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My Medical Experience in Merida

My Medical Experience in Merida

22 December 2010 Health 53

Editor's Note: The following is a story told by Mitch Keenan, the long time owner of Mexico International, a local real estate agency. He's not talking about real estate here, though... he's talking about health care. In the following paragraphs, he recounts his experience of surgery and recovery at the Star Medica Hospital in Merida. We thought you might be interested in his first-hand account.

Admission to Surgery in Mexico

On Monday December 13th, I was admitted to Star Medica hospital here in Merida to undergo surgery for a growing, terribly uncomfortable and unsightly hernia, the result of a misbegotten emergency appendectomy in the USA in September 2009.

It gives me great pleasure to report that the surgery and all the procedures before and after surgery went exceedingly well. The success is due, in no small part, to my excellent surgeon, Dr. José Luis Araujo Barrera and his wonderful staff. Dr. Jose Luis was strongly recommended to me by several close friends here in Merida. They swore to his genius as a doctor, oncologist and gastroenterologist, and in retrospect, I can see that I was very fortunate to have been directed to him.

What amazed me repeatedly during the process was the difference between the standard of health care I received here, in Merida, and the healthcare services I received in the USA. The following is the story of those differences.

Upon arriving at the Star Medica hospital Monday morning at 9:00 AM, I completed some simple paper work, delivered my insurance letter from GNP confirming their approval for the procedure, signed for my remote controls and was immediately escorted to surgery preparation. 

In the prep room, my clothes and personal belongs were gathered, sealed and I signed for them. I was given a mild sedative and taken upstairs. I was gently transferred to another bed without having to get up or be lifted. Remaining comfortably on my mattress, I was gently rolled from one gurney bed to the other. I found myself in the surgery room and remember seeing the enormous and bright surgery lights. And then it was "Lights Out". That is all I remember until I awoke in my private room later that afternoon.

The Aftermath

The hernia was rather large and so I am taped up pretty well on my right side. There was also a drainage tube inserted just below my incision, allowing excess fluids to escape (something that had not been included after my surgery in the USA). At Star Medica, I received daily injections of pain relievers and antibiotics. My blood pressure, temperature and heart beat were checked several times a day. My doctor visited me at least once a day, as did his assistant. When I mentioned that I did not sleep well the first night, I was given some drops the following night and slept like a baby, awakening refreshed (not drowsy) the following morning.

The original plan had been for me to be released on Tuesday but because there seemed to be a lot of drainage, my doctor held me in the hospital for another 36 hours to keep me under the watch of the hospital staff.

I was finally released after three days. I asked my doctor when I would have my stitches removed. He replied that there had been no external stitches or staples to bind the incision. He explained that the external wound had been sealed with a type of plastic surgery in order to reduce the scarring effect. Wow! Go figure...I hadn't even asked for that. 

Inconclusive Tests

My experience in the USA was not quite so positive. To give credit where credit is due, the surgery undoubtedly saved my life. However, the way the surgery was conducted and followed up nearly killed me.

A few months ago, I was driving to dinner with friends. En route to the restaurant, I pulled the car over to the side of the road and said, “Guys, I don’t know what is wrong with me but I have to go back to the house. I feel clammy, kind of dizzy and feel sick to my stomach.”  We returned to the house and I collapsed on the guest bed. I had gas and cramps. I was dizzy and just wanted to stay flat on my back with a cold compress over my eyes. I tried drinking Pepto Bismol, nibbling crackers, sipping water, anything to relieve the gas. Finally, I ended up spending a very uncomfortable night, tossing and turning in pain and vomiting. 

The next morning, my friend Gary drove me to the hospital. At admission, I told the nurse I thought I was having appendicitis. I waited an hour for a doctor and explained again. They ran blood test. They probed and pushed and examined. Because the pain was situated high on my right side near my rib cage, there was concern that it may not be my appendix. The area was indeed swollen, tender and it was likely I did have an expanded “something”. They explained to me it is difficult to know for sure if someone is having an appendicitis attack. They had me drink two containers of contrast dye and sent me to get an MRI. Three hours later, the tests were non-conclusive and the hospital was considering sending me home.

I had by now spent nearly eight hours in considerable pain. I had been in the hospital that entire time, hoping for something, anything... even an aspirin would have been appreciated. Finally, the hospital staff was planning to sending me home because the surgery docket was full, it was getting late and there were too few surgeons on staff. I nearly cried, and insisted that something must be done! There was no way I could endure this pain for another night. No way!

Time to Operate

A nurse who had been attending me all day decided to call in some favors. He called over to surgery and got a few surgeons to come over and take a look at me. They examined me, examined my blood work and MRI results. In their opinion, surgery was indicated and they decided to operate that evening. We waited for an opening in the surgery room. By now, I had now been at the hospital for over eleven hours, with pain that had me literally doubled over. 

