Thursday, October 29, 2009

10 Ways to Know If You Have Spent Too Much Time In Mexico

You Know You Are a Long Term Mexican Resident When:

1. Your cousin/friend is named Chuy and you dont think 'as in Bacca, right?'

2. You follow the smartest neighborhood dog to cross the street

3. You genuflect not only at Mass, but outside churches and in theaters on instinct

4. You think the local things tourists find as 'quirky and quiant' slightly annoying

5. You are no longer scared to ride in the car with Mateo Cunao

6. It does not bother you that a policeman is holding a rifle and is texting at the same time

7. You know the words to horrible Banda songs...and even worse, it has some relevance to your life.

8. You see a "Day of Dead" altar with Coke and think 'they could be mine'.

9. You find nothing out of the normal with taking the kids to the graveyard for lunch

10. You stop noticing when someone parks a donkey in your parking space

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Faces of Pre Existing Conditions

After a series of minor crises south of the border (including a small incident at the Oxxo, another round of insurance battles and La Osa's dog eating 10 of my diuretics) I am bit tired today.

However I suggest you visit a fabulous new blog. Not just because my mug is up there but because we are the faces of the consequences of political action or lack thereof.

Waving from Mexico,
La Coja

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Swine Flu--Is It Time to Pull a Suzie?

Mexico has declared a "National Alert". Israel has called it the 'Mexican Flu'. Indeed when my Mom starts investing in Sam's Club amounts of masks, Lysol, and sanitary gel, I begin to think there might be something up.

From what I have observed in the last month, the Mexican government has done an excellent job of containing what could have been a spectacular death toll. When epidemiology reports in Mexico City showed an exponential multiplication of the virus in April, the government made a courageous decision to shut down the schools and government for two weeks. The government has also launched a major campaign involving adorable fliers, sanitary gel in all public places, and supposed fever detectors in the airports. However, despite all the effort, the numbers of suspected cases have more than doubled since August.

Given I am far from a public health official but this is what I have observed. When I became sick with the swine flu, I had excellent, if overbearing, care. My American rheumatologist immediately pulled me off my drugs and I was able to afford the Tamiflu prescribed by Doctor Kansas City. However, it must be an uphill battle for lower class immuno suppressed people for several reasons

1. The city and regional buses are hotels for germs. We are packed in there so tightly you can feel the next person cough. Only students, my family and the poor ride them.

2. Upper class people have sewers and/or maids, the rest have trash cans .

3. Medicine, especially non generic, can be most or all of your paycheck.

4. Many lower income people work outdoors and live in drafty houses.

It may be a "national emergency" for Obama but for the Mexican poor and immuno suppressed, its just another day.

For more information, take a look at Mexico's Secretaria de Salud Report

Friday, October 23, 2009

What You Gonna do When They Come for You?

The Cervantino has come to town. While it is a fabulous event for tourists, the "situation" here has become worse for the rest of us. Although there is very little violence in the capital here, the government has nonetheless pulled out all the uniforms/disguises out of storage. All the streets to the capital are cut off with police check points, yet the backroads, oddly enough, are not.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tree of Hope, Remain Strong

As an American business woman with a disability living in a Mexico, I am strange fruit. As I go about my day, writing, translating and creating, not only am I challenged but I am in love with what I do. However this does not mean that this joy is seen as normal or even conceivable.

People from both sides of the border have seen my gait and questioned my ’common sense’. Some people in my family wonder if at the end of the day, I will be rendered dependent in some way. Even my Mexican cousins and friends brag about me as if my situation was one of a kind.

I am becoming somewhat of an urban legend in my little town in the Bajio of Mexico and it is simply just that---an urban legend. At least one strong, creative, woman with a disability came before.

Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 in a suburb of Mexico City. According to several sources, Kahlo had two disabilities. At age six, her ability to walk became difficult when she contracted polio. Then in 1925, she was in a Mexico City trolley accident that broke her spinal column, collarbone, ribs, pelvis, right leg and foot. Although she would eventually regain her ability to walk, she would go through more than thirty five operations and spend months bedridden.

