I'm nearly 3 weeks out from my most recent surgery, and there's so much I want to tell you about – especially if you are someone who has gone down a similar path.
(My view for the past few weeks: lots of painting with diamonds…)
I have 5 weeks left of bed rest and I'm definitely stir crazy, but I've actually listened to the doctor's orders because I don't want to ever have to go through ANY of this again.
From the massive amounts of pain to being told I was probably going to lose my kidney, it's just been… a lot.
The kidney issues caused super crazy brain fog, so some of the details are a bit fuzzy. I hope I've included enough pieces of the puzzle that it makes at least a little sense. 🙂
You can also read my previous post about this, before the surgery: that time I got weighed on a cattle scale in Mexico.
WARNING: There are medical photos and references in this post, and TMI shared. Do not proceed unless you want to see/read these things.
When I got thyroid cancer, I had a total thyroidectomy. Almost immediately after, I had issues with my calcium and potassium levels. These wonky levels caused kidney stones – and a lot of them.
The urologist recommended a kidney stent, so I tried it. It didn't help, and I ended up having to get another one later. It stayed in for 6 weeks but it calcified, so when the doctor was removing it, it caused tears, which caused scar tissue to form.
The scar tissue caused the kidney stones to get stuck; stones not being able to pass through landed me in the hospital a handful of times.
Months turned into years and overall I've had like 8 kidney stents.
When I got to Mexico and started getting treated here, they were dumbfounded as to why the doctors in the U.S. would've kept making me get stents (that hurt like a motherfucker, by the way) when they weren't helping.
We did one stent (a different size than the ones in the States), and it seemed to work. It was about 8 months before my kidneys started causing major problems again.
After an emergency room visit and several scans over the course of the week, I was told my kidney stopped functioning and it would need to be removed. It wasn't draining at all and it was almost three times the size it should be. It needed to drain ASAP.
At first I thought the ultrasound tech was being a bit dramatic, perhaps? Maybe I was hoping he was… but after 3 doctors looked at the images, they said the same thing: be prepared for the possibility of losing your kidney.
I went to Hospital Guadalajara to get a second opinion and the doctor recommended draining my kidney to see if it would help improve the function.
I had to get a spinal block. Talk about anxiety, but it only lasted a few minutes and then I was out.
Doctor couldn't get catheter into the kidney to drain it. In fact, he tried to use something that was as thin as a piece of hair, and it couldn't get through to the kidney because the scar tissue completely blocked it.
He said there was 3cm fibrosis in my ureter, and that repairing the ureter was no longer an option.
He ordered a scan to better see my kidney function.
After another drive to Tijuana (whew!), we got the gammagrafia and it showed my kidney still had a chance!
For this surgery, I went to Hospital Velmar.
This is the same hospital (and doctor) that did my first stent in Mexico. We originally went to him about this issue, too, but when he only gave the ureter reconstruction a 50/50 shot, we went to Hospital Guadalajara for a second opinion.
Then, the doctor at HGDL did the procedure but told us the next step was a nephrectomy because ureter reconstruction wouldn't work for me.
We went back to Dr. Diaz with the information from our Tijuana scans, and he said he was cautiously optimistic and would try to save my kidney!
The doctor was able to cut my ureter and reconstruct it after moving my kidney down. The ureter didn't have enough slack, for lack of a better or more medical term lol, after all of the scar tissue was cut out. So the only way it would work is if the ureter was rerouted to the other side of my body, or if he moved the kidney down.
While it was expected to only take 3 hours, it took 5 hours – my poor husband was a nervous wreck, but all was well!
The surgery was robotic and laparoscopic, just like the thyroidectomy. I was left with staples in 4 spots and a drain where my kidney was.
When I woke up, I was in the worst pain of my life. Not only did my ureter get cut and reattached, my kidney was moved, and I had staples out the wazzoo. I didn't know how I was going to survive the pain… it was bad bad.
The first 3 days were horrible; I needed pain medicine around the clock and it barely touched any of it. I couldn't even take a breath in without awful pain! Ugh.
The doctor said I could go home the second day but I said “no way!” – there was no way I could even get up in our van much less handle the hour-long ride home from the hospital.
By the third day, I was able to force myself to get up and move to the chair next to the hospital bed. It was difficult, I was very winded and in a ton of pain, but I did it.
That gave me the confidence that I could go home soon. The next day, we made it home.
The first week was the most difficult. I'm not nearly as independent as I used to be (Kevin has spoiled me lol), but not being able to sit up without help was rough.
I had a catheter for about a week. After it was removed, I was able to take better showers and actually get (and feel) clean. I bitched and moaned the entire time I had the catheter; I feel for those who have to have them long term.
The first follow-up appointment, I got my catheter removed. WOO HOO!
After the catheter was removed, the next appointment was for the staples to come out, but the doctor made me wait a few more days. My drain was removed at that appointment, though.
I was allergic to the tape they used at first so my skin got very angry.
I then got a yeast infection, likely from the antibiotics. But, it's better than the C.Diff the antibiotics gave me last time, so I just got some Mexican Vagisil and got rid of the itchy-burny-infection.
During the most recent appointment, I finally got my staples removed. This made me feel like a super hero so I started working on the laptop from bed for the first time.
I've been home for almost 3 weeks and things get easier each day.
Because I love working and it's like my favorite thing to do, I was getting online every day last week. Kicking ass, taking names, and working! WOOT!
I was DOING THE THING!
I did have a minor setback, though. On Sunday, I worked almost 8 hours. That was a terrible idea, and I realized it as soon as I calculated how many hours I had been up.
