by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
“Oh no! How do you know?” I said.
“I heard it snap as I landed on it. I had just stepped into the jungle when my foot slipped out,” he replied.
Not knowing what I was supposed to do, I said “Why don’t you take a nap. Maybe when you wake up it will be okay.” I knew it was a stupid thing to say, but I didn’t know what else to do. I could only hope it was a sprain.
We were in our RV in a very small park outside of Palenque, Mexico. Our RV was a small one but we were surrounded by tents. The park is just outside the World Heritage Site where we had spent several hours exploring. Returning to the camper, Ted announced that he wanted to take a walk in the jungle, a few feet from the campground.
It’s his shoes. I thought. When he purchased them ten years earlier, they had tread on the soles, like tire tread. But through the years it had eroded away until they were worn smooth. I had been urging him to buy a new pair of sandals, but he refused. Now they had caused him to slip. I vowed to throw them away the first chance I got.
While he took a futile nap, I asked around the camp for help. The owner told me that there wasn’t a hospital in Palenque for anything except maternity. We would have to drive to Campeche, about a hundred miles away.
I had never driven the motor home. It was an automatic shift and I was certain I could do it. However, I wasn’t certain I could maneuver out of the park without running over several tents, and any small animals, or sleeping campers along the way.
When Ted woke up, his left leg and foot were getting more swollen by the hour. I told him what I had found out and where we would have to go. “If you can get us out of the park and onto the road, I can drive.” I volunteered.
It was dark by now (night comes early and is darker the farther south you go) and we sat and talked until bedtime.
Early the next morning, I unhooked the electricity and the water pipes while Ted moved to the driver’s seat. He carefully pulled the RV out of the park and onto the small paved road without incident. I volunteered to drive but he said driving took his mind off of his leg. He only needed the right leg to drive.
Driving at a steady pace, we made it to Campeche, Mexico where we missed the turn off to the RV park and had to turn around, driving aimlessly. Finally we found it. It was the front yard of an old woman’s house, but it did have ten spots where we could hook up electricity, water, and sewage. It was too late in the afternoon to do anything more than fix dinner and go to bed.
The next morning the old woman called a taxi for us. The driver didn’t want to drive into the park but I convinced him to drive to our van. I knew Ted could never make the walk of about a block to the outside entrance. We were the only ones parked there, and the driver could see Ted standing outside our van, holding onto a chair. He finally agreed.
The driver took us to the emergency entrance of a large hospital. The hospital needs to serve an area of several hundred square miles, and consisted of three multistoried buildings. The emergency entrance was on the ground floor and Ted hobbled inside. We sat in the waiting room, filled with people complaining of various ailments and injuries. Within an hour, his leg had been X-rayed and we were told to wait. We sat through the morning and watched people come and go.
At lunch, I walked down the street until I found a food vendor. I brought back something for us to eat and some bottled water. We waited for still more hours, and were informed that a doctor was on the way from Merida to see Ted. It would be only a few more hours.
Dark was coming and the dogs had been locked up all day. Ted suggested I go back to the park, take care of them and return afterward. I found a taxi to take me back and discovered that another couple had settled down next to our vehicle. They were in an old VW bus, and invited me over for a glass of lemonade. Within the first five minutes they told me that they had ten thousand dollars hidden in their camper. That information was the last thing I wanted to know. I agreed to ride the bus with them when they went in search of dinner. I hoped that their money would remain hidden for as long as they stayed in the area.
As the bus drove down one of Campeche’s shadowed streets, I spotted the Emergency Hospital and got off. There were chains on the door of the dark office and I didn’t know where Ted was. In the dark, I walked around the complex until I found a lighted door and a line of people waiting. I got in line and when it was my turn, I asked in English “Where is the big American man?” I remembered some Spanish and asked again “Donde es Americano?” I thought it was simple but had to repeat it several times before someone understood me. To make matters more stressful was the presence of armed military men with very large guns standing guard. I couldn’t understand why the hospital needed armed guards.
A nurse came and pointed upward, took a pen and wrote a room number on my palm, pointed up a flight of stairs and waved three fingers in my face.
I made my way up the steps to the third floor where I found a large ward and Ted in a bed. “Sorry honey. My foot is too swollen to operate. I’ll have to stay here until the swelling goes down, maybe a week. Will you be okay?”
I nodded. What else could I do? “Do you need anything?” I asked.
“No, I don’t have a choice. The nurses are helpful. All one has to do is yell ‘Senorita!’ and they come.”
I stayed for a while before returning to the RV in a taxi.
Over the next five days, I visited the hospital every day. On the second day, the VW people left, and I hoped they still had their money. On the sixth day, they operated and inserted three pins in Ted’s leg. The next day they released him. I found a taxi and again the driver didn’t want to drive into the park. I finally talked him into driving up to the RV where Ted could hop the few feet to the door by refusing to move,
The next morning, Ted wanted to take a shower. The shower was a small shed, and outside the shed was an old water heater sitting on a metal frame, with a wood fire ring under the heater. The old woman added wood to the ring and lit the fire. That was the most unique way to heat water that we had ever seen. As we waited, the water warmed and she turned on the hose from the heater to the shed.
I dragged a plastic chair into the shed, and Ted sat on that as the warm water poured over him. Feeling better after his first shower in a week, he hobbled back to the RV. We stayed a few more nights, and then left to spend several months in Merida until he could shed his cast. Again, he drove. After all, it was only his left leg.
By the way, I threw away the sandals while he was in the hospital and bought him a new pair. He didn’t complain too much.