Because Dr. Raúl Said So (And Because Duh)

Dr. Raúl wasn’t what I expected. He wore slacks and a white dress shirt open four buttons to reveal a profound amount of chest hair and a gold chain. It was nine o’clock at night. Raúl was his first name. And he was looking at me bemused, seated in front of a portrait of Jesus with trippy fluorescent beard stripes.

Yes, he agreed, the pulled-muscle feeling and brown goo oozing from my surgical wound were probably the result of my insistence on carrying my luggage, biking around town and then kayaking in a laguna after six weeks of surgical convalescence. Trying out the new backyard slackline (“like a tightrope,” I explained through my boss who’d come as translator) probably didn’t help. He assured me I wasn’t dying of sepsis, but for safety’s sake prescribed a high dose of antibiotics, regular washing, and advised I stop doing everything I’d been doing for a few more weeks.

What surprised me most—after the chest hair and the fact that he only saw patients after 8 p.m.—was how seriously Dr Raúl took me. He asked extensive questions about my symptoms then waited patiently while my boss translated between us. He took the time to explain the things that can go slightly awry after surgery but aren’t necessarily reasons to panic, such as stitches that wiggle their way to the surface after failing to dissolve.

I hadn’t expected Dr. Raúl in part because the clinic was a relatively small, on a main street, and a place where people could get treated for colds and have babies. It was attached to a convenience store and the bathroom was in a back alley. But I also figured the medical attention couldn’t be better than in New York where I’d grown used to secretaries asking my identity by first requesting my date of birth, and doctors who dismissed my concerns and hustled me out the door.

And then there was Dr. Raúl with his chest hair, Buddha smile and trippy Jesus, turning out to be the kind of smart, thoughtful practitioner I would go to regularly if he didn’t normally live 1,000 miles away. And then of course there was the fact that I hadn’t expected to see Dr. Raúl at all. Which brings me back to how I ended up there in the first place.

I’m not entirely an idiot. Self-imposed as this health setback was, I blame my actions in part on the sheer gloriousness of the weather when I returned. When I left before Christmas, it had just started to get nice, reducing from sauna hot to soothing and warm. The daily torrential downpours had stopped but we were still getting nightly tenacious fog that snuck in my windows and seeped into my bedsheets and walls. Among the things I worried about while I was in New York was whether my Mexican apartment was growing fur.

But no mold. My apartment was pretty much as I’d left it. The days were sunshiney and dry, orchids dripped in the yard, the bananas had ripened and hummingbirds had taken to buzzing the yellow flowers that had bloomed off of my patio. And mango season had arrived in the market. The nights were still cool but also dry and perfect for sleeping. Returning to this after being told I was not going to die of cancer anytime soon was magical. They’d said I could resume normal activities after six weeks. I just lost sight of what “normal” meant.

Finding ooze in my surgical wound while alone in my jungle retreat dragged me back to earth fast. Now that the terror has worn off, I’m following Dr. Raúl’s advice to the letter. When I’m not working, my activities involve eating, lying in a hammock, lying in a different hammock, and, since I’m not allowed to bike, walking slowly. It’s actually been quite nice.

Last night I walked from work to the supermarket and then home. On the way I had to reroute a bit due to a police barricade I assumed was for roadwork. But I only rerouted a block instead of the three I would normally have gone if I’d had my bike, which meant I then heard the music and saw the lights. It was the beginning of a tiny parade for the close of Carnaval. I walked with the proud parents who were taking pictures of their children costumed in sparkles and ruffles, saw the dance troupe of middle aged women dressed like Chiquita banana ladies, and observed the other observers, who had dragged plastic chairs out to the sidewalk or watched from their roofs.

And then on my walk home, I discovered a new coffee shop, an incredible find in a world of Nescafe. Especially exciting at the moment, because now I’ll have a new place to sit.