Surgery in Mexico
April 2016
by joanna Spinoza (photo above)

This is my story of surgery in Baja California Sur, Mexico.

While visiting friends in Pescadero, Baja California Sur, Mexico, last October (2015), I suddenly came down with a list of symptoms I was unable to understand or rectify. I was really, really sick: I was dizzy and off balance, unable to think clearly, had severe joint and muscle pain, was constantly tired and headachy, had nausea whenever I ate, lost my appetite, had dark urine, and my eyes turned yellow! (That is not a complete list but you get the picture.) Basically, I was miserable. I called out for help to some good friends, who responded with food and support and a plan.

I was driven to St Jude’s Medical Center in Todos Santos, where I met with Dr. Luisa Bernal, had a consultation, a blood draw, and was advised to return with urine and stool samples. The day after checking these results, the doctor called me and recommended further diagnosis with a sonogram to be administered at the med center. After that was checked I was advised to have a CT scan, and later that week an endoscopic procedure, both with doctors in La Paz.

The doctors agreed: I had acute pancreatitis. I’d been back and forth to the clinic over a period of 6 weeks, and spent a couple of nights there for observation and a saline IV, without any improvement. The worst was yet to happen. I couldn’t sleep more than 2 hours without waking in sudden acute pain, and my whole body swelled with fluids, from toes to torso. I was a wreck.

In early December 2015 I checked into St. Jude’s for the last time, driven by the extent of my pain and inability to heal myself. I stayed for two nights for observation and some meds, only getting worse. Given the options of medivac or surgery in Baja I chose to stay. Dr Luisa made the call to a hospital and I was transported by ambulance to San Jose del Cabo, to Hospital H+, and to Dr Juan Carlos Arriola, who is a pancreatic specialist recently relocated from Mexico City.

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Dr. Arriola

Thankfully,  Dr. Arriola’s phone number had been given to me just the week before, and he and his colleague Dr. Musi greeted me as I was being wheeled into the hospital emergency entrance. Dr. Arriola asked many questions about my condition, took the large envelope of previous scans and blood test results (which I had brought for him), and went to his office as I filled out forms for admittance.
A few hours later Dr Arriola came to my room to talk to me about the previous scans, and to explain pancreatitis and what his plan was for my recovery. He also asked me if there was anything I needed that I had been unable to bring with me. The next morning he brought me notebooks, a set of pens, and some raw honey that I’d wanted. He’d also bought a bag of organic hemp protein powder to supplement my nutrition.

During my month long stay at the Hospital H+ Dr. Arriola came to my room or saw me at other places in the hospital an average of 3 times a day. He speaks nearly perfect English, and was always eager to listen to me and answer any questions I had. Showing me one of the CT scans, Dr. Arriola drew a sketch in my new notebook, illustrating my digestive system and the shadow of the tumor he had discovered in the head of my pancreas… it was now considered an emergency: pancreatic cancer. Surgery was necessary.

Several steps, involving draining the septic fluid from my abdomen, a couple of operations, and a starvation diet were necessary to eliminate this disease and pain. Notwithstanding, my stay at the Hospital H+ was overall very satisfying.


My private room and its full wall of windows faced southeast. I could see over the highway and through a shallow valley between the hills of Cerro Colorado to the sky and the beautiful Pacific Ocean. I spent hours watching the silent traffic of cars, trucks and buses on land; and sailboats and migrating whales in the distant blue water. There was a private adjoining toilet, sink, and shower room, a couch that could be made into a bed (normally a family member stays with the patient), a reclining reading chair, 2 rolling tables, and a tv – which I never turned on! I watched the colorful sun rise over the hills every morning. Peaceful, healing, meditative. My silent room became a sanctuary, greatly adding to the benefits of rest and professional attention.
There was always someone on duty (or reachable by phone) who could translate, but 90% of the staff spoke only spanish, with: “What is your name?” and “How are you feeling?” in English. My spanish language skills were tested, well used, and expanded.

Dr. Arriola explained (and sketched in my notebook) the details of a complicated and time consuming operation called a “Whipple” procedure. Basically, this is a surgical removal of the head of the pancreas, duodenum and gall bladder, and a reorganization of the alimentary canal (digestion).  

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Dr. Juan Carlos Arriola, Hospital H+, and its employees, doctors, nurses, administration, and staff became my family: they saved my life. For this I am forever indebted. I was alone and they adopted me, whole heartedly. Every consideration was offered, and my needs and desires were easily and readily accommodated. Dr. Arriola sets the standard in my mind for care and concern and expertise in the medical system. Anywhere.

I highly recommend Hospital H+ for medical emergencies as well as elective surgery.  Broken bones, cancer, snake bites, and beyond.

For Information or Emergency contact Hospital H+: (from US) 011 52 (624) 104 9300
Dr. Juan Carlos Arriola (cell) 011 521 (624) 151 9813

joanna Spinoza
April 2016
Cayucos, California, USA
see her facebook page at: