November 6, 2011

Irony, Missed Celebrations, and Appendix Surgery

Just when I thought I was going to be happiest, celebrating, and relishing a rare opportunity for pure enjoyment, I got shot down. Not literally, but figuratively, by appendicitis.

It crept up on me unexpectedly, as I suppose it does for anyone who gets it. On Halloween night, Margo was working late, and I was still getting over what I thought was a 24-hr bug over the weekend. So we'd opted to replace going out trick-or-treating with the baby on Halloween for going out two nights later (Weds) to see the Dia de los Muertos altars downtown. I was also excited to celebrate receiving my Mexican naturalization that same day. So Margo came home early, and got himself and the baby ready, but I was still languishing on the couch.

What's wrong, he asked. I complained that my belly was so swollen, and I couldn't figure out what was going on with me. I looked up a few things online, and started to wonder if maybe I was presenting symptoms from an old Giardia infection I'd found out I had when I was 9 months pregnant. At the time, I couldn't take the medicine because of its potential danger to the baby, but since I wasn't showing symptoms, it seemed like a non-issue. Maybe it was still in my system. After the pain got worse, I finally accepted the fact that we weren't going out that night, except to get some medicine. The bumps of the road were intolerable, enough to make me wonder if it wasn't a mistake to not go to the ER. Back home, it got bad enough that I called my mother and mentioned it to a friend who knows a pediatrician, and both of them worried that it might be appendicitis.

Now worried myself, I called my gastroenterologist's clinic, the one who's seen me before for other issues (Mexico, unfortunately, has a rather unpleasant characteristic of causing plentiful GI problems). When I described it over the phone, relayed through the secretary, I was told to take a painkiller and wait until the morning. When I checked the compatability with breastfeeding, I discovered that the meds had been discontinued in the U.S and were not OK for lactation, so I toughed it out that night. There were a few intensely painful moments, but not worse than any pain I'd felt before in my life, so I was still optimistic that I'd be better by morning.

When I went in Thursday morning and the doctor checked me, he said he was pretty sure it was appendicitis, but he wanted to run tests to be sure, and put me in observation. I stayed at the clinic in a private room watching TV most of the day, and when he came in to check me again that afternoon, the clinical signs convinced him that it was appendicits. Even though appendicitis is technically a medical emergency because of the risk of rupture and infectious complications, and although my abdomen was quite swollen, the weird thing was, it didn't hurt as terribly as it had the night before but that was probably because I hadn't eaten anything in almost 24 hours. But he explained that some cases develop more gradually than others. The sign for him that clinched the diagnosis was localized pain upon pressure in my lower right abdomen, and more, severe pain upon letting go of the pressure, or Blumberg's sign, which indicated onset of peritonitis. I was in the OR less than half an hour later.

There was some initial confusion about whether I'd stay and be operated on at that clinic, or whether I'd seek surgery at the public hospital where I have free state insurance (Seguro Popular). But since I'd already waited so long and the doctor indicated it was urgent (if I went to the public hospital I'd likely have to wait again), and since it was my first surgery, which scared me, and I really wanted to be able to room in with my family (at the public clinics they separate you from your family), I decided to have it done at the clinic.

On the operating table, I got upset that it'd somehow been my fault. Hindsight is 20/20, but this view was still obscure. Even so, I wished there'd have been some way to prevent this, and felt something akin to failure. The nerves of being put under also crept in and I started to cry, blubbering that I ate well and I'd gotten this far in life without ever having been operated on, so why did this have to happen? But the assisting physician was a woman who spoke English, and she whispered, "It's going to be OK, it wasn't your fault. It could have been some seeds you ate!" At least partly, she was right—I did end up OK. As for what caused this, I may never know, and I may just have to leave that answer to the gods.

The practical moral of the story for me is that I may have to get more regular checkups (even for the rest of my family) to make sure sure we don't have any lingering or unknown infections. I also might have to trust more in the public medical facilities, for a variety of reasons, although I have an equal number of reasons why I'm still hesitant to do that.

As for getting over missing out on my celebrations and starting swim lessons, something I (with great difficulty) had recently carved out for myself (ironically, to improve my overall health) but won't be able to do until I heal, I can only chalk it up as an initiation rite of becoming a Mexican citizen. Oh yeah, and just to be safe, I better get my Day of the Dead altar up on time next year...don't want to take any more chances that I've pissed off any espiritus!

