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.
Living with arthritis during the COVID-19 shutdown was terrifying for Sofia. As a stay-at-home mother of twin boys, Sofia lives in constant dread that her autoimmune disease will worsen one day, and she will be powerless to stop it. She believes that the medication she takes daily is weakening her immune system, contributing to her fear of infection. Once, when Sofia went to the hospital for a spider bite, the medical team informed her that she had a Staph infection that was likely caused by self-medicating with penicillin. This led to fluid buildup in her leg, and she had to undergo two surgeries to address it. Whenever she complains about her inflamed joints, the doctors prescribe her more medication that she doesn't feel helps her symptoms.
Sofia must also take daily medication for a thyroid condition, though she is tired of taking it. She worries that this prescription weakens her immune system as well, and she wishes for just one medication that will cure all of her problems.
During the pandemic, Sofia could not get the COVID-19 vaccine because she would have had to stop taking her regular medication and treatment for six weeks, and the vaccine could cause her conditions to flare up. As a result, she was terrified that she might die if she contracted COVID. She appreciates that, because of COVID, new laws have made her to be eligible for health insurance even while on unemployment—she recently obtained health insurance for the first time through the marketplace.
Since getting insurance, Sofia is now able to see a doctor. During one visit, a nurse at that practice suggested that she obtain some of the medications she takes in Mexico because they are significantly less expensive there than in the United States. This surprised Sofia, as she is unsure about the safety in that, but admits she is fortunate she has the choice. Sofia has researched medications available in Mexico by Googling the name, dose, and any of the three Mexican towns that are a mere 30 minutes from her. She is considering it, but she is concerned that the medicine in Mexico may be of lesser quality than that in the United States and, by extension, of the potential consequences of taking inferior medication, especially given her conditions.
Sofia grew up going to Mexico for everything from dental care to penicillin, and she admits there was a point where she strongly believed one couldn’t trust the doctors in the U.S.—she believed that doctors in Mexico are better because you feel healthier much quicker. When she found out she had an autoimmune disease and that her children have asthma, however, her opinion changed. She still buys some pain medications in Mexico but doesn’t want to risk taking “stronger ones” due to her illness.
Sofia does still travel to Mexico for things such as herbal teas, antibiotics, penicillin, and VapoRub. She explains that “hard-core Mexicans” are very proud of their heritage and often believe everything from Mexico is better. She was raised with that mindset and doesn’t think that it will ever completely change. But, while some of her beliefs have adapted, Sofia still takes comfort in the traditions involving tea and having antibiotics on hand, just in case.