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Health Diaries: Iris's Journey

This story is part of the Health Diaries series where we report the struggles and actions of Americans who, despite having insurance, must cross the border into Mexico to get the healthcare they need.


Iris suffers from 3 really tough autoimmune diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and severe psoriatic arthritis. Due to her illnesses, she gets disability insurance through Medicare. She lives with one of her daughters who is 28 years old. She has really struggled with getting the right healthcare and her insurance took a long time to approve her biologic treatment only to tell her they wouldn’t cover it. She really appreciates her rheumatologist, especially the fact that one of their nurses helped Iris find a foundation to help cover part of her medication costs.

Unfortunately, the pain killer she is given in the U.S. doesn’t help enough with her pain and she still struggles to fall asleep. One day she asked her father-in-law if she could try some of the ointment that he used for pain that he bought in Mexico. At first, Iris’s husband went to Mexico to get it for her under his father’s prescription, but eventually Iris had to go and get a prescription for herself. She goes to Mexico about twice a year and tries to stock up on everything she needs while she’s there. She buys about 6 jars of the pain ointment at a time, at $18 a jar. She has searched online and asked her doctor and unfortunately cannot find the ointment sold in the United States so she believes she will be buying it in Mexico for as long as she lives. She is really grateful for this ointment because she can finally get some relief and sleep. On top of the ointment, Iris also gets teas for weight loss, stress, and sleep at a pharmacy her friend takes her to and an antibacterial cream.

Iris’s Primary care physician shares her Hispanic heritage, and she feels comfortable telling him about the items she gets in Mexico. Her rheumatologist however has been very judgmental in the past, getting angry at Iris for going to a “third world country” where she knows she can get sick. This makes Iris hide the fact that she uses this ointment from Mexico and risks it because of the relief she feels. Iris did stand up to her rheumatologist when she requested Iris never even visit Mexico, explaining how important her spiritual retreats are for her spiritual and mental health.

Iris drives about 3 hours to the border and is always on guard. She keeps her money in 2 separate bags and in her bra to prevent being robbed. She also uses Mexican pesos when she can to not call attention to her as a tourist. While she is happy to go on her spiritual retreats and stock up on medications, Iris has made a promise to God and her mother to never get surgery done in Mexico again after a bad experience visiting the dentist about 6 years ago. After getting a quote from her dentist in the states, Iris thought she would never be able to afford dental care, but it was important to her, so she started saving. One day, a friend of hers told her how cheap she could get dental care in Mexico. Iris had a spiritual retreat coming up in Guadalajara, so she decided to compare prices. When she saw the price difference, she planned to leave a few days early for her retreat to get her tooth pulled in Mexico. During the procedure, her tooth began bleeding uncontrollably so the dentist brought in a specialist. Iris was waking up when the specialist asked if she had Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). The issue was that the dentists didn’t know about Iris's diagnosis and tooth pulling requires a special procedure if you have RA. During the chaos, Iris prayed to God to get her through it and promised she would never get procedures done in Mexico again. Iris blames herself for not finding the right doctor. She feels like sometimes she is forced to look elsewhere because she can’t afford what she needs in the U.S.

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