Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Tale of Two Doctor's Visits

It all started last week.

On Tuesday, I had a pretty upset stomach all day at work, but I pushed through it and made it to the end of the day. Since my body had been battling something all day long, I was pretty exhausted, so I went to bed at what must have been a world-record 8:15pm. Waking up around 10:30pm - after just 2 and a half hours of sleep - I needed to go to the bathroom. I sat up in bed, and suddenly I saw them: bears, sleeping in my bedroom. Four brown bears, to be exact, breathing deeply with their massive chests rising and falling in what appeared to be a deep sleep.
But I needed to go to the bathroom - badly now. I remember sitting in bed, staring at the bears, for more than 15 minutes, weighing my options. Should I just stay in bed and try to go back to sleep, running the risk of wetting the bed? Or, should I run as fast as I could from the bed to the bathroom and try not to wake the bears before I could put a closed door between me and them? I was rather terrified that the bears would wake up and quite literally swipe my feet off my body, leaving me peg-legged in front of them. I ended up half-prancing, half-leaping from my bed toward the bathroom. I went back to sleep without any further problems.

Two hours later, I awoke again around 12:30am and realized what had happened the last time I woke up. The bears, of course, were gone, but I managed to find the midnight-coherence to take my temperature: 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. I had a fever, and thus, had been hallucinating the last time I woke up. I tend to hallucinate when I have fevers, so apparently I had seen a few bears in the bedroom. I took some medicine and went back to sleep. When I awoke for work the next morning, I realized that I still had a fever and going to work wasn't the best option. Strangely enough, I felt well rested and had no other symptoms whatsoever - just a constant mid-grade fever. I decided to stay home that Wednesday and tried to get as much rest as I could. Again I awoke in the middle of the night between Wednesday and Thursday, but this time I was completely drenched in sweat - my fever had apparently broken. I had a perfectly normal temperature showing on the thermometer, so I went back to bed and slept the rest of the night away.

On Thursday morning, I went to work and made it through the day, working late into the night at a local TV station, participating in a visa Q&A telethon that the Consular section had organized. (We answered over 1,000 calls in 7 hours.) When I got home that night after working what ended up being a 14 hour day, I discovered that my fever was back. Once again I had broken 101 degrees, so I quickly got in bed and hoped for the best. And, once again, I awoke in the middle of the night totally drenched in sweat, which lead me to believe once again that my fever had broken - for the second time in as many days.

I worked all day Friday and spent the rainy Saturday at a local orphanage volunteering with some other folks from the Consulate community. I didn't feel awesome on Saturday, but I didn't really think there was anything to worry about. Sunday was spent at church, running some errands, and grocery shopping. I had no symptoms at all - was wide awake, alert, and without any kind of pain, except for a minor headache that I had had for the past few days.

Today, I woke up as normal and went to work. About mid-morning, everything suddenly changed. My stomach began aching, and I felt nauseous and was certain that I was going to be throwing up sometime soon. Although the upchuck never came, I finally decided I couldn't keep interviewing like that, so I regrettably abandoned my colleagues on the line and went to a nearby medical clinic in Matamoros.

In less than 2 minutes and without a single sheet of paperwork, I was sitting in the doctor's personal office describing my symptoms and hearing my upset stomach gurgle in pain. The doctor asked me various questions, poked my belly a bit, and we had a nice conversation about where she went to school and how long she had been living in Matamoros. The doctor was very pleasant, had great bed-side manner, and was the picture of health herself. Within the span of literally 30 minutes, the doctor had decided I may have a parasite or infection, ordered a blood, urine, and stool exam, and the nurse had taken the necessary samples. Ironically, the in-house lab then promptly closed, informing me that we would find out the results tomorrow morning.

That wasn't sufficient for me. Granted, it was all relatively cheap, and the doctor was very nice, but I wanted answers TODAY. Why was I suddenly feeling so miserable? I checked in with the Consulate and then headed for a clinic in Brownsville, assuming that my experience there would be better than in Matamoros, and surely I would have some answers within a few hours.

