I got sick just after Christmas. My first encounter with healthcare in Mexico. Everybody here has a favorite cure, recommended without hesitation. For my violent stomach flu while traveling, I was sent to the pharmacy to buy various prescription drugs over the counter – without a prescription. Medications that say things on the side like “don’t use this for more than five days because it can cause liver damage.” In Spanish, of course.

The pharmacist just handed over whatever I asked for without question. Depending on the product, the prices ranged from $3 pesos to $45 pesos for anywhere from 1 day of treatment to 5 days of treatment. Even considering the economics of the peso, these prices are comparable to what I’d pay in the US for prescription medication – that doesn’t mean I think they’re reasonable prices (don’t get me started on US drug pricing), just that they’re proportionate prices.

Returning home, the intestinal malady had run its course but I came down with a respiratory bug. Worse, for me, because of my history of pneumonia. Again, more remedies than I could possibly use were offered – my favorite was the recipe for some kind of poison from my mother-in-law:  Nescafe, lime and honey. I told her I’d drink it if she did, too. She just laughed, so I still don’t know if it tastes as vile as it sounds.

After six days of various pills (again, the potential-liver-damage-warning kind), the older couple that runs our favorite taco stand heard me coughing and insisted that I go to the pharmacy right that minute and get an injection. Injection is the most favored treatment in Mexico for “la grippa” and, in fact, is usually recommended even before any proffered home-remedy. (Yes, my mother-in-law offered to give me an injection before she offered to poison me. Of course I declined. Would you want your mother-in-law anywhere near your butt with a needle?)

The taqueros, Mari and Poli, are truly dear people, celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary next week, so I figured if they’re that nice and have managed to be married to the same person that long, they must also be wise beyond my years. So we went over and asked the pharmacist for the name of the drug they recommended. I expected another controlled substance freely passed to me over the counter but, not this time. The package contained a syringe and two vials, one of which contained eucalyptus oil. Hmm, a commercially packaged home remedy.

The next problem was to find someone to actually do the injecting. My husband is as freaked out by needles as I am, so that was one candidate down. The only other person I know in the neighborhood is the thirty-something woman that lives across the street and sells us sopes and pambasos in the mornings out of her carport – really delicious sopes and pambasos. She is also going to school to be a hair stylist. Neither of those career choices particularly qualify her to stick a needle in my butt. Nevertheless, she is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, so I trusted that she wouldn’t hurt me intentionally or send someone to rob our house later.

It was embarrassing to ask, but Faviola acted like it was no big deal. It turns out that she actually has several neighbors to whom she gives injections on a regular basis, including a fellow in his 50’s that has cancer from working in a paper mill without breathing protection. When her children were babies Faviola took nursing classes because she couldn’t afford to take them to the doctor every time they needed injections. Fortunately, the injecting classes came before the wound dressing classes because she passed out at the sight of blood and never went back.

Faviola came to our house with her teenage daughter. She explained that the injection would probably hurt a lot because of the eucalyptus oil and because the needle was not the best brand. She prophetically recommended that in the future we ask for the needles with the yellow top because they are thinner and less inclined to form bubbles. She also recommended that I go see the doctora in the green building on the corner at the end of the short cut we take to the taco stand. She insisted that I go the next morning.

Faviola took her time preparing the injection, mixing a little bit of the clear liquid, then a little bit of the eucalyptus oil, then shaking. Back and forth, slowly filling the syringe and mixing the potion. After leaning me over the kitchen table, she refused to take any money for stabbing me in the hip – and I would have been pleased to pay her because it didn’t hurt at all. So I gave her a grapefruit-sized juicy orange that we’d bought at the street market that day and she accepted it with a warm smile and a hug.

I did not awake feeling better, but my hip didn’t hurt so I was thankful. Miguel and I walked to the doctor’s office and waited to be seen. There were only three people ahead of us, so the wait wasn’t long, just time enough for me to read each and every maxim handwritten on florescent posterboard and taped to the whitewashed cement wall. Floor to ceiling. Before I entered the doctor’s office, I felt well-reminded that God loves me and hasn’t forgotten me even if I may have forgotten Him, and knew that if God didn’t love me enough to cure me immediately a house call would only cost the equivalent of $23 US dollars. My spirits were lifted.

The doctor was efficient and kind and asked the right questions. I felt reassured. She said I would need antibiotics – would I prefer an injection or pills? By now my cough had moved from my throat to my chest and I was all for avoiding bronchitis – which would be the quicker treatment? An injection, of course. She wrote out the prescription for the injection and some capsules for my congestion.

I stepped through the door back into the reception area where her assistant (and mother) sold me the recommended treatments. The consultation and medication cost a total of $100 pesos. Yep, $9 dollars to see my new doctor plus a five day supply of prescription drugs.

Miguel and I went in search of the good quality needles. Only when the first pharmacist opened the package of medicine did I realize that I had just agreed to FIVE days of injections. Oh, yes, I was going to need those thin needles.

Unfortunately, none of the neighborhood pharmacies had the treasured prize. Faviola and her husband were standing in their restaurant carport when we stepped onto our street from the shortcut. We asked her where to go to find the yellow-topped syringes. She said, “Oh, don’t worry, my husband is going on errands and I’ll have him pick them up. How many do you need?” And then wouldn’t take any money for them. Did I say that she is gracious as well as kind?

Faviola showed up that evening after she got back from hairdressing classes, syringes in hand. This prescription was for real antibiotics and she reassured me that it wouldn’t hurt like the other mixture because it had no oil. She lied. It burned like a small fire – even after she removed the needle.

Over the next four evenings, we got into a nice routine of tea and talk before the inevitable poke. An odd way to get to know one’s neighbor, but it worked out just fine, and we’ve even had a few visits since the nursing services ended. She’s quite a lovely young woman with a strong spirit. In fact, I like Faviola so much I’ve even forgiven her deception (my rump still hurts even after three weeks) because I know it had nothing to do with her fine skill or kindly intentions.