The wail of the siren filled the cabin of the ambulance. I was strapped down, and could not see the beautiful stretch of road clinging to the side of the hills above the Pacific on my way to Velmar Hospital in Ensenada. I was headed towards my first hospital experience after twelve years of living in Northern Baja. I was in severe back pain and could no longer tough it out. No family was there to hold my hand and so I surrendered my fate to the medical professionals of Mexico.
The EMTs raced me into the emergency and I was treated immediately even before they had my name. They never asked if I had insurance. I was stabilized by the personnel on duty and an orthopedic surgeon came in to talk with me speaking fairly good English. I was immediately taken to a private room on the second floor with an expanse of windows having a view of the open blue sky. All the medical personnel spoke Spanish. My Spanish is limited, but we got along very well. An IV was administered instantly. The doctor suggested a course of action to discover what was causing the pain, which would include X-rays and later an MRI. All of this was administered before a friend arrived to handle the details of money for the care.
The hospital was immaculate, although you could tell its age. Everyone who came into my room was kind and took time and special care with their duties, even the man whistling as he mopped the floors twice daily. Here is where the doctors of Mexico shine. Time is experienced differently in Mexico. In translation from Spanish, one "makes" time. While in the US, we "spend" time. My specialist made time for me. He visited twice daily and was never hurried. The sense that he cared for my condition was evident. Even now since I have returned home, I am in contact with him by email. The private room was $100 a day. The Orthopedic specialist, X-rays, MRI, a spinal injection, IVs, and emergency room charges for a four day stay came to a total cost of just under two thousand dollars.
After years of experience living in Baja there is a peace that has returned after the real estate bubble burst. The quality of this peace is hard to find anywhere. Foreign travelers are returning to enjoy a truly precious experience of a beautiful land where money exchange can stretch a budget. It is perfect for retirement. After my direct experiences, I do not hesitate to recommend Baja's medical system. Below is a little information to get started when considering living and traveling in Northern Baja.
Cruz Roja is a government low cost clinic with free ambulance service in emergencies. By calling 066, you are immediately connected to emergency help. Having a little medical Spanish is a good idea. They will take you to a local Cruz Roja clinic or hospital, or will transport you back to the border for a transfer to U.S. facilities. Calling the 074 will connect you with the Caminos y Puentes Federales ambulance stationed at each toll booth from Tijuana to Ensenada.
When driving on the highway between Tijuana and Ensenada you are protected with liability insurance for third party damage. Saving your toll ticket is very important for proof of purchase. Report the incident to the nearest toll plaza or by telephone at the following number: 01800-823-1893. (The toll road insurance coverage is limited. Read Baja Bound's article about the toll roads and toll road insurance.)
It is well worth picking up the book, Mexico, Health and Safety Travel Guide, by Robert Page, MD, Published 2005. In one community north of Ensenada, I know of four people whose lives were saved by CardioMed of Ensenada. Robert H. Page, MD and author wrote, that CardioMed has "advanced diagnostic and surgical facilities" and is "surprisingly more advanced than one would expect..." Mexico is a comprehensive guide for all of Mexico, but very good for Baja residents and travelers. This in-depth directory contains updated information on English-speaking physicians, the best medical care facilities. At Hospital Velmar all three of my attending physicians spoke English. A very special thanks goes to the Dr. Armando Morfin Padilla for his heartfelt skills that have put me back on the road to recovery.