On the wheel chair ride over to surgery I started to shake uncontrollably. At pre-op the nurse started peppering me with questions: “Why are you shaking? What drugs are you on?  Are you a junkie? An alcoholic? What have you been taking?” She accused me of having DT's and withdrawing from alcohol. She was mean, sour and ugly about it. I told her, through chattering teeth, that I was not a druggie nor an alcoholic, that I was in terrible pain and I was pretty sure my appendix was about to burst.

She stabbed me several times with the IV. It was hard to get the IV into my vein because I was shaking so violently.  She demanded I hold still so she could get the IV started but I had no control over my shakes. (In fact, I still have faint bluish bruises on my arm from over a year ago where she kept stabbing at my vein). Finally, another calmer and more gentle nurse got the IV inserted. 

(Later we understood that I was shaking and vibrating because I was going into shock from the extension of my appendix into my liver. My appendix had gotten twisted upwards and was extending up into my liver, which is why the pain was located higher on my right side than is typical for an appendicitis.)

Finally, in surgery, my appendix was removed by a laparotomy procedure. Most modern hospitals and clinics remove the appendix by laparoscopy. My surgeon here in Merida explained that the laparoscopy procedure is what he would have employed. It is less invasive, heals faster and leaves almost no detectable scar.

Post Surgery in the USA

The day after my surgery in the USA, I was released from the hospital. No drainage tube had been installed. I was given a large quantity of Vicodin painkillers, antibiotics and sent home with instructions to return in a few days to remove the staples.

Three days later my entire incision started leaking vast amounts of blood and infection. The smell was overwhelming and my friend Dennis had to leave the room – nauseated from the rotten-egg stink of the infection. I stripped and stepped into the shower, dizzily trying to maintain consciousness and clean myself. Dennis called the hospital and I went back to the emergency room.

In the emergency room, I underwent a terribly painful procedure. All of the staples were removed from the incision without any painkillers being administered. Additionally, all the sub-dermal sutures were cut, the wound was irrigated and deeply cleaned with cotton and Q-tips. It was a painful, long and intensely unpleasant experience. I nearly passed out a couple of times and they gave me a few more Vicodin as they continued. Finally, the entire wound had to be deeply packed with moist cotton and re-taped.

I was informed that the wound would not be re-stitched due to fear of re-infection.  My new instructions were to unpack the wound daily and to repack it with moist cotton – and that the cotton must be pushed as deeply into the wound as possible. I won’t even dwell upon how painful that daily process was.  My friends and I repeated this procedure for nearly three weeks. Everyday, I would pop a couple of Vicodins, shower, remove the old dressing and then lie on my bed as my partner, Manolo, would push the new cotton dressing, as deeply as possible into my wound, using a probe, until neither he nor I could stand the pain and discomfort.

I was also extremely disheartened to see the ugliness of the wound. The scar was bad enough but the unsightly, puffed out, football shaped lump on the front right, lower quadrant of my abdomen was difficult to deal with. And it was growing bigger everyday - making me appear lopsided and odd. 

Back in Merida

Finally, back in Merida, I went to see Doctor Jose Luis at Star Medica. He told me not to worry. He told me that he would take care of getting my wound properly and professionally fixed, a promise he made good on as reported at the beginning of this story.

So now, after my second and much less invasive surgery, I am home. The hospital sent me home with lots of pain medicine so I am also in a pretty good mood! I have strict orders to stay home until I am healed, and after what I have been through, I intend to follow those orders until I am free to roam the planet again.

Comparing the Costs

The entire bill for everything at Star Medica, including a private room for 3-days, was approximately $50,000.00 MN or about $4045.00 USD. My insurance covered all but my small (less than $1000 USD) deductible. My insurance company in Mexico is GNP and I am very happy with their service. My agent is Jesus Sosa.  He can be reached at: 999-944-1389.

Response from Friends

Since I have told this story to a few people, I have been getting some comments back from friends in email. Some of them are definitely worth sharing and they follow:

I just saw my Dallas dentist yesterday. He noticed the two new crowns that Dr. Javier Camera Patron put in and said they looked completely professional and well done. Cost of Mexico Dentist Installed Crown: $180.  Cost of Dallas Dentist Installed Crown: $1,800. No typo ---- TEN times as much money. For the same exact thing. Incredible.  -CC

Dr. Araujo really does wonders!! I have had surgery with him twice and the treatment before, during and after surgery was "WOW!" I also have my plastic surgery (invisible) scars, making him a plus!! –AMT

Isn't Dr. Araujo just the best??? As you say in your letter--- the guy is a genius and a good soul. –JMT

As to Jose Luis, he was my surgeon and I would have no other. He removed the cancerous tumor I had in 2004. I will never be able to explain how I felt having him as my doctor.