That kicked my ass and I was down until Thursday, but I learned to keep track of how long I am online – and to listen when my husband tells me to get offline LOL
It hasn't all been bad, though. I do get visits from lots of birds each day, as it seems a few have formed a nest (or two) outside of my bedroom window.
And, I have access to affordable medicine that doesn't include narcotics. I am thankful.
I can do all the things with medicine. Cannabis 4:20
Cost, Cleanliness, and Care in Mexico
The first time I had to go to the hospital in Mexico was in September 2021. It was right after we moved, and I didn't know a lick of Spanish.
I was terrified.
I had a lot of PTSD from doctors and hospitals in the U.S. so I think that transferred when I moved here. Combined with the brainwashing I grew up with about how “dirty” Mexico is, no wonder I was a ball of nerves.
Not only was the care stellar, it was faster and cheaper than in the States.
From that point on, I was no longer scared when I had to go to the doctor, hospital, etc here and I'm thankful because I've needed to go a handful of times now.
When I tell people about my experience here, they ask questions regarding one of three things: the care, the cleanliness, and the cost. I will address these briefly, and then I'll go into them more in-depth over on Wandering Smileys when I get a chance.
Cost of surgery in Mexico varies from the type of surgery as well as doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, and especially, city to city.
We paid in pesos but we calculated them into USD. The hospital fee is separate from the doctor fee.
Kidney drain procedure*
Doctors (2 surgeons + OR staff): $1,900USD
*Includes overnight hospital stay
Ureter reconstruction surgery*
Doctors (2 surgeons + OR staff)): $6,678.90USD
*Includes 3 day hospital stay and all follow-up visits (3 so far, probably 3 more to go)
I was blown away by the care I received by almost every nurse at both hospitals. They were so nice, and caring. It was more like a sister, aunt, or grandma caring for me than a nurse. Holding my hand when another nurse had trouble with the IV, chatting about their families and ours, and many more little tidbits made the connection very different than what I was used to.
The nurses at both hospitals spoke Spanish only, with the exception of one nurse at Velmar who spoke fluent English and another nurse who was learning English. Actually, most nurses we spoke to wanted to learn English.
Side note, this interaction gave me an idea for something our non-profit can do: teach nurses (and anyone) English. We were trying to teach Americans Spanish but would much prefer spending our time helping locals learn English so they can get more opportunities and better pay!
The rooms at both hospitals were as clean as they would be in the States. The biggest differences are:
the bathrooms got cleaned 3 times each day(!) and
the simplicity of everything here in Mexico vs how grandiose everything is in the States.
The hospitals had everything I needed, and even gave me a pair of slippers to take home. They made great gifts for my friends, cuz you know my size 13 feet aren't fitting into Mexican slippers LOL.
But the rooms are much smaller than the rooms the Arizona hospitals had. I can't speak for everywhere, but Arizona had nice hospitals – it was just the staff that sucked.
A lot of the little cosmetic things that are worried about in the States like paint chipping or even fixtures being older, they either aren't a top priority or aren't in the budget.
Nurses at the hospital in Ensenada – the ones that go to school for 4-5 years – get paid the equivalent of $25USD a day.
The difference between a society that lives for insurance claims, and one where many patients at the private hospital are paying cash for treatment.
In Arizona, the hospitals all had a 3-5 page menu with dozens of options you could order day or night. It was wonderful, when I wasn't on a restricted diet.
The hospitals here serve what I think is oatmeal (?) for breakfast every day (at least all the days I was there), along with fresh fruit, juice, and tea.
I can't remember lunches or dinners because I was too sick to eat. I asked for apple juice, and didn't eat anything else until after I left the hospital and got cannabis. Then, I ate a whole container of habanero Pringles on the drive home…
So basically, if you want to eat and you're in the hospital, you'll have to have some food smuggled in lol.
Care in Mexico
That brings me to my last point on the topic: my experiences are with two private hospitals that are known for being the best in the entire state of Baja California Norte.
I'm speaking from a place of privilege, but I imagine if you're an American reading this to find out about costs in Mexico, you're also coming from a place of privilege in comparison to those who work for local wages.
Keeping perspective is important during these conversations; I don't want to say “Mexico has amazing healthcare!” because I don't have enough data to do a thorough assessment. I can assure you the local hospitals that do not have as many cash paying patients are not as well provided for as the hospitals I received care at.
I've healed in many ways during this time of recovery, and hopefully can write more about that later. But as far as physical healing goes, my scars are looking great!
At first, we used honey patches and they worked really well – the doctor was even impressed! But my skin was sensitive to the adhesive and actually caused more wounds to form, so I had to stop using them.
(The photo on the left is where all the staples were, the photo on the right is where the kidney drain was.)
Now, Kevin puts Vitamin E oil on each of the scars and massages them every day just like he did with my thyroidectomy scar. 🙂 And then after a few hours of getting fresh air, we put scar gel patches on each of them.
Avoiding the sun is also key to healing scars but these are on my stomach and my stomach doesn't see much sun these days!
I look forward to no more kidney pain! Since the surgery, my kidneys have been pain-free … that hasn't happened in SO LONG!
I look forward to traveling with Kevin. He's done such an amazing job taking care of me, I literally have no idea how I would've survived this without him.
Yes, I'm in pain but it's not kidney pain so no complaints here at all… I'm doing okay, doing the thing, and looking forward to what is yet to come!!
P.S. I have to give a shout out to my amazing kids, Sapphire and Micah, who have done a great job helping their dad take care of me these past few weeks. Micah is in that “cool guy” phase so no photo of him, but this is a pic Saff and I took on Mother's Day. 🙂