Kahlo took disability and made it into an art. Her art focused mainly on self portraits because, as she pithily commented “it is the subject I know best”. Exploring self-image is a tough task for anyone especially in an ableist society, yet Kahlo navigated it with honesty and color.

In almost all of her paintings, she wears bright and richly made skirts. It has been suggested that she wore these skirts to cover her scars and develop a sense of self. It also seems she become more comfortable with an identity as a woman with a disability as time progressed. Self Portrait with Loose Hair lets the world see her physical fragility while also managing to express her strength. Self Portrait with Dr. Farrill even illustrates Kahlo painting in a wheelchair.

Several of her paintings portrayed her disability in all its pain, challenge and glory. The painting Retablo depicts her trolley car accident and the fear that accompanied it in an almost religious quality. Her self portrait, Broken Column expresses her excruciating physical pain with an Ionic column through her back and nails driven through her head. Perhaps her most striking painting is Tree of Hope, Remain Strong. In this self portrait, Kahlo sketches two reflections of herself. The Frida on the left is a Frida recently rolled out of the operating room. She is bedridden, maimed and cut in half in more than a literal way. The Frida on the right however, is a confident woman triumphantly holding the surgical corset in her hand. Tree of Hope, Remain Strong hangs on my desk as it reminds me daily that I have several parts to my disabled self. Through painting her self image Kahlo gave, if not a name, a place in historical memory for disability.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Today I am Fat Elvis

I try to have a strict no-complain policy regarding my disability. However, I am violating that policy because I believe today is one of those days we can all relate to. Today is a 'no move' day. That means my body is refusing to climb any stairs, take a shower or change clothes. My left leg in all its metal grandeur told me and my desires where to stick it today.

What is causing the pain could have several causes. Among them - the metal reproduction of 'The Last Supper' that hit my left leg, trying to keep up with 'normal' people, and effects of riding on a city bus driven by a fourteen year old.

As most people who identify as having a chronic illness and/or disability do, I have 'no move' days every so often. This has led to the parting of self. On days when I feel that I can take on the world and even do laundry, I am Hot Elvis--the Elvis of the 50s that charmed people, danced, and made movies. On 'no-move' days, I am the 300 lbs Elvis of prescription drugs, the Elvis they found dead on the can in the 70's.

La Coja

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dodging Airport Jackasses- Art or Sport?

Although I look like the Ghost of Christmas Past, I am proud to report that I am now back in Mexico. If you have ever traveled via airplane or even watched the local news reports during holiday seasons, you are then familiar with certain characters that tend to populate our travels. The following I tend to attract on my travels although this is by no means a through nor complete listing. Please feel free to add your very own jackass to the list.

1. The Talker
As Harry always says " Do I have a sign on my forehead that says 'Please crazy man, talk to me about your delusions'". This particular airport creature likes to show pictures of his kids, dogs, non existent girlfriend and occasionally shots of his surgery.

2. By Low, Sell High
This inhabitant is a product of the 1980s. Entering his early forties, he loves to talk loudly on his Iphone until takeoff, peppering his conversation with 'risk' 'take off the hedge' and 'buddy'. He dresses in his casual to travel selecting expensive jeans his girlfriend bought him, black patent leathers, and usually a pink or paisley shirt. Sitting with this man takes extra skill. Must decide early on to pet his ego or put laxative in his Coke.

3. The Bluetooth Pervert
This man, unlike the others, has no interest in talking to his seatmate. Usually utterly good-looking and well-dressed, he whispers into his bluetooth until takeoff. When we have reached altitude, he reaches for his phone to text some very inventive things to some lady friends on the ground.

4. The Screaming Toddler

She is the only traveler I understand. Sometimes you just have to scream and punch the person ahead of you.

