In January 2004, I flew with my wife and son from wintery Ottawa to sun-filled Cancun, Mexico. This was our fourth trip to Mexico and the Cancun-Cozumel-Playa Del Carmen triangle, where the reefs off Cozumel are a mecca to most scuba divers. I was 54 at the time. I owned a small business and taught scuba diving as a hobby.
This was to be a de-stress vacation. My wife was four years away from retiring as a nurse manager at a local hospital, and owning a small business was taking its toll on me. My son has disabilities and travels with us when he can.
Day one, I got up for breakfast at our all-inclusive resort. Something wasn’t feeling right, but I thought some time in the sun and a walk on the beach would take care of the malaise.
After breakfast, we strolled down the beach to orient ourselves. I only made it to the edge of our resort when I became out of breath and lost all my energy. I headed back to the pool area to find a lounge chair. The bar was open, so I got a beer. Beer solves everything, right?
My wife and son returned and I told them I was going to the scuba shop to arrange some dives. I finished my beer and headed over to the scuba shop. Shortness of breath turned into pain radiating down my left side and into my jaw. I decided to go back to the room and lie down for a few minutes.
Back in the room, I could not find a position that didn’t increase the pain. I knew something was not right. By this time I was quite nauseous, on top of the pain in my chest and arm. I went back to the pool and asked my wife to call the hotel doctor. In order to see the hotel doctor, I had to have $70 USD ready to hand him before he opened his medical satchel. Once the money was paid he asked a few questions, took my blood pressure, and then listened to my heart.
A look of concern came over his face and he ordered me straight into his personal van. “We are going to the hospital. You’re having a heart attack. We don’t have time for an ambulance.”
The three of us went with him in his van. He was on his cell phone calling the hospital and driving rather aggressively through traffic to the hospital. The big question he asked, “Do you have travel insurance?” “Yes, we do.” So we were off to the private hospital, not the public hospital. We arrived in short order at the Hospiten Cancun where they were waiting for me with a gurney in the parking lot. I was wheeled in, IVs started, blood samples taken, and that’s all I remember until I woke up the next day in a very strange room.
When I opened my eyes, I realized I was on a hospital bed in a ward. Where? I was not too sure. The evening before was a blur. I recalled I had chest pains and rushed to the hospital. I sat up.
Immediately two nurses and a doctor rushed over and put me back down in the bed. My Spanish was lacking, so communication came from the doctor rather than the local nurses. “You are in the ICU. You move, you die.” Then he walked away. His words kept reverberating in my head. I glanced around. In the bed next to me was a middle-aged man who was just lying there and groaning. On the other side was a local who just had an open-heart operation. I couldn’t take just lying there, so I put a foot over the side of the bed. Defiance! But those words...
After a few hours Dra. Carmen Salvidar Armenta, my cardiologist, came by to see me. She explained I had a heart attack and they used clot-busting drugs. Then in the middle of the night, I had a second heart attack when they used more clot-busting drugs. I was a hemorrhage waiting to happen. I had to lie still for five to seven days. I could risk a bleed, so it was soft food, no getting up, no hygiene, pee bottles, and poo pots. I could read but no TV. My wife and son could visit twice a day for 15 minutes, one at a time.
So, I was lying there for seven days. Dra. Armenta at Hospiten Cancun did several tests and scans during that week, while dealing with the insurance company. The cardiologist wanted to do an angiogram to unblock a blocked artery. She had found one artery blocked solid. The insurance company wanted me back in Canada. She was to stabilize me for travel.
After a week in ICU—sleeping, eating soft food, listening to my next-door neighbor groan day and night, no brushing teeth or showering—I was feeling a tad ripe. In came two orderlies with a special bed. They moved me over to it, pulled up all the sides, then doused me with a bucket of warm water. Out came brushes and soap. I got scrubbed top to bottom. Then a second bucket of water to rinse me. After a rough toweling, almost as rough as those scrub brushes, I felt clean. The side was lowered and for the first time in a week I was allowed to stand up.
After giving me a clean hospital gown, I was taken to my new room, leaving the ICU and my moaning, groaning neighbor.
My cardiologist came to visit and check me out. She explained the insurance company was limiting what she could do and she was being pushed to sign an air travel worthiness certificate required by the airline after a heart attack. She insisted at least another week in the hospital, and if I wished she would delay the certification another week during which time we could return to our resort. I decided to return home as soon as possible. A decision I would regret.
The nurses brought me a shaving kit, and I was finally allowed to use a shower.
A Private Room
Let me tell you about my private room I had for a week—quite large with a bed, full bathroom, TV, and a couch and chair in a sitting enclave. Even a fridge. All the counters in the rooms and at the nurse’s station were marble. Hospiten Cancun had state-of-the-art equipment.
After the first days of waiting for things to settle down, my wife and son returned to the beaches of Cancun and made the best of the two weeks. Every day, twice a day they came to visit.
After the second week Dra. Armenta issued a travel certification, reluctantly. The insurance company sent a doctor to bring me home. The cardiologist gave me a copy of all scans and tests to take back.
Dr. Rego from Canada showed up one evening, and we were leaving the next day. They had booked four first-class seats just for me and the travel doctor on a flight back to Canada. We packed up, including all the heart-attack meds, and all headed to the airport and were whisked onto the plane. The doctor and I sat on one side. The seats turned around to face us had two oxygen tanks, a defibrillator, and various other medical equipment.
The flight took us from Cancun to Montreal. It was -30C when we landed in Montreal. We rushed through customs with me in a wheelchair. A stretch limousine was waiting for us to take us home to Almonte. The drive up to Almonte took about two hours. We arrived at our home and the doctor escorted me inside. Dr. Rego did a final check and bid me adieu—have a nice life, the insurance company’s job was over.
Travel insurance. Don’t leave home without it.
Read the second part of the story.
This article was written by MyHeartDiseaseTeam member Bill as part of the Member Spotlight Series. Bill is married and is certified as a Master Scuba Diver Trainer who previously taught scuba diving as a hobby.
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