The Human Touch

On Monday when I went to see my friend Beth who’s recovering from two recent back surgeries, she told me that her doctor had just visited, examined her, and reported that she’s coming along nicely. Good news! But as I learned more, the news became more astounding to me:

Beth, who is in her early eighties, is at home in San Miguel de Allende, in a hospital bed set up in her living room on the ground floor of her house. The doctor who came to see her – to pay a house call on a Monday morning – is her Mexican neurosurgeon. And he not only came to check on her, he also came bearing gifts, a big bag of fresh fruit. Would this – could this – ever happen anywhere else, especially in the U.S., I wondered? My answer to my own question was “No.”

I imagined this doctor — whose name I don’t know, but to me he is emblematic of Mexican doctors I’ve known or have heard of — stopping at a mercado on his way to Beth’s and choosing the freshest, most beautiful fruit for her: a bunch of plump, sweet green grapes (maybe he tasted one from the bunch for sweetness?); bright, fat tangerines now in season and in abundance; large, lemon-yellow bananas, always soothing and easy to eat.

I imagined him pulling up to Beth’s house in el centro, ringing the bell at the front gate, and standing there as if he were a friend or neighbor with time on his hands. But, no, this man is a neurosurgeon who has taken the time from his busy schedule to check on a patient in her home and bring her not just his medical expertise but his kindness. I call this kind of bedside manner “the human touch.”

(stock photo)

I like to think that doctors north of the border would do the same, given half a chance, especially when they’re new to the profession and not yet burned out by it. But most American doctors, I believe, struggle mightily under the weight of heavy financial burdens – college and medical school loans, medical liability insurance, and so on – which preclude such time-consuming niceties. They must make every moment of their day count, because, well, Time is Money. This is, after all, the American ethos.

Here in Mexico, as we emigres come to learn, this is not the case. Here, Time is flexible, and Money is fungible. It takes us a while to let these truths sink in. Kindness – instead of cash – is king here, and it is most evident when we need medical care.

Last June, when I had surgery at the general hospital in Leon, Mexico, not far from San Miguel, I was deeply impressed by and immensely grateful for the care and kindness I received. I remember clearly, for example, just before I fell under the spell of the general anesthetic, one of the young doctors in the surgery room (there were several; this is a teaching hospital), held my hand sweetly and told me softly (in Spanish), “We are all here for you.” I closed my eyes and drifted off in childlike trust.

And not only medical doctors. Last year, my dear dentist, Hugo Nieto, after some dental surgery in his office, had his receptionist, Betti, accompany me home and see that I got settled in comfortably because I was still somewhat groggy from the anesthetic and unsteady on my feet. This kind of kindness is normal here. And there’s no extra charge.

(stock photo)

I’m sure that many of my WOW readers who live, or have lived, in Mexico have had similar Mexican-human-touch medical experiences, and I invite you to share your own anecdotes in the Comments below. I’d love for WOW readers all over the world to know more about Mexican kindness – and not just from me.

36 thoughts on “The Human Touch”

  1. I love your story and it is so true. My husband and I have had many wonderful experiences with doctors, nurses, and medical personnel here in Mexico. These stories are unbelievable to our friends and family back in Canada.

  2. So beautiful Bonnie. My mom and I are reading this in Vermont and loving your message. Thank you. We hope you are well.

  3. What a terrific story, Bonnie. That ethos alone is enough to make one consider moving to Mexico. If kindness, compassion, and TIME reach across the social strata to even the highest echelons, it must be pervasive throughout the culture, and we both know that it is. To me, that makes a place worth living in. Not just that your doctor would visit you after surgery but that the spirit of kindness is so prevalent. As we can see from the recent attack on Paul Pelosi, empathy is sadly, tragically, lacking in all strata of American life. I’m so glad you’re where you are. Living situations may have posed a challenge, but look at what you have in the balance. xoxo ~ Be

  4. This is why I always say health care is better in Mexico. The kindness and personal caring of our health professionals is extraordinary to us foreigners–but normal here.

  5. Good article. Mexican doctors put “care” into health care is something I heard when visiting SMA as a tourist and it’s true. Also having your doctor and other health specialists’ cell phone numbers is normal here.

  6. Love this about Mexico and it is one of the many reasons I could never EVER consider moving back to the USA.

  7. What a wonderful story….it’s like an alternate reality with Canada & US on another plane. But it exists somewhere.

  8. Dear Bon,
    It is a beautiful story, and one that I wish all Americans could hear it. But all we hear is how terrible socialized medicine is and how wonderful our system is. Eighty percent us want it, but it will never happen. Sad.

  9. All I can say is WOW (in the literal sense.) And a resounding NO it would never happen here in the USA. Practicing physicians have all been swallowed up by giant for profit conglomerates. You pay a different price for a 10, 15, or 20 minute appointment. and you are supposed to figure out just how long an appointment you need. A doctor in a practice I had been going to for 30 years, wagged her finger and pointed to her watch while sternly telling me that I had two minutes left to ask anymore questions and if I could not finish asking in that time I would have to make another appointment and that she was booking 6 weeks out. I was speechless and humiliated. I walked out crying and felt like a helpless child. I was ill and ended up having to go to the ER. I made an appointment with the office manager and filed a complaint against the practice but I also knew in my heart that this was not the physician’s fault but the fault of the for profit behemoth who owned her. She called me with an apology and I was left feeling badly that she was disciplined for something she had no control over. I never went back.
    After a long search I have finally found a lovely GP who just happens to be Mexican and still owns her practice; for now anyway. I have to travel 40 minutes but it is worth it. She spends lots of time with me if I need it. Clearly as you have just taught me, a kindness attributed to being educated in a culture that actually cares about human beings.
    I think it might be time to move south of the border.

    1. Thank you SO much, dear Barbara, for sharing your harrowing medical experience. How sad you had to go through that! But I’m happy to know you found a lovely doctor there, who’s from Mexico, and who has her own private practice. Yes, give the idea of moving south of the border some serious thought…

  10. In our brief time here in SMA( 2+ years), we have also experienced this same level of excellent medical/dental care and concern. However, lest you non residents have the notion that Mexican life “ is all bliss all the time”, let me present a dose of reality. I recently lost my wallet on foreign travel, including my Mexican permanent residency card. Despite being in the system( on the government computer system), retired with sufficient income and a homeowner here, I am being compelled to go through the absurd process of returning to a Mexican consulate in the U.S. to begin the highly bureaucratic process of re-applying all over again. All for the loss of a simple ID card. So, yes, life here is truly magnificent on so many levels, yet we are still subject to the laws of gravity in a rather bizarre Kafkaesque cultural maze.

    1. Thank you, Ron! Yes, nothing like a dose of reality to balance the scales. There’s a lot to adapt to here, for sure. Nothing is easy. So it’s not for the faint of heart! 🙂

  11. Your stories are consistent with my experience, Bonnie. But there is a little hope for the US — my new doctor in Berkeley is sweet and caring and smiley. So maybe there is a shift in the medical culture there.

  12. Hi Bonnie, I was directed to your blog by a mutual friend, Jane B, and I’m delighted to read your thoughts and experiences. I will be spending most of this coming winter in Oaxaca; perhaps that will include a trip to SMA! Best wishes.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.