Feel free to add

Friday, October 9, 2009

She's Getting 'The Treatment'

In an effort to not explain immunobiology, pathology and microbiology in five minute sound bites, when I have to go for 'The Treatment' once a month a leave it at that. However, now that I have my own virtual soapbox and presumably no reader is eating lunch, I have thus deemed this a perfect time to explain the procedure.

Once a month, if I do not have an infection/fever or upcoming major procedure, i get 'The Treatment' or better known by our friends at Bristol-Myers-Squibb as Orencia.

The rheumatologist office is now like my very own Cheers, yes its where everybody knows my name. I usually end up sitting next to the man in his 60s who tells me his rectal and work history or the embittered recently diagnosed middle aged woman.

Once the nurse calls me, i take off my shoes, sweater, socks and earrings to make sure the scale is not off. I get the usual interview by both nurse and doctor before things proceed. Any infection, fever. new medication, good times had? I get my temp, pulse and blood pressure taken then labs are ordered. Every liquid is drained from me. From urine to blood, they want it and I give it.

My nurses are pros at getting my veins and while they are jabbing me we talk about their ex husbands, my dogs or their grandkids.

If I'm lucky I get seated next to a philosophical old lady who enjoys watching the weather channel or reading US weekly with me. After the labs are sent, the ladies mix up the three bottles into a saline solution bag. Once I am sent up, it doesnt take more than an hour to suck it up. At this point I either read or send out massive texts indicating that I am experiencing boredom.

I adore my nurses and I think my particular rheumatologist has saved me from being wheelchair bound. Furthermore, it can also be used as an excuse for a get together. Over the years, friends/ family have brought in everything from Cosmopolitan Magazines, to 12 packs of Diet Coke to a particular gentleman bringing in a bottle of Tequila.

La Coja

La Coja 1- Porky 0

" How's my Crip? Pigs got you down?"

No, my hilarious friend Igo, I am proud to report this Coja is not in fact down and will be return to Mexico on Wednesday.

Monday, October 5, 2009

In Memory of a True Rheumatoid Warrior

A Mentor of mine, Kathy Jensen, passed away last week. As I sit here and reflect on the little bit of time I knew her, I don't think she'd want me drone on about who preceded her in death or about a beloved chihuahua named Bruno.

I know that even the little I knew her cannot be summed up in a blog post or a couple paragraphs. However, I want to say her energetic efforts as Vice President of Programs at the Denver office of the Arthritis Foundation without a doubt improved the lives of many people. Her numerous outreach programs, advocacy for funding and work for access to health care for people with arthritis was nothing short of amazing. Kathy went out of her way to help people, whether it be buying soda for a weekly support group or buying me pizza to talk about my future. Before and after my hip replacement, she was incredibly supportive while fighting her own disease. No one can take her place.

Due to her extensive work with people with disabilities/arthritis, Kathy watched many people without access to medical care suffer and become needlessly disfigured. It is truly a shame she did not live to see a different reality. Perhaps her life and death should be a mediation on how we as a community, as a nation, can lessen this suffering.

Kathy, this Orencia is for you!

Reyna- Queen of Hugs

I remember the first day I met Miss Reyna at Casa Ayuda, a foster home in San Miguel. She ran up to me and suddenly stopped. She began to scan me methodically and put her face so closely to mine I knew what she had for lunch. Suddenly, she smiled and embraced me like a long lost cousin. Su Casa became Mi Casa and Mi camera became Su camera. Later on that night, she sat directly in between my dad and my sister. While the rest of the kids continued their nightly chaos bartering their food, Reyna started intently the entire time, focusing a bit on my Dad and then on La Hermana. When it became time to clear the table, Reyna had yet to eat a bite and had quite the confused look on her face. She consequently decided to end the confusion. In a loud whisper she turns to me in confidence to inquire who takes care of the old man (my Dad) when La Hermana and I work during the day. Many things can be said about Reyna, unobservant is not one of them.

