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  • Aminata Nyara Kamara

Health Diaries: Isabela’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.

Health Diaries: Isabela's Journey; Job Title: Nursery school teacher; Family Size: Married with no kids at home; Education Level: Some college; Location: McAllen, TX; Services and Goods Bought: Prescription drugs, urgent care, and primary care; Annual Expenditure in Mexico for Healthcare: $85

Isabela, who is married and in her mid-forties, has worked for several years as a preschool teacher in her community. She lives with her husband in a small home in a border town near McAllen, Texas. Her employment has been uncertain since the beginning of the pandemic as many parents have taken their children out of school and the classrooms are not always at capacity.


Isabela has had health insurance for the past year and was attempting to use it regularly until bills arrived at her home. She was confused at this because she believed her health insurance paid for physical therapy appointments she had been attending. However, after Isabela learned that a sizable deductible had to be paid before she received coverage, she stopped going.


Isabela is diabetic and sleeps in a recliner each night due to the pain in her knees. The chronic pain is so bad she cannot sleep lying flat. She cites a trip-and-fall accident as the reason for her pain but feels as though the resulting injury was exacerbated by her diabetes—Isabela’s legs were severely swollen the morning after. Her doctor told her that she would need surgery to fix her knees, but she was unable to qualify for the surgery unless she completed physical therapy first. Without completing the physical therapy treatment plan, she had no hope of gaining access to her insurance coverage for the surgery.


Isabela visits Mexico to obtain pain medication for her knees while she tries to figure out what to do next. She sometimes travels with her cousin who also buys medication there. They often stop for food, pedicures, and small souvenirs. Traveling ten minutes by car, across the bridge into Mexico, for pain medication and injections seems well worth the trouble to Isabela, as they give her significant relief. On other occasions, she travels to Mexico with her husband who purchases allergy medication. She is aware of the violence in the area in recent months but stays on a main street right across the bridge to avoid issues.


Isabela hopes that one day she will be able to have the surgery she needs on her knees but right now she is letting the time pass. She imagines that, at some point, she will be able to sleep in her own bed without experiencing any pain and that she will be able to stop taking sleeping pills. Until then, however, Mexico is a convenient destination for some temporary pain relief, good food, and quality time with her family.

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