Mexican Pipeline: Medical Emergency in Mexico (cont.)
What happened next was far from what I had expected. The surfer looked back at me with complete surprise. He jumped forward, punching through the wave with his body, and springing his board back toward me with the push-off of his feet. I had little time to react and instead just kept going on the wave only to feel a hard hit on my back left leg. I finished the wave not wanting to look down at the damage caused by the impact of a board fin on my leg. At first it looked like I had made it out unharmed, but a second glance left me feeling weak in the knees. A four inch gash was showing yellow tissue, evidence of a deep wound, and blood was slowly oozing out of the wound. I knew I had to act fast to avoid infection and a large amount of blood loss (and hey, let's not even think about sharks!).
Once I got to shore, I wrapped my leg with my sarong to keep pressure on the wound, prevent bleeding, and keep the sand out. I hobbled to the road to catch the next taxi back to the hotel. Once arriving at the hotel, it was complete chaos. Everyone was concerned, but no one was quite sure what to do. There were suggestions of going to the hospital, which was about twenty minutes away, but the overall response was to go to Doctor Pepe next door. With a high recommendation from the hotel staff, I decided to avoid the hospital and take myself to Doctor Pepe.
As I walked down a narrow cobblestone street, my next obstacle was to climb the terrace of narrow winding stairs that led to his front door. A few times on my journey I had to wonder if this was really happening. It seemed like a scene right out of a movie. As I entered the doctor's office, it appeared seemingly empty and quiet except for a few buzzing flies and a TV showing a Mexican soap opera. I rang the bell to the office, and a nurse who barely spoke English greeted my friend (who would serve as a translator) and me. I showed her my wound, and she seemed very welcoming - like I had come to the right place. I was apprehensively led through a series of airy and minimalist-looking medical rooms before reaching the very back room that had a metal patient's table and surrounding medical supplies.
I was instructed to climb up on the table, and the nurse told me in her best English that "what she was about to do would hurt a little." As she began, "little" wasn't the word I would have used to describe the level of pain. She put all sorts of antibacterial solutions on the wound and then proceeded to scrub it. I am guessing the scrubbing was to get any sand or debris out, but all I could wonder was when it was going to stop. Ouch! She finally finished, and the infamous Dr. Pepe entered the room. He was a tall, older Mexican man with curly greying hair and a large yellow-toothed smile - he seemed like a nice guy. He took one look at the wound, and I agreed with his conclusion that I would need stitches, but I wasn't excited about it. He administered a shot to numb the pain and proceeded to do the stitching. I couldn't watch - I just gripped my friend's hand and the side of the table trying to hold back the tears, not because of the pain, but because the shock of the incident - and the vulnerable feeling of being in foreign place - and not fully knowing if coming to Dr. Pepe was the right decision.
The procedure was quick, and before I knew it Dr. Pepe had me all sutured up and bandaged. He gave me a packet of pills for the pain (I think - it was a packet of pills in a foil strip), and a prescription for antibiotics. The fee was only 300 pesos which amounts to about 30 US dollars. I could only think of what this would have cost in the US! I was instructed to come back the next day as a follow-up and stay out of the water for at least a week. I left the office, thanked Dr. Pepe, and headed to the local pharmacist to get my prescription filled.
As I limped away, I looked at the receipt and my prescription paper. On the top of the papers were Dr. Pepe's full medical name, which translated to Dr. Pepe Medical Gynecologist. I had to take a few glances just to make sure I was reading correctly. Had I really just gotten stitched up by a gynecologist? All I could do was laugh; this was turning more comical by the minute. I figured he must do a lot of suturing in his line of work, so I was confident I had received good medical care in Mexico, from Dr. Pepe the gynecologist.
When I got to the pharmacy I received one antibiotic. I am not sure if it was a misunderstanding due to a language barrier (lost in translation), but I was sure only one antibiotic pill would not be enough to prevent an infection. Thankfully I only had one day of my trip left, so I resigned myself to sit by the pool to nurse my wounds and thought that I would see a doctor when I returned home. The following day was when I was supposed to leave, and of course the day that I remember being in the most pain. The stitches were tight, it hurt to walk, and there was a little bit of swelling. All these things worried me because redness and swelling are the first signs of infection. Before I left I went to Dr. Pepe one last time to get the bandage changed and to get the wound checked. He said the wound was normal and looked good considering it had occurred just one day ago. So I packed my bags and headed for the airport to catch my flight back to Orange County, California.
The next day after my return home I went to an urgent care facility. The doctor took one look at my leg and looked perplexed at the Mexican stitch job. He asked me what Dr. Pepe had done, and sheepishly I shrugged my shoulders, I really had no idea. I told him I couldn't watch, so I wasn't sure. All I knew is that I had six stitches and that it was done by a gynecologist. The doctor laughed and asked a few sarcastic questions, but when the final analysis was done it was determined that I had received a variation of a type of suture called a mattress stitch. He gave me a prescription for cephalexin (Keflex) (that contained more than one pill) to prevent infection and instructed me to return in seven days to get the stitches removed. Also, I was instructed to keep the area as dry as possible, to not use band-aids, to keep topical antibiotic ointment on the wound, and not to do anything but walk until the stitches were removed.
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