Reyna was born outside San Miguel in Viborillas, a place with really just a tiny store, a plastic table set outside of it, surrounded by the shacks the locals call home. Reyna's mother died and her father left for El Norte soon after. As a consequence, she was raised by her older siblings, many of whom are not much older than she is.

Reyna's educational history up until recently has been sparse at best. Although most children in the Mexican countryside do no have access to anything beyond 8th grade, Reyna only attended kindergarden. After one year of school, it was made clear to her family that her needs could not be accommodated beyond kindergarden.

Although Reyna has not been formally diagnosed with any condition or disability, she has not followed the 'normal' path of development. Reyna is developmentally delayed, has crossed eyes, and is legally blind. Nobody will say for sure what she has, but the collective best guess among several doctors and non profit people is that she has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Reyna's journey to the foster home Casa Ayuda began in February of 2006, when her sister, a teenager herself decided she could not care for her any longer. When the young teenage Reyna arrived at Casa Ayuda, it was evident that social services had failed her and her family. She did not brush her hair, did not know how to bathe, and her speech was grammatically/cognitively discombobulated. Her education consisted of well, nothing. Even the knowledge of shoe tying, letters and numbers had not been passed on to her.

After three years plus years of living at Casa Ayuda, her social skills and education have improved immensely. She has worked with a certified teacher five days a week and has learned letters, handwritten, numbers, colors and has far improved her grammar. She has also learned basic living skills and has even excelled at them. Each morning she takes a shower, makes her bed, dresses,and does her hair and makeup before breakfast. She takes pride in the responsibility of cleaning her room and keeping up the living room.

When it comes to the issue of Reyna's future and her ability to be independent, the general attitude is as La Hermana states concisely "focus on survival instead of independence'. Although several people believe that Reyna can reach higher personal/educational goals, the director of the foster home would like to have Reyna focus on more practical goals such as cleaning houses. Regarding Reyna's living situation, she will likely live at Casa Ayuda for the foreseeable future.

I suppose in an area where non disabled people struggle for daily survival, its hard, especially as a foreigner, to argue for more self determination and education of people with disabilities. But as I am looking at this pretty, well-put-together and polite young woman before me, I cannot help but wonder what other potential she has yet to reveal

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Parade of the Rabos Verdes

I'm still not 100% from the Porcine Virus so enjoy this pithy essay from La Hermana before she met The Rabbit

I’ve started keeping track of all of the creepy/socially inept Mexican men that have taken an interest in me over the past year. It is quite a list.

Creepy guy who is friends with some friends of my sister. Wanted to date me. Turns out he has a long term (3 years) girlfriend. I stopped talking to him, so he started calling me and then hanging up. These calls all happened after 2 am. He was at the party and came back to the house with us for the "after party". He was drunk. He spent the entire day, from 4am till 1pm, saying my name and then turning away. He also tried to make jokes that didn't work and at one point called me a bitch. He also pressed me for why I don't want to date him and then he passed out on the couch.

Doctor Kansas City's Friend

This is a new one. This man, I have no idea what his name is, only that he is a friend of the family. He got pretty drunk and wanted to dance with me. I obliged and it was alright for a while. He then started following me around. In Mexico, during parties, sometimes people come to take and sell photos. They will take your photo, print it, put it in a frame and then sell it to you. Well, this old man wanted me to take a photo with him. I did. He then bought it. Then he informed me that he was going to place it on his desk at work, for all to see. He then wanted me to sign it and dedicate it to him.


A guy in San Miguel who wanted to date me, told me he was single, and I then found out he was “dating” another American woman, long term. Every time I see him in the center, he asks me out and wonders why I have not been calling him. Also, he found my sister on Hi5, friended her, and sent me a message asking me if I was jealous.


Guy who gave me a ride to the border. Really strange man. Mexican, married an American woman, then got divorced. He called me “Betty” and said I was a princess. He then proceeded to hit on me in the car on the way to Laredo, Texas. Did I mention he’s about 40?


Another friend of friends of my sister. Nice guy, completely unskilled socially. Called me 15 times in 1 day.


