The Healthcare Experience in Chapala Mexico–Bonita’s Story Part 1

I am very fortunate.

This may sound a little crazy when I am just one year past an ovarian cancer diagnosis and major surgery and still undergoing aggressive treatment. Still, it is true.

First and foremost, it has opened my heart to give and receive love and support more than I though possible. Second, it has helped me appreciate each day as the gift that it is.

Having had a long-term career as a nurse, primarily in Home Health and Hospice, I though I pretty well understood the ins and outs of cancer treatment. I did not. It involves being caught up in a whirlwind of decisions, options, questions and quandaries that I had only glimpsed as a caregiver RN. These tough questions and decisions and financial worries are overwhelming and I have thought many times are worse than the actual disease.

I chose current western medicine treatment because this was the environment I had developed comfort with though my twenty-five years of practice as a nurse. My family has been very supportive and they also gently made me aware of nutritional, herbal and alternative options that the medical establishment and big pharma in the U.S. for the most part ignore. So many options and so much information–it adds to the overwhelm.

Then the cost of treatment sinks in and takes its toll. In the U.S. system, medicine tries very hard to isolate the patient from the  cost.The healthcare insurance system is upfront about insured premium costs, deductibles and co pays which we know are getting higher every year. But when the explanation of benefits arrives from the insurer showing what has been billed and paid, it is quite staggering. Sticker shock takes on a whole new meaning.

In order to maintain my healthcare insurance (because I am not Medicare eligible for another year), I must pay just under half of my total social security benefit each month. Not much left to pay rant, buy food, operate a vehicle, much less enjoy leisure pursuits.

Yet here is another reason I’m very fortunate. I have parents who are much better prepared for “the golden years” than myself and have been very generous in their support. I’ve also had to spend down about half of what I had saved for retirement in the year since the diagnosis.

Not knowing how long one has to live puts another spin on retirement planning. My cancer “came back” quite aggressively less than six months after initial surgery and chemo. I was not ready to throw in the towel. More decisions–more support.

How to maintain quality of life? How to embark on new adventures? Let’s go visit Mexico!!

[To Be Continued]

Drinking Water in Chapala Mexico

Pretty much everyone’s heard the admonition of “Don’t drink the water!” if they’re headed for Mexico.

Totally. Don’t drink the tap water that is. Fine to bathe or shower in (keep your mouth closed……), but not to drink. We’ve followed this advice and so we cannot report what happens if you do drink the water. But I suspect that you, like us, have heard the stories.

Instead, do what the Mexicans themselves do. Buy bottled water. It’s everywhere. Convenience stores, big box stores, mercados (Mexico street markets),  homes with little shops, roadside stands and enterprising locals selling it at intersections.

And all sizes too. From carboys that require either superhuman strength to lift and pour (for a geezer that is) to sizes of several liters to the familiar liter and half-liter bottles that dominate in the U.S.

Yes, Mexico is like the rest of the world–on the metric system.

Even though we have not taken the plunge of trying the tap water, we have tried to boil it to use for washing dishes and vegetables and fruit. A failed experiment. Upon heating, our tap water turned murky white and left a rather unpleasant coating on our pot that has been heck to try and clean off.

For those of you, like me, who avoid sugar and sugar substitutes, be aware that the variety of bottled waters here in Mexico are not nearly as extensive as in the U.S. Equivalents of La Croix or Perrier are difficult to find and with nowhere near the selection. We have been consuming Penafiel sparkling water with lime and salt (Penafiel Twist con Limon y Sal) and I particularly like the straight sparkling water called Topo Chico Agua Mineral.  (I call it Topo Gigio [for those who remember Ed Sullivan], but don’t tell the natives…..) Penafiel also markets an orange (naranja) flavored variant .

Finally, we’ve had no problem with the water in restaurants, nor the ice. We’ve heard that restaurants are required to use bottled water for ice-making.

So bottom’s up!

Starbucks in Mexico

I love Starbucks Cold Brew.

Unfortunately, I discovered it only shortly before we moved to Mexico.

Cold Brew is a real treat to me. I did not buy it often, more as a treat than as a regular beverage. And I knew I would miss it in Mexico if I couldn’t find it here.

Well, I didn’t find it. At least not in the single serving bottles I am familiar with back in the States. Heck, Walmart carried them. So did pretty much every grocery store I visited in the last couple of months in the U.S. I got my last one at a truck stop in New Mexico. Paid $1 more than normal. Boy, it was worth it.