I arrived at the clinic around 1:45pm. I was handed NINE pages of paperwork and copies were made of my driver's license and insurance card. I spent about 10 minutes filling out the forms as a new patient, and then was informed that they would have to call my insurance to verify that it would work at their clinic before they could see me. I had a seat in the waiting room and watched a Spanish-language soap opera. About 45 minutes later, I was finally called back into the exam rooms. A nurse (I assume she was a nurse) pointed to a chair and told me she would take my vital signs. Without speaking whatsoever, she took the necessary readings and then sat me in an exam room, leaving the door wide open as she left. I sat in the room without knowing what was going on for another 15 minutes. Eventually, a different nurse showed up and said he would be taking a blood sample, a urine sample, and an X-Ray. An X-Ray, I asked? Yep, they would like an X-Ray to look at my intestines. Ok, fine - I assumed my insurance had been verified since they allowed me back to the exam rooms.

Samples and x-rays later, I was sent back to wait in my exam room again. Yet another 45 minutes passed, and I still had no idea what was going on. I still haven't seen a doctor, but I'm assuming he's reviewing the results of the tests and X-Rays before coming to see me. Eventually, an extremely obese, white-coated man comes in to the room and asks me what's wrong with me. I gave him the quick run-down of the past week. He asked me to lie down on the table and began poking my stomach. After prodding me, causing me to wince, he told me to sit up. "It's a bacterial infection." Really? How do you know? Are you sure it's not a parasite? I've had a parasite before, and it kind of felt like this. Will you be taking a stool sample? "Nope, no need. We're going to treat you for a bacterial infection. If you still feel bad in a few days, come back and we'll check for a parasite. Just wait here, someone will be in to see you out in just a moment." I was a little flabbergasted, to say the least. Really? That's all I get? Less than 5 minutes? I don't even get to discuss possibilities with you? No opportunity to build rapport with your patient?

Another nurse shows up 5 minutes later, a needle ready for an injection of antibiotics. After mooning the nurse, I was on my way. I went to the desk to pay for my visit. The clerk looked at my paperwork, frowned, and then disappeared for about 5 minutes. She finally came back to inform me that my insurance was covering the visit and the tests/X-rays, so I only needed to pay my $10 co-pay. Perfect. Paid. I left the clinic around 4:20pm.

I got my prescriptions filled and realized that I had left something at the clinic. I went back to pick it up, where the same clerk noticed me at the desk again. She called out to me and said "Oh, by the way, I called your insurance and turns out they won't be paying for the tests or x-rays. We'll send you a bill for that later." Really? I thought you verified all that before you treated me? "Well, we did - they faxed us information on what they would cover, but apparently we read it wrong. That's why I called - I thought maybe I had misunderstood the fax. Turns out, I did. Sorry about that." I happened to glance down at the bill she handed me and realized that I had never even seen a doctor. The super-hefty white-coated guy that saw me earlier was a physician's assistant. (Not knocking on PAs - just making a point.)

By then, I was ready to give up, so I just left. I assume I'll get a bill later. The two parallel doctor's visits were interesting, to say the least. Now that I've paid for two separate (but unequal) visits, I'm just hoping I end up feeling better tomorrow. At this point, I definitely preferred the visit to the clinic in Matamoros more than the clinic in Brownsville.

On a side note, I jokingly told some of my FSO friends last week that I was rather disappointed that my first Foreign Service sickness was just a fever. My FSO friend responded - "is it bad that you are wishing you were sicker than you are, or is it worse that I totally understand what you mean?" Suffice it to say that I'm kind of glad my first Foreign Service sickness has ended up being more than a fever - at least I've got bacteria attacking my intestines!

Until next time...peace.


  1. Hi Andrew,try the Centro Médico Internacional (CMI) if you need anything further. They're in Matamoros, and they're great. Here's the website ( I've been going there since 2006, and much prefer it to whatever "health care" I previously received in Brownsville and elsewhere. Regards, Zel

  2. There are a lot of challenges when it comes to healthcare in another territory. At least you were given appropriate treatment.