When I arrived home from Oaxaca, Mexcio, not only did I bring back a plethora of souvenirs and a better understanding of Mexico and its languages, but a few life lessons as well. The day I left to study abroad in Oaxaca Mexico is the same day I began to develop a terrible cornea ulcer. Once we landed, me and my extremely attentive professors knew this was something that needed immediate medical attention.
Before I begin to explain my medical experience in Mexico, I will preface it my saying this: During my time in Mexico, I visited four doctors in two weeks, spent three weeks in crucial recovery, and a total of four weeks in Mexico studying and exploring. Prior to my departure, I signed up for the mandatory international health care, HTH Worldwide. This is brief summary of my medical experience in Mexico.
The attempt to diagnose and cure my eye issue began in Mexico City around 7pm Central time. As I held paper towel up to my eye to protect it from the sun and to absorb its secretion, I walked briskly with my English professor and our translator to the closest eye doctor. As we approached the building, there stood a young female promoting the farmacia through a microphone connected to an amplifier. The first thing that came to my mind as we entered the building was how similar it seemed to a GNC store in America. After we asked for the eye doctor, a sales associate led us up a winding staircase to the second floor. Here we saw a wide-open seating space and two doors conveniently placed in the center of the wall that stood strait ahead of us. One door was open and inside there was a female dentist working on a patient, the second door was closed.
Once the door opened, the eye doctor beckoned us in. Unfortunately, she did not know English. This made my first experience with the first doctor interesting, a little irritating, confusing, and scary. She spoke with my professor, and translator, who in turn spoke to me. She asked me a few questions, quickly looked at my eye, and diagnosed me with conjunctivitis. Once we decided that was the cause of infection in my right eye, she wrote out a few prescriptions on prescription cards and asked for payment.
We paid around seven hundred pesos for the visit and another three hundred pesos for the steroids and antibiotics. That’s about $75 USD, total.
My subsequent appointments with the preceding doctors in Oaxaca Mexico were all unique. I visited with a general practitioner when I first arrived to Oaxaca. Coincidentally, he studied in southern Indiana for some time during his academic career, and spoke fluent English. His office appeared to be very similar to a “free clinic” here in the states, but smaller. There was a waiting room, a secretary, and various rooms with doors. From my perspective, there were no computers, the door was constantly open, and it appeared to have not been swept or cleaned consistently. The doctor was friendly, and continued my diagnoses for conjunctivitis while giving me a stronger steroid.
After my visit with the general practitioner, my eye did not show signs of getting better and in fact worsened. Finding an eye doctor in Oaxaca Mexico was not as difficult as I thought, partly because it is a tourist city, and partly because I knew enough Spanish to ask for an English-speaking doctor. I found an eye doctor in the area who knew English who was able to explain to me that I did not have conjunctivitis, but instead had an ulcer in my cornea. Again, this office was small, not extremely clean, and his personal office seemed disorganized with dust lingering about. This doctor, however, did have computers and took payments via credit card. The doctor took a culture sample, and sent it to a laboratory to be tested.
After visiting him a few times, I found a cornea specialist by recommendation from the school at which I was studying. The Cornea specialist was also fluent in English and had studied in Texas, but was not originally from America. She was extremely helpful, and although her office appeared very similar to the general practioner’s and I could only pay in cash, she was the most knowledgeable. At this point, if I were in America I would have been hospitalized, but here I was not. Instead, it was up to me to put the designated drops in my eye every half hour for two weeks, sleep with salve in my eye, protect it from the sun, and visit the ophthalmologist every day. Every doctor visit cost me on average 500 pesos (about $37 USD), except for the days I visited the ophthalmologist every day for a week. It was explained to me by both the ophthalmologist that I visited, and the eye doctor, that if the ulcer in my eye had been a different sort, I would have had to come back to the United States because Mexico does not provide the medication strong enough to kill it. Fortunately, I did not have to do that.
When I totaled up my bills to send into the study abroad insurance company, the amount came to roughly $500 USD, including the prescriptions. After a few months back home, HTH WorldWide sent me a check of $125 U.S. to cover the expenses. Considering I did not have all of the receipts from my transactions, their estimate was not far off. Unfortunately, they did not cover the visits I had to make when I came back home.
Here are a few major differences, between Indiana and Oaxaca Mexico, I noticed. Expenses were more costly in the States, although I did not receive a bill until the claim had been processed through my insurance company. In addition, whereas there was an ophthalmologist in Oaxaca City, where I resided, the only ophthalmologist in Indiana was in Indianapolis. The doctors in the States did not change my prescriptions, and when I arrived back to the states, the only concern was reducing the scarring that had developed from the ulcer.
Overall, a potentially frightening experience turned into an informative experience. I do not feel worried for my health when traveling abroad, and I am comfortable with practices that are not the same as those in the U.S. Furthermore, this experience taught me that great health care comes not from the system, but from the administrator. It was not the system in Mexico that fixed me at much lower costs than that of the U.S., it was the doctors.