by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
Ted was never one to spend a lot of money on his clothes. He had a pair of sandals that he had purchased from a bin at Safeway before we left on our worldwide trip. The soles had once had ridges which had worn off years before. They now were flat and slick.
I suggested several times that he spring for a new pair. “Why? These are perfectly fine.” He would say. “I’m not hard on my shoes. I’m not like you, with several pair of shoes. Girls need lots of shoes, not men.” We were traveling in Mexico, and a pair of shoes would have cost ten dollars.
We pulled into a very small campground next to the entrance of the Palenque ruins. Early in the morning, we tramped around seeing the pyramids and stones of the ancient Mayan civilization. Returning to our motor home, Ted decided to go for a walk in the jungle that surrounds the ruins and the campground. He left and I busied myself with lunch.
About five minutes later he returned. He was pulling himself in a dance of pull, hop, and pull until he was completely in the motor home.
“I broke my leg,” he informed me.
“What do you mean, broke your leg,” I asked. “How?”
“My foot slipped on the wet grass and I fell. I heard the leg brake.” He said.
Slipped on the grass? You don’t suppose it was because your shoes are flat rubber like a sled? I thought.
“Well, why don’t you lie down and take a nap. Maybe it will be better when you wake up,” I offered, as if a nap could mend a break. I was hoping it was just a sprain.
When he woke, the leg was swollen and beginning to turn a lovely color of midnight blue. Asking around the campground I learned that the only hospital within miles was a maternity one and unable to help with fractures. The next closest one was a couple of hundred miles away in Campeche.
Since we were wedged into a tight spot in the camp, early the next morning I said, “If you can help pull the motor home out of here and onto the road, I can drive.”
Ted got in the driver’s seat (an automatic transmission) and pulled us slowly out to the highway. Once on the road, he said, “I’ll drive, it keeps my mind off my leg.”
We finally arrived in Campeche and looked for the campground. This meant driving back and forth along the highway and city streets until we lucked onto the correct one. Instructions in Mexico are a bit loose. Example: Turn at the white fence (One of six white fences on that road), or Next to the statue (Which statue?)
By the time we found the campground and got settled, it was night. Night in the tropics comes fast. No dusk or dawn. Afternoon changes to complete dark in less than twenty minutes.
The campground was the yard of a widow woman. She had eight or ten spots with water and electricity hook ups in the grass for campers. A shed housed the shower and outside the shed, stood a metal table with a hot water heater on top. She would build a fire under the table, which would heat the water so that campers could have warm showers.
Early the next morning I went out to flag down a taxi. Since the campground was in a residential area, there were no taxis. The widow finally called one for us. The driver was reluctant to drive through mud to the motorhome, even though we were the only campers there. I pleaded with him, and he agreed to drive as close to the door as possible. Ted hopped out using a chair to lean on, and we left to find a hospital
As soon as we arrived, they x-rayed his leg. We were told to wait in the waiting room. There we sat as a dribble of people with assorted injuries came, were treated, and left. At noon, I ventured out to find some food from the street stalls.
Every few hours a person dressed in white would come out and mumble something in Spanish to us. We understood that a doctor from Merida was coming down to see Ted. Merida, being several hundred miles away, meant that we would wait a long time. About four o’clock someone came and wheeled Ted back to be seen by the doctor. We decided that I should return to the camper, walk and feed the dogs, and return as soon as possible to the hospital.
I grabbed a taxi, and we found the campground. I fed and watered the dogs. Some new people had pulled into the ground and were going to take the bus back to town for the evening. I decided to go with them, figuring that a taxi would be easier to find once I was in the city. Luckily, as the bus drove along, I recognized the hospital and got off.
I went to the Emergency Door where I had left Ted. The door was closed, chained, and the inside was dark. I looked around and up. A large many storied building rose against the dark night. I walked around until I saw an open door with lights. I entered and found a large crowd around a table. The door to the hospital interior was covered by a guard with a large machine gun. As I stood near the table, I could tell I was at least twelve inches taller than anyone else. Also, they were all speaking Spanish, and my Spanish was limited to words like ‘transmission, starter, carburetor, mechanic, and brakes.’
The lady in charge looked up at me. I practiced my best Spanish.”Donde es me Esposo?’ Where is my husband? Or so I hoped, “Americano.”
She walked back to the guard. How many Americans could they have in the hospital? Would I have to visit room after room looking for Ted? What if he wasn’t there?
The guard walked back into the hospital and conversed with someone who had access to the wall phone. After a few minutes, he told the lady something. She nodded to me and motioned to come closer, grabbed my hand and wrote 347 on my palm. She pointed toward some steps and motioned me to go up.
I found Ted in room 347 that day. While he was waiting for an operation to put three metal screws into his leg, I went out and bought him a new pair of sandals. It may not be manly to have new shoes but it’s certainly safer.