I feel just as you do about him. Not only is he a great doctor, surgeon and healer, but he is a marvelous person. You are in great hands.. –GF

My recent stay at Clinica De Merida was completely unbelievable in the level of care. My doctors Colome and Garcia surely saved my life and their follow-up care has been amazing. I have called their direct cell numbers and spoken with them with questions after I have been home. Amazing! That would never happen in the USA. And because of the nature of my emergency entrance into the hospital, my insurance (Alianze) picked up 100% of the cost, including my follow-up doctor visits and all my medications, my private duty nurses... everything! We are so fortunate to be here where this level of medical care is so readily available at such unbelievably low prices......VIVA MEXICO!!!!  -SW

I too have had several medical experiences involving hospital stays... all have been wonderful. I would never think about going to the United states for medical care. It is superior here... with caring doctors and nursing staff. -TK

I am glad you had a good experience in the hospital. Doctor Araujo is great. He also was the one I used two years ago when my appendix was removed! We are blessed with Merida doctors! -HP

In Summary...

So there you have it folks! A recent, first hand experience of the difference between medical care in the USA and in Merida, Mexico. If you are considering moving here, but worried about the level of medical care in Mexico, don't worry about it. You'll be surprised at how good it is. If you are considering elective surgery, consider Merida.



  • Maureen Mortenson 1 month ago

    I need a pacemaker changed due to low batteries. Where can I go in Merida or elsewhere or this procedure. The hospital in Cancun wants $9100 USD.
    I also consider panama city panama or even kyoto ecuador. There is no insurance for my mother, 93, who needs this procedure. Please give contact information hospital or doctorthank you so much. Maureen

  • Claude Petit 10 months ago

    Good day,

    I would like to know if you do MRI scanning for lungs and how much it would be . I live in Playa del Carmen for the winter. TKS

  • Carla 1 year ago

    I am considering having Lasik eye surgery here in Merida and would like to know if anyone has had a good experience to report, a Dr. to recommend and the approximate costs to expect. I am considering a consultation with the Videre Clinic. I believe their "consultation/examination" will cost $600 pesos. I would feel more comfortable if I could compare a few options before deciding on a doctor. Thanks for any help you can provide.

  • Working Gringos 2 years ago

    Kristina, it is hard for us to know if you would be able to work in Mexico (and get paid). If you want to work at a hospital as an employee, that might be difficult. If you want to start your own business, that might be more possible. The best way to find out would be to travel to Merida and do some in-person investigation. If you speak some Spanish, that would certainly help! You might also talk to the doctors at the University of Michigan... we periodically report on their activities at the O'Horan Hospital in Merida. You might find clues about who to contact in this article:

  • Kristina 2 years ago

    I am an emergency medicine physician in the USA and I want to live in Mexico full time. Does anyone know if I would be able to work there? I want to get out of the USA!

  • Working Gringos 2 years ago

    Patricia, it is true that there are some medications that are not available in Mexico, but not many. At Star Medica, there are many doctors who speak English. Also at Clinica Merida. If you are traveling to Merida, I would suggest contacting one of the doctors that advertise on our website or contact Yucatan Expatriate Services ( to put you in touch with someone to begin your investigation. Good luck and let us know what you find out!

  • Patricia Hernandez 2 years ago


    I am working myself into a frenzy over something that may not be a problem. I hope someone here can help direct me! I am a U.S. citizen planning to move to Merida, Mexico in November of 2013 on a permanent basis. For the past 7 years, I have been prescribed Fentanyl patches for severe peripheral neuropathy in both feet. It didn't even occur to me until recently that I may not be able to find this pain medication (or an equivalent) in Mexico. I have been with the same pain management doctor in San Francisco for 7 years, I have loads of medical records and my doctor (who speaks Spanish) is willing to write me a letter or to fill out any necessary forms. I am NOT looking for anything illegal - I want to maintain a relationship with a new doctor in the Merida area to help me with my extreme pain issues. I also speak Spanish, but perhaps not enough for a detailed conversation about medicines and illnesses. Can anyone recommend a doctor or a hospital I can visit for help. Perhaps someone I could write to or talk to before I move? I would really appreciate any help at all.

  • Ann Milne 2 years ago

    I knew Dr Araujo many years ago when he was working in Southampton. I am delighted to hear he is still the charming and caring person he always was.

  • Working Gringos 2 years ago

    Andrea, yes. Given certain conditions (age, pre-existing conditions), you can purchase IMSS health insurance for about $300 USD per year. You can find out more about it here:

  • andrea harms 2 years ago

    I read in one of the newsletters that a foreigner may purchase healthcare coverage through the social security system in Merida. Is this correct?

  • Mary Lou 3 years ago

    I recently had the same experience as George at Star Medica. The emergency physician I saw told me that he was the only one in the whole hospital who speaks English fluently and he is not there all the time. I hope Mr. Ramirez's info re the office to help with bilingual service helps in future. By the way, I was also given a very cursory examination. Not what I expected given the rave reviews for Star Medica.

    We encountered a local taxi driver, Arturo, who lived for many years in Houston and speaks fluent english. He told us he provided translation services for one of his clients who had to see a Spanish speaking doctor. His phone no. is: 999 264-5952. He is very reliable for taxi service too - arrived precisely when he said he would. Not always the case in Merida.

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