If you are thinking of doing your cancer treatment at the Issels Medical Center in Tijuana, Mexico, here is a brief description of one experience written by one of our patients and their companion to pass on to you so you will know what to expect. This was shared with us by Rita Possehl and Teryl Springstead.
We received one pleasant surprise after another in our visit to the Issels Medical Center in Tijuana, Mexico. Here’s what to expect when you go for immunotherapy for cancer treatment.
Medical Visits and Comfort:
Rita and I have spent time visiting and being patients in various hospitals. Usually, all night long, nurses wake patients to check their blood pressure or check something. At the Issels Medical Center Hospital in Tijuana they come into the room around 7:30 AM or 8:00 AM in the morning to take blood pressure; they take the last blood pressure at around 9:30 PM or 10:00 PM and then leave the door shut so you can SLEEP all night long.
As you can see, food is served FREQUENTLY. Between all of the meals and snacks, and all of the friendly visits and changing of Rita’s bed once day and bringing fresh towels, we also got the daily visits from Dr. Lara and sometimes Dr. Arzola Cruz (we couldn’t meet with Dr. Arce because she had a cold). Sometimes these visits were more than once a day. With the visits and the other medical things that went on, we BARELY had time to go for our normal 45-minute to 1-hour walk each day. Some days we could walk for only 15 or 20 minutes.
They bring all of the bottled water you can drink.
As we left the hospital to return home, they even packed us a lunch that they were sure would not be a problem getting across the border. They were right. In many ways we felt pampered and taken care of.
Meal and Snack Information:
Here’s the schedule we followed.
8:00 to 8:30 AM – Breakfast for patient and companion
11:00 AM – Protein drink for patient
1:00 to 1:30 PM – Lunch for patient and companion (usually the largest meal of the day).
4:00 PM – Snack for patient only.
6:00 to 6:30 PM – Dinner.
8:00 PM – Snack for patient.
The impression we’d had was that the companion would receive standard hospital food with no choice as to what to eat. The main difference as explained to us was that the food for the patient was organized and the food for the companion was not.
Everything we ate tasted so fresh, and most of it was DELICIOUS. Evidently they get their fruit and veggies from a nearby farmers’ market. We wrote several rave reviews of the food.
At first I (the companion) decided to eat a vegan diet so as not to have Rita experience envy if meat was served. The portions were small compared to what I was used to. For the first two or three days I was hungry most of the time. I had even considered ordering food from the cafeteria in the other building where the doctors have offices. But signs all over the hospital indicated that we were not allowed to bring food into the hospital, not even from there.
Between the receptionist and the translator, they arranged to add some dairy AND to make my portions larger. But what really blew our minds was that a nurse told us that, within reason, we could order food for the companion to be delivered to the room at almost any time of day! When they realized that I was still hungry they brought me wonderful mushroom sandwiches around 9:00 PM at night!
Also, we’d had the impression that the companion’s food preferences would not be considered. Happily that was untrue. The nutritionist took careful notes. 95% of the time BOTH of our requests for omissions were honored.
Each dish we received was covered TIGHTLY with food wrap. That not only kept it warmer but protected it from germs. They took the time to serve the food in creative and artistic ways.
The “public relations” department will lend patients DVDs to watch on their big-screen TVs. There is no charge. We borrowed two but had time to watch only one. They will also arrange outings for which one pays. We can’t imagine when a patient would have TIME for outings!
The staff was warm and friendly. But there were so MANY. We began writing down names and brief specialty descriptions. When we reached 21, we gave up keeping track. They all wear name tags and announce themselves as they walk into the room.
Leaving the Hospital Grounds:
We were nervous, at first, about walking outside the hospital grounds. But we did so nearly every day. The receptionist printed out a map and marked it with a yellow highlighter to show us where it was safe to walk. We experienced no incidents. We were surprised when crossing the street. A flashing red hand means it’s OK to go ahead and walk. Some irritated motorists waved us on until we realized what was going on.
Personal Effects Storage and Room:
Storage is on one wall between the door to the room and the door to the bathroom. It’s in a cluster with 3 levels
A. High. Unless you are 6′ 6″ tall, don’t bring much with you. They do NOT have a dresser as such. Our room had some storage cabinets that were so high we would have needed a ladder to reach them. I put our two suitcases up there but then could no longer reach the one in the back. Our receptionist told us about the clothes hanger trick for pulling it toward the front and then catching each case as it falls down.
B. Low: Three built-in storage drawers required bending over, close to the floor. Some patients may have a difficult time with that.
C. Middle height storage was limited because of the TV and DVD player.
D. NARROW closet held 8 to 10 hangers worth of clothes at the maximum. Initially our closet had only 3 hangers. We later learned that you are expected to bring one set of clothes and send the rest of your time in pajamas! But we asked a very helpful young man to bring us more hangers.
E. Next to the hospital bed is a night stand. It has a top, a small drawer, and 2 or 3 shelves inside a cabinet underneath the drawer. But they almost always have a stand with wheels in front of it for holding drips for IVs. So, it’s difficult to access that night stand in the daytime.
F. At our request a helpful young man also brought us an extra rolling table, the kind they put over the patient’s hospital bed. That was great. I could use it as a desk for my laptop and to hold my meals on a tray when we ate.
H. The room had a safe similar to those in hotels. We appreciated the fact that it was low enough so that someone with a wheelchair could use it. But we set a blanket on the floor and got down on our knees to use it to save our backs.
I. Cot/Sleeper Bed: when we read that there would be a cot for the companion, we were concerned. It’s actually a couch with a two-layer foam pad on top. The slanted back cushions are lightweight and easy to remove. The first night we were there we kept wondering if someone would make the couch into a bed. After we asked they brought some sheets, pillows, and blanket.
My goodness that room was clean and it was cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. We were puzzled when, after a walk, we returned more than once to find that the toilet seat had been cleaned with a chlorinated solution that was left on the seat with the top down. In other words, when you lifted up that seat cover the seat itself was wet. We learned to check for that and wipe it off before sitting on the seat.
Each room has individual AC, heat, and fan that occupants control. When we arrived we said, ‘We guess there isn’t any fresh air.” To our pleasant surprise there was a two-inch deep, screened opening under (yes, under) each window. The screened portion faced DOWN so no rain could fall inside the room even if the vent were left open. The weather was mostly cloudy, drizzly, and cool. We ended up using ONLY the ventilation most of the time. We loved it and knew it would also be better for our health.
The room itself was larger than we’d expected but with Spartan furnishings. There was a big recliner next to the narrow couch/bed. Other than the bed, the night stand, and the built-ins, that was it. The bathroom was surprisingly large and good-looking.
The hospital has a link on its website to the US Customs and Border patrol website. We were nervous about