolor.” It would cause more pain. “Posiblemente una abeja.

Jake interpreted, “Possibly a bee.”

“What can you do?” Lindsay inquired.

From there, Dr. Marcus explained his treatment plan in Spanish and Jake translated for Lindsay. They watched as he skillfully drew up a milky suspension into a syringe, then while Lindsay held Cocoa’s body, he injected the anti-inflammatory medication under the skin into the scruff of the dog’s neck. Not a whimper or flinch came from Cocoa. She trusted this calm doctor more than she had ever trusted a vet in the United States—she felt the tranquil manner of this man and responded to it.

“Good girl, Cocoa,” Lindsay purred as she petted her back.

Next, Dr. Marcus pulled a large tub of creamy ointment from a cabinet and Lindsay wondered if it was a cure-all that he used on all the animals with wounds, even horses and donkeys. Maybe it’s a drawing salve like the old-fashioned Boil Ease ointment we used to sell in pharmacies in Oregon. The country folk used it to draw swelling and infection from boils and other inflamed areas.

With a wooden tongue depressor, he applied a large dollop of the cream to a three-inch square dressing made of several layers of gauze. He placed the dressing over the lump and indicated that Lindsay should hold it in place, their heads about a foot apart. So much for the 1.5-meter distancing recommendation to prevent the spread of coronavirus. He added a significant wad of sterile cotton over the gauze and had Lindsay hold that in place, too, while telling Jake in Spanish that if the wound ruptured, this would soak up the oozing fluids. Jake interpreted for Lindsay.

The vet began wrapping a blue elastic sports bandage around Cocoa’s neck to hold the dressing in place. He asked them to bring her back in the morning so he could check the wound. He explained that if the wound did not drain itself by the next morning, he would drain it with a syringe.

“No antibiotics?” Lindsay inquired.

No, no es necesario.” He smiled and gestured for them to move to the checkout counter. Lindsay and Jake were amazed at how small the charge was for the service. In the United States, it would have been ten or twenty times higher, maybe more if blood tests and IVs had been used, maybe even an overnight stay at the clinic, all extreme procedures due to liability and veterinary malpractice lawsuits in the U.S.

As she lifted Cocoa and slid onto the golf cart seat, Lindsay thought, I hope the treatment works. I’ll keep a close eye on Cocoa this afternoon and during the night. I wonder if I should have insisted that Dr. Marcus drain the lump?

During the night, Lindsay woke several times, hearing Cocoa scratching at the bandage. “No, Cocoa,” she gently warned, then turned on the lamp to check the swelling. It seemed the same, maybe a little less swollen. She petted the little dog until she quieted and curled up in her bed.

The following morning when Lindsay woke, her first thought was that she had slept for hours without checking Cocoa. She peered into the dog bed, fearing the worst. Breathing normally, Cocoa raised her head and wagged her tail. Lindsay could see light yellow fluid drenching the cotton dressing and Cocoa’s long hair protruding from the bandage. Even the dog blanket had a yellow stain of liquid. That wound must have ruptured during the night—it was full of a lot of nasty fluid. That’s a good sign, I think.

Jake, Lindsay, and the two miniature dachshunds crammed into the front seat of the golf cart for the drive to the veterinarian clinic. Lindsay wanted to be there when they opened.

When Dr. Marcus unwrapped the bandage, the dressing was soggy, soaked entirely through with what Lindsay thought was pus. Cocoa’s throat hair was drenched with the pus. The skin hung like a balloon that had deflated in the sun. In the center was a hole where the fluid had escaped, likely the result of Cocoa digging her sharp toenail through the dressing and into the swollen wound. She punctured her own inflamed lump—no syringes are needed for draining this wound!

Dr. Marcus rebandaged Cocoa’s throat using another generous amount of the miracle salve on a fresh dressing, then asked them to return the next day.

Lindsay, concerned that the fluid looked like pus and could indicate infection, again asked him, “Antibiotics?”

The vet smiled, humoring her, and shook his head.

He probably thinks gringos want antibiotics to cure everything, but he doesn’t seem to resort to using them unless he’s confident there is an infection. Mexican doctors seem to be very conservative about prescribing medication, I’ve noticed.

Jake asked how much they owed. Dr. Marcus shook his head again and smiled. “Nada. Hasta mañana.”

When they got back in the golf cart, Lindsay said, “I can’t believe he didn’t charge us for another office visit and dressing change! How can the Mexicans live on such a small income?”

“I know. The charge yesterday must have been for all three times he’ll treat Cocoa. The low amount we pay for services, including health care for ourselves and our pets, is one of the reasons we can afford to live here on our Social Security checks. We made the right decision when we moved to México.”

     This story is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, “Mexico For Better or For Worse” (In Sickness and In Health eBook #3). If you haven’t read eBooks #1 and #2 in this series, take a look HERE.

This story was also published on Amazon Kindle Vella. Follow me there to read Episode 1 and upcoming episodes.

What is Kindle Vella? Kindle Vella is a new mobile-first reading platform from Amazon that is based around a serialized, episodic format. It allows readers to read serialized stories one chapter at a time.

Thank you for reading my books and articles!

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