November 1, 2011

Mi Mexicana (Major Mexican Holidays, Mexican Citizenship, & Me)

Big things always seem to happen to me around major holidays here in Mexico. This past Dia de la Independencia in September, I got word that my Mexican naturalization certificate was issued, and I would not have to go back to Immigration (Instituto Nacional de Inmigracion) ever again (whew!). The only problem was that although the document was printed in Mexico City, it'd still take a month or more to be delivered, a situation which left me a bit vulnerable in terms of traveling—it'd been a last minute scramble to issue the document before my Mexican visa expired, and while I was waiting for the naturalization document to get a passport, I'd be without traveling papers for on my way back into Mexico. It was unlikely I'd have to travel, since I had no plans to do so, but the prospect of being grounded in the case of an emergency was a concern in the back of my mind.

Today, on Dia de los Muertos, another major Mexican holiday that gives Halloween a serious run for its money, it was just another typical day at home with the baby while my husband went to work. I was getting ready to put the baby down for a nap when I got a phone call on my cell. It was my contact at the Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores, calling to tell me that he just received my carta de naturalizacion. "Yay!" I exclaimed immediately. "Can you come pick it up before 3," he asked. Can I ever, I thought.

Soon, I was rushing about to get the baby's diaper bag ready, change my clothes, and pack a little gift bag for my liason at the agency. Noe Lujan has been truly one of the most professional, responsive, compassionate, efficient government representatives I've ever been attended by at a Mexican government agency. And that's saying a lot, because it hasn't always been a pleasurable experience (not just to be a complainer, but most "routine" visits are difficult to a level that Americans who haven't spent time abroad would be hard-pressed to imagine, although some agencies are definitely improving). I loaded the baby into the truck and got on the road as fast as possible, to avoid the late lunch traffic.

What I didn't expect was the range of emotions I would feel on my way there. First, I felt an overwhelming wave of joy. I was all smiles. I felt warm all over and super excited. "Damn, I don't feel this awesome very often anymore," I noted to myself, but I let it last. The end of all my visits to immigration aside, what this really means to me started to sink in. Honestly, I think that'll be something that'll take years to happen.

Then the tears started to flow. Looking back over the years of frustrating visits to immigration, the difficult year of applying for citizenship, and then wondering if it'd ever really happen, and now it finally was. And how I had this opportunity, here in Mexico, one that I wonder whether my husband will have ever have in my country of origin. I felt basically filled with emotion and excited up through parking, walking down the street to the SRE building, and up the steps to the door. Then I finally came down off my cloud of elation.

The guard inside, an older fellow, waved his hand vigorously, motioning me away. He wanted me to go downstairs to the passport office entry, since the office I was going to doesn't let people in after 12 pm, and it was 1:30 pm. But I knew since Noe had called me, I needed to be let in. I stood there waving my own hand, as if asking him to open the door. We did this a few times and I started to get annoyed. Finally he reluctantly came over, opened the door, and I explained my situation, he went and confirmed it, and let me in, not without taking my ID# and signature, of course. At that point the principal emotion was feeling rather smug.

I continued down the hall, where they knew I was coming and waved me in. My heightened sense of anticipation endured. I sat at Noe's desk with the baby on my lap, we exchanged our pleasantries and then we got down to business. I stared at the pile of papers emanating from his mountains of file folders, and felt a mixture of deep appreciation, pity for kind-hearted bureacrats, and relief. After signing several documents, I remarked that I felt like I was buying a car. He laughed and said that this was much better. He explained the documents one by one, and the new stipulations I'll have now that I'm officially Mexican. It's an interesting list, one I'll probably write more about in the future. I gave him his gift, he said I shouldn't have, and we chatted for a while longer. The baby was extra squirmy, so I said my goodbyes and was on my way out.

He'd recommended I stop in to the passport office to ask about the documentation required. Referring to my naturalization certificate gave me that feeling of accomplishment. Then I started to think about voter registration cards. And my mind started racing off in many directions. Is there something in particular I should do to celebrate my new Mexicanness? How do I identify myself now? Does this change anything? If anything, my sense of responsibility as a participating member of Mexican society. It was an exciting, if not worrisome feeling.

Then, of course, life kicked back in. Errands, a whiny baby, and a drive home. A creeping feeling of exhaustion as I finally got her off for her nap. But before I could attempt my own, I had to corral some stray chickens in the garden, give the rabbit some grass, swat a couple flies in the living room. I contemplated logging on immediately to share my pile of new feelings about my new status with the world, one that way exceeds a single tweet or Facebook post...but the desire to try and nap won over. So I kicked off my sandals and contentedly curled up on the couch.

I was just...drifting... off... to sleep... when Margo got home. I couldn't pretend I was sleeping, and I had to share the news—I'd wanted to keep the surprise for an in-person delivery. "Really?!" he exclaimed delightedly when I told him. "Aw...Mi Mexicana," he said, leaning over to give me a kiss. And I smiled and thought to myself, damn! He's right, and yet I still just can't believe it.