Sunday, October 28, 2012

Travelling for treatment, not tourism

More renovation pictures arrive. It's hard to believe this is the same unlovely back patio and guestroom we started with almost three years ago, when we bought the house.

Almost every day I click back through the pictures Victor emailed to us, and feel transported to a warmer place and a more relaxed state of mind.

With the guest suite, the crushed-stone patio and its newly planted bougainvillea and oleander, it's easy to imagine lazy days hanging out by the pool with visiting friends and relatives. It's becoming the kind of tropical scene that lures so many of us to Mexico.

These days, though, my mind is preoccupied with a different enterprise that's drawing thousands of Canadians and Americans south of the border: medical tourism. Instead of afternoons by a pool, I daydream about gleaming white hospitals and sketchy strip mall clinics, dental implants and bariatric surgery. I follow the discussions about the relative merits of vertical sleeve gastrectomy versus Roux-en-Y . I pore over patient reviews of bariatric and cosmetic surgeons, of happy outcomes and, sometimes, life-threatening complications. I post messages on patient forums and contact support groups. I'm making travel arrangements, not for Mérida this time, but for the west coast of Mexico.

I should explain. I'm not in the market for treatment myself (although it's tempting to see about getting a bargain on a crown for one bothersome back molar). Instead, I'm exploring the world of medical tourism as a journalist for CBC radio.  I've been seeking Canadian patients who can share their stories about why they need to leave the country that's so boastful of its universal health care, to pay out-of-pocket for medical treatment in an unfamiliar land.

One thing I'm learning: It's nobody's first choice to go to Tijuana for major stomach surgery. Or to India for hip resurfacing, or Costa Rica for vein angioplasty. The "tourism" part of the medical tourism tag tends to be a bit of a misnomer.

By the way, if you're a Canadian who's travelling to Mexico or another country for treatment, I'd love to hear from you. You can reach me at deborahwilso at gmail dot com (it's not a typo, there's no "n" in the address).


  1. My friend is going to get a facelift in January in Merida. Do you have info regarding great plastic surgeons???

  2. Hi, I can't claim any special knowledge of who's a good or not-so-good surgeon. Definitely one of the challenges for patients is a lack of reliable and unbiased information about different providers.

    For some procedures there are active online forums where patients trade reviews and info - but I haven't found one for cosmetic surgery, yet. Even then, other patients' word-of-mouth recommendations might not provide a reliable measure of a surgeon's qualifications, outcomes, a facility's infection control practices, etc.

    I'd be interested in hearing how your friend is finding the process of deciding where to go for her procedure. And, as an RN it would be interesting to hear your perspective on the different options you're exploring. I'm sure you apply a more rigorous assessment than a lay person like myself.

    Good luck to your friend - keep me posted!

  3. Hi Debbie,
    Interesting work you're doing on medical tourism south of the border. As for cosmetic surgeons in Mérida, I can recommend who NOT to go to. I had a face lift about 20 years ago in the US and was interested in maybe getting some touch up work, in Mérida, after having pituitary surgery a year ago. I got a consult here with this doc:, and all I can say is this---I got bad vibes and decided this doc would not even touch me with a needle of Botox. Nor did I particularly like the plastic surgeon at Clinica de Mérida (Dr P.C., he has a youtube video, in English, easy to find if you google the key words). I opted for a filler injection with him, but he was not good at injecting it, he did not massage it properly and it ended up a tad lumpy. Not much experience is all I can figure, or not properly trained to begin with. Fortunately fillers are not permanent, so there was no damage. As for an actual face lift in México, nope, wouldn't do it, not ever, and I've been living in México since 2005. I got my pituitary operation in the US, would never have gotten it done here. I used to work in labs in the US--when I get labs done here, I see protocol errors left and right, no gloves, wrong tube used, sometimes a tube has to be pre-chilled and the blood drawn into the tube while the tube sits in a bed of ice---this particular sensitive blood test has never been drawn correctly here for me, which renders the results meaningless. Sometimes tubes have to be concealed from light, wrapped in aluminum foil (such as bilirubin), never done correctly here. I did a 24 hour urine free cortisol collection---no container was issued for the urine---they told me to use an old 2 liter water jug. When I turned in the collection, the lab director let it sit on the floor---she did not refrigerate it, even when I asked her to (and it was hot inside the lab--Mérida, you can imagine how hot it was) and the specimen had to be flown from Mérida to to MX City for analysis. Imagine the condition of the specimen once it arrived to D.F. and imagine the validity of the results. As long as I can continue to pay for private insurance in the US, I'll keep going over there when I need operations. Canadians, you have the best health care in the world. Stay home.

  4. Thanks. It's enlightening to hear first-hand impressions, and I think it's what CorollaRN is looking for. It's the kind of detail I really appreciate as well.