The day after we crossed the border, we happened upon a Walmart (yes, Walmart de Mexico is alive and well) and I eagerly searched the isles for Cold Brew. No luck. Same thing in the next few stops we made. Some at Walmart; some at other grocery retailers in Mexico. No Cold Brew. Starbucks energy drinks, yes. But none of their brewed coffees.

So imagine my eagerness when Bonita had an appointment in Guadalajara. I dropped her off and drove around a little. We were in a commercial zone and I had a couple of hours waiting so I parked in the lot of a Soriana (a national Mexican grocer). Around me too was a cinema, a Home Depot, a Carl’s Jr, and a KFC. So I thought, well maybe, just maybe there could be a Starbucks.

Sure enough there was. Unfortunately, the orientation of the map was confusing. I wasn’t sure which way to walk.

At that moment a police car was driving through the lot and I asked the officers in my stumbling Spanish, where is Starbucks? (Donde esta el Starbucks.) Of course I prefaced this with my current favorite phrase in Spanish, Hablo espanol solo un poco (I speak Spanish only a little). They gestured and said, a la derecha (to the right).

A few minutes walk and there I was. It looked like any Starbucks in the U.S. And it was rockin’ and rollin’ and to my delight full of Mexicanos. Not a gringo in sight (except yours truly).

I walked up to the counter, explained my ability in Spanish and haltingly asked for a “Cold Brew”. And they had it! Not in bottles, but fresh brewed. Yes!

So I settled in to enjoy the brew and hang. As I went back to the counter for a straw, I encountered a young barista who asked me something in Spanish. She was standing next to a little table with three small mounds of ground coffee, a french press and some coffee beans.

She explained in her limited English (so she said) that she was doing a demonstration of coffee-making and asked me to join in. Another patron happened by, the other baristas and the manager gathered around and she launched into the demonstration. For the most part, I had no clue what she said, but between the actual demonstration and my slight Spanish, I caught the drift.

A pot of coffee brewed in the French press and little sampling cups poured, we all saluted and drank. The inevitable photos taken (sadly not by yours truly) and a few moments of fellowship, smiles and laughter all around.

Mexico is feeling more and more like home.

And Starbucks in Guadalajara, I will be back!

Why We Expatriated

When you finally disclose to close friends and family and then to an ever wider circle of acquaintances that you are going to move out of the good ole USA, the first question almost invariably is Why? You grew up here. You know here. You are rooted here. Why jump ship?

We’ve had to think long and hard on this matter. It has been a decision years in the making. It has involved a ton of angst and hand-wringing and perplexity. But we needed an answer. Not to satisfy our friends and family, but for us. To know, deep within ourselves, that this decision was the right one at the right time. So, readers, here’s our current answer. Undoubtedly it will morph and re-form and this blog will record those changes. But for now, here is the answer:

We’re boomers, baby boomers that is. Children of the 50s, coming of age in the 60s, the era of hippies and free love and John Lennon crooning Imagine. Maturing in the Me Decade of the 70s, going corporate in the 80s and 90s and entrepreneurs in the 2000s and 2010s.

We grew up in an America that had ideals rather than platitudes. Did we meet those ideals? Heck no, but there they were, sometimes inspiring, sometimes taunting, always in the background and sometimes in the foreground.

We believed, and still believe, in the American Dream. Not the dream of shop til you drop or nuke’em til they glow, but the Dream of a good life for us and a better life for the next generation.

Instead, we’ve watched our elected officials sell us down the river. We recall with not a bit of irony the words of then presidential candidate George Wallace (1968), there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. How sad that his words were so true, even though then we didn’t see it as so. We still believed that our government had our interests at heart. We don’t anymore.

And approaching retirement age, social security and medicare, we have run smack into the awkward truth that healthcare in the U.S. is incontestably broken. This became painfully clear when one of us received the 2018 pricing for coverage under Obamacare. The premium would go from about $75 a month (the premium paid by us–the actual premium was around $650) to $450 a month. Forgive us for not even looking at the total cost of the coverage. All this and a measly $6500 deductible. The ugly truth was that the cost of healthcare coverage for one of us would be more than our housing cost, all in, per month.

But but but I can hear, healthcare in the U.S. is the best in the world. Sadly, on an empirical basis, it is not. What it is, is by far the most expensive in the world, by magnitudes. We were forced to face this unfortunate truth in making the expatriate decision.

Finally, at least for now, we are expatriating for climate. Political climate first and foremost, yet physical climate as well. One of us is adverse to the cold; one to the heat. So we needed a geography that would satisfy both. We found one such geography in Lake Chapala, Mexico.

So here we are, just starting our adventure.

Thanks for reading and check back with us here for our progress.

All the best to you!