Far from home

Cuban spread

WE PASSED 15 years of matrimony last month and had planned on spending a few days on the Pacific sands to mark the happy event, but it never happened.

My dental work intervened, not just the visits to the dentist but the cost too, which took a good chunk out of the checkbook. Sure, we could still go to the beach, but the moment has passed, plus it’s hot as hell there right now.

We decided to just “celebrate” with a nice meal at a Cuban restaurant in the state capital. The restaurant offers a “Cuban banquet,” and we ordered that … for two.

That was last weekend. The banquet is quite good. The only beef I have with it is they plop everything on your table at the same time. It should come in stages, especially the warm dessert.

We’ve also eaten Cuban food in Cuba, of course, and it was good, but I wouldn’t recommend visiting Cuba. It’s depressing.

Lying in bed this morning before dawn, I was thinking about the United States where I was born and where I have not set foot in eight years. I likely will never set foot there again.

Years of separation, living in a very different society, affects your mind, your viewpoint, your perspective and so on. I’m sure that a visit now would be jarring.

The Germanic efficiency, the rules, the regulations, the cops who actually pay attention to your speed, the need to watch your mouth, be “sensitive.” Indeed, the entire humorless, asexual, multicultural mess that exists up there.

Don’t think I’d care for any of it.

I would enjoy a New Orleans snow cone and beignets on the banks of the Mississippi. But I would reel at prices that would seem stunning due to the exchange rate of the last few years and my no longer having access to dollars.

But mostly it would be a thump to my psyche.

Most Americans who live down here appear to flee back over the border on a regular basis, avoiding that thump.

I have no plans to return, ever.

Not to America. Not to Cuba either.

Mexican medical matters

DOCTOR AND DENTIST within days of one another. Here’s how it goes in Mexico, amigos. Yet again.

I called my physician in the state capital and made an appointment for the next day. Yes, the next day, easily. That doctor is my main man, whom I call only if I suspect my problem could be serious or — at my advancing age — life-threatening. Otherwise, I have two good doctors here nearby on the mountaintop, and they serve me well for piddling things, routine stuff.

stethMy main man, in his late-40s, is a professor at the state medical school. He is also a surgeon, an internist, a gastroenterologist and has the most soothing bedside manner I’ve ever encountered. Mornings he teaches and practices at a hospital in the public sector. Then there’s the long Mexican lunch. At 5 p.m. he shows up at his private practice where he works until 7 or 8.

His wife, a gynecologist, uses these same facilities for her practice with womenfolk in the mornings. It’s in a modern hospital annex.

I arrive at 4:45, early, the first appointment of his afternoon. I step into the small elegant waiting room that has soft lighting, soothing music and a wonderful leather sofa and accompanying easy chair. There is artwork on the walls. The receptionist ushers me inside, and I describe the problem to the doctor while sitting in his similarly appointed office. He speaks English, but we’ve always conversed in Spanish.

There is no line of cubicles where patients sit, twiddling their thumbs, backsides open, and waiting as the doctor moves down the assembly line.

We step into a small, adjoining, high-tech examination room, and a likely diagnosis is announced. Nothing worrying.

We walk back into the doctor’s private office where I sit again in a big leather chair. There is artwork on the walls, his many diplomas, dark-wood bookshelves and soft lighting. He writes out a prescription and describes the problem, as he sees it. We shake hands, and I step into the waiting room again to pay the receptionist about $45 cash. I depart 25 minutes after I arrived.

A pharmacy charges me $23 for the meds.

* * * *

The dental appointment, also in the state capital about 40 minutes down the highway, was for the following day. I had made that appointment the previous week. I arrived a bit early again, a Gringo habit I cannot break, fifteen minutes before 1 p.m. There is no one ahead of me in the waiting room. Again, it is quiet and peaceful. And no assembly line anywhere.

The office is in what obviously used to be a home. It’s unmarked outside and in a residential neighborhood. Patients come by referral only. He’s not even in the Yellow Pages.

I had come for a routine cleaning and checkup. The cleaning is done by one of two dental hygienists, and they do better cleanings than I ever got above the Rio Bravo. A cleaning runs about $53, and I pay in cash. But on this day, before the cleaning, the dentist checks out my chompers. Sadly, there are problems that I had not noticed.

No cause for alarm. I am in Mexico and in good medical hands.

The doctor, an amiable, middle-aged guy who looks like a movie star if you women are in the dental market, takes a few X-rays for which he charges nothing additional. One tooth way at the rear is fractured, and needs a crown. Another X-ray shows that a niggling problem of years’ duration has finally grown to the point that it can be, well, pinpointed.

It is an inflammation deep at the tip of a root. Perhaps it can be solved with a root canal. Perhaps not. He does not know, and suggests that I get an endodontist’s opinion. He recommends the specialist, gives me his name, address nearby and phone number, and writes out instructions for the other doctor. If it cannot be resolved with a root canal, the tooth will be pulled and I’ll get an implant.

Currently, I have all my original teeth. I’ve never had one pulled. With luck, a root canal will solve the issue. I’ve had a number of root canals. Pieces of cake. I’ll know next Wednesday after seeing the endodontist. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

On leaving, I pay the $53 for the cleaning and another $290 in advance, with my debit card, the total for the crown, which ain’t bad. I have another appointment on the 19th for the crown installation. A mold was taken by the hygienist.

Everything has gone smoothly, rapidly and professionally, and I pay as I go. I have no medical insurance, nor do I need any. If I require an implant, I will pay for it. It’s all between me and the medics. Meddling government is not involved, nor any avaricious HBO.

This is how the Goddess intends it to be — and how it once was above the Rio Bravo, back in your Good Old Days.

* * * *

(Note: We have, of course, a public medical system in place for poor folks. It is cheap to free, subsidized by the government, but no one is forced into it in any way whatsoever.)