A guy that Hannah, Amina, Grace and I met at the movies. He was there alone and approached us. Said he was from Queretaro and only like to hang out with Americans. To be nice, Hannah and I invited him out with us to a bar. He arrived and started hitting on me a lot. He said I had beautiful eyes (like I haven't heard that before) and that I was a unique woman, he could tell (this is after spending maybe 10 mins with me). I recieved a phone call from my mom, went outside and he followed me and listened to the conversation (FYI: he speaks English). I pretended to stay on the phone with her while walking back into the bar, he stopped me, asked me to come back outside and then wanted to talk. He told me that he loves his mom very much and was happy that I had a good relationship with my mom. He then wanted to hold my hand and kiss.

Sebas’ Uncle

One of the kids uncles came to visit and started hitting on me (this is in front of his nephew and most of the kids). He says he is going to come back regularly so I can be his teacher. Sebas now calls me Tia.

Neighborhood Guy

Just in case you were wondering, I have been instructed not to be afraid of this guy. He doesn’t bite. He also wants to take me to the movies. He's 19 and wears sunglasses without lenses.

Yellow Shoes Guy

This guy has been bugging me since 2006. He works for and drives one of the trolley buses in town. He once offered me a ride home on the trolley. He also caught me developing photos of my semester in Mexico and promptly took a photo of me with him. One time he insisted on carrying my bread for me and then told me about how he was a licensed massage therapist in Puerto Vallarta. He can apparently work wonders for me.

So, do I have a magnet for this type of guy?

Am I sending out some sort of “I love and need creepy/socially inept Mexican men” vibe?

I hope not.

But the list keeps getting longer...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Post Surgery Hip Surgery

Great Friends


I have had a few requests to tell more about myself. Thus, while in the pig flu jail, I wrote up a brief autobiography which is as follows.

"Irish Mexican American female, age 26. Likes pinochle, family guy,studying politics, a good martini and walks on the beach."

However, my 'editors' (thanks Harry) have told that the fore mentioned sounds more like a desperate Craig's list personal than a brief personal background. Here is my second go at it.

I grew up in Denver, the City of. I was fairly healthy until 1995 when I got Rheumatic Fever, the first of many third world disease i would contract to my friend Lola's great amusement . In 1997, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and honestly struggled through the Denver Public School system. I graduated a year early from high school to attended the Community College of Denver, a more disability friendly system.

In 2002, I received a scholarship to the University of Kansas and spent five glorious/challenging years a Jayhawk. I have lived 20 years in Denver, 2 in Mexico and 4 in Kansas. And yes I do count Kansas as a third country.

I have been a loyal consumer of rheumatic drugs and treatments since the mid 1990s. My JRA resume is as follows

Pharmacology 1995- to Present
-Has extensive experience with the following: Celebrex, Methotrexate, Prednisone, Enbrel, Humira, Remicade.
- Currently works closely with Orenica

Treatments 1996- to Present
-IVIG 1996 and 1997
-Plasmapheresis 1997 and 1999
-Double Tendon Release Surgery 1999
-Total Left Hip Replacement 2009

My family has been clinically described as 'one of the most functional dysfunctional families' in the practice and I love most of them to death. The family God has let me choice, a.k.a. my friends, are a big source of love, laughter, stories and strength. I am a major nerd and love to read/study random subjects. I won the local branch of the library's Renter of the Month twice.
Along with my large extended family, I grew up with dogs. My Springer Spaniels along with my Nana Macky wiping my nose from the tissues stuffed in her bra is about all i really remember from childhood.

Our current dogs, Charley (3/4 Springer, 1/4 Lab) and Paco (100% Black Lab) absolutely fill me daily with joy.

I run my own translation business (Richmond Bustamante International), tutor English, and volunteer with disability organizations both in the US and Mexico. As for my future, Id love to go into Public Health to increase the chances of disabled people to lead dignified and full lives.

I'd also like to get a guinea pig.

Con Abrazos,

La Coja