A pain in the pompis in any language

About the only downside of our marriage in Massachusetts was that Stew and I both got sick with what felt and sounded like serious respiratory infections. We gulped syrups and other cold remedies to no avail and were ready to try anything, including a stop at a pharmacy in the North Mexico City bus station—the last leg of our long trip home—that advertised the services of a doctor.

There was no doctor but a couple of smiling young women in white smocks asked a few questions and handed us bottles of antibiotics and in a small room behind the counter, told us to drop trou’ for a shot of penicillin in each of our butts.

“¿En las nalgas?” I asked, using the Cuban word for “butt”.

“Sí, pero en Mexico se dice ‘pompis’, ” the nurse/clerk said helpfully, thus introducing me to the Mexican word for “butt” or “ass.”

Bing, bang, and three-hundred or so pesos later for each treatment we were on our way. At least the storefront pharmacy had a dressing room-like cubbyhole in which to perform these interventions discreetly, away from the eyes of fellow bus travelers.

“I don’t ever recall getting penicillin shots at a bus station,” Stew said, though we both recalled getting them for any cold, or practically any ailment, when we were kids.

And so began our latest encounter with Mexican medical care, which for the most part has not been too reassuring. Stew has suffered through a botched carpal tunnel syndrome operation that left him in pain and with three numb fingers, in addition to a bungled diagnosis for a detached retina that sent us on a trip to Chicago for emergency eye surgery. Most recently a local orthopedic doctor told Stew he most likely needed a knee operation for a torn meniscus. A second opinion at a hospital in Texas showed there was nothing wrong with his knee except the onset of arthritis. Uh-oh.

As is usually the case in colonies of past-a-certain-age folks, sometimes referred to as geezers, talk of ailments and doctors to cure them consumes an inordinate amount of breath among expats in San Miguel. Social gatherings sometimes sound like a parking lot full of 50s Chevys, honking and sputtering about dimming headlights, leaky radiators or creaky ball joints.

In addition to symptomalogies and cures, in Mexico we also debate, sometimes heatedly, whether medical care here is worse, equal or perhaps even superior to that in the U.S.

Take our only local hospital the condition of which was until recently, appalling. After a visit to the emergency room a couple of years ago, U.S. Consul Ed Clancy told me he wouldn’t take his cat there, never mind his wife or himself. Though I tend to agree with the honorable consul many gringos here swore it was a fine medical institution.

Fortunately a bigger hospital in nearby Queretaro recently took over the local facility and invested quite a bit in such novelties as a CAT scan and a recent-vintage X-ray machine, plus paint, new ceiling tiles and functioning light bulbs. Reportedly a good portion of the former medical and nursing staff also were placed in the dumpster. Things are looking up, along with the prices which although considerably higher than before are still much lower than in the U.S.

The day after we returned to San Miguel and my condition worsened, we went to an old-time clinic downtown called Our Lady of Health run by a trio of a father and his two sons, all of them doctors. The young ones were on vacation so I checked in with the paterfamilias.

He was a man I’d guess in his seventies, whose gentle countenance was beyond avuncular. His ancient consulting room, dimly lit and decorated with parchment-like diplomas and commendations, some faded by age and humidity, made you feel as if you’d entered a small museum.

He told me to sit on an examining bed that looked menacing until I realized there was no way my feet could fit in the two prominent stirrups. He whipped out an old-fashioned glass thermometer from a glass jar containing alcohol—no newfangled disposable or digital thermometers for this fellow—shook it vigorously to jostle the mercury, and stuck it under my tongue.

While we waited for the thermometer I glanced around the room and settled on a venerable ultrasound machine with a tiny screen, its keyboard covered with a piece of yellowed plastic sheeting and so old it couldn’t possibly tell the difference between twins and kidney stones.

The doctor asked all sorts of questions and along the way talked about the difference between a horse cough (a “muermo” in Spanish) and “tos perruna,” or canine hacking. I don’t remember which one described my cough. The consultation came down to another prescription for antibiotics and another shot of penicillin right in the old pompis with instructions to return the next day for a second dose.

He wasn’t in the following day, but the receptionist helpfully grabbed a syringe, loaded it with penicillin and told me to go in the back room and drop trou’ yet again.

Bing, bang, fifty pesos for the second shot or approximately four-and-a-half dollars. By this time Stew had decided he was feeling much better, thank you, and no more shots in the pompis for him.

Just about that time we saw a PBS’ “Frontline” documentary about the overuse of antibiotics and the consequent appearance of “super bugs” that don’t respond to any known treatments. An excellent but unsettling show, my gut and pompis at the time being filled with penicillin, amoxicillin and what-have-you.

Take one and call me for another one. 

Indeed, several years ago the Mexican government passed a law requiring a doctor’s prescription for all antibiotics to prevent overuse though the two young women at the bus station pharmacy obviously were exempt.

A couple of days later it was off to the newly refurbished hospital to check with a pulmonary specialist, an earnest and seemingly overworked man in his forties. He was nothing if not thorough and went on to prescribe two X-rays, a CAT scan of my chest plus a bronchoscopy, one of those hose-through-the-nose procedures I don’t recommend to anyone.

Along with that came hundreds of dollars worth of prescriptions, for Cipro and other antibiotics, inhalers, antifungal and antiacid pills to settle my stomach, adding up to what felt more like medical carpet-bombing than targeted treatment. For his consultations and all the tests, the bill came to over two-thousand dollars.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve fully recovered physically if not mentally. When I asked the doctor for a diagnosis he gave me good and bad news. There’s nothing wrong with my lungs, no tumors, lesions or any other ominous signs.

The bad news is that for all the testing and drug-taking, the doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.


13 thoughts on “A pain in the pompis in any language

  1. Anonymous

    I've heard plenty of Mexicans use the term “nalgas,” though I've heard “pompis” too. But if I were to do a count, I think “nalgas” has a very long lead over “pompis.” Perhaps it's a DF thing. I once made a soap vendor on Alvaro Obregon in DF chuckle, though. He had hand-made soaps of all kinds, with various plant extracts and such, one of which was with “algas.” So I said, “Algas para las nalgas?” He just laughed. As for healthcare, I haven't experienced any more of Mexican healthcare beyond being able to buy over the counter stuff that would require a prescription here. But Consumer Reports did an extensive study of hospitals, perhaps last year, and frankly, US healthcare is appalling. The readmission rates are horrendous. The lack of handwashing and other basic sanitary procedures is extremely lax. Lots of patients catch unnecessary diseases in hospitals in the USA. Medication errors are rife. These should all be easy problems, yet they persist. Scandalous!So I have a hard time imagining that things are any better in Mexico, and a much easier time imagining that they are worse. That said, at least the Mexican healthcare system doesn't regularly bankrupt people. Saludos,Kim GBoston, MAWhere we are fortunate to both live close to some truly world-class hospitals, and to not need them.P.S. You all have the single most difficult commenting system of any blog or “newspaper” that I read.


  2. Anonymous

    Steps to making a comment on Rancho Santa Clara1. Think of something witty to say, and write it into a tiny box. 2. Identify yourself. 3. Hit “publish.”4. Tell your own site (in my case, WordPress) that it's ok to pass the ID to Blogger. 5. After all of this, then do a captcha, to prove you're not a robot. 6. Tell your own site (in my case, WordPress) that it's ok to pass the ID to Blogger. (Again)7. Don't consider yourself “known,” as you'll have to do it again for each and every comment you ever leave, regardless of how many you might have left in the past. 8. Ask yourself it it's worth the trouble. 9. Repeat the above every few weeks.


  3. Upon further research, I've concluded that “nalgas” is the proper word, as in “buttocks,” and “pompis” is the street word for the same part of the anatomy, but it's more like “buns”. At a window at the local shopping center I saw a sign advertising jeans “alza pompis,” which I guess would mean “butt lifter”.But enough about that…On the subject of hospitals, the same Frontline show mentioned the high rate of infections in U.S. hospitals. My own dad caught a blood infection at a brand new hospital in Florida, which I'm sure was the ultimate cause of his death, though at age 94 that would have been difficult to prove. I've generally heard that no matter where you are the best policy is to avoid hospitals whenever you can because you might be cured of something but catch something else…al


  4. There are some very good doctors in Mexico. We know an ophthalmologist in Queretaro who is first rate, but here in San Miguel (and I suspect) Malaque and other small towns big time doctors are harder to find.al


  5. Since comments on your blog are moderated, I'd suggest getting rid of the CAPTCHA. The amount of comment spam really is negligble in comparison to the irritation CAPTCHAs cause your readers. I'm just sayin'.


  6. Anonymous

    I use WordPress, and only have to approve the first comment someone makes. After that, they can comment and their comments appear immediately. Now, my blog is fairly young-ish (Born in July '13), but I don't get much spam at all, and that which I do get, Askimet filters out so far 100% effectively. And even if a bit of spam did get through, I've never gotten offensive or obscene spam. It's just someone trying to sell something, so if it ended up on my blog for a day, I'd just delete it eventually. Saludos,Kim G


  7. Anonymous

    Hi colleagues, how is all, and what you wish for to say about this piece of writing, in my view its in fact remarkable designed for me.Feel free to surf to my site


  8. It's hard to believe that I'd get “La Turista” 5 days after leaving Mexico last summer. While we were looking forward to visiting Santa Fe, we limped along in the car between Austin, Tx and the capital of New Mexico. The only thing I could trace it to was a Pizza. But my wife had no ill effects. I drank Ginger Ale incessantly to keep myself hydrated. I went to a clinic in Santa Fe and was examined carefully by a young doctor whom I realized was younger than my children. She gave me two prescriptions of antibiotics including CIPRO. Something told me to wait until the next day before taking these. The next morning I awoke healthy and had a good appetite. 4 days of illness on a trip and a trip to a lab and to a doctor. But my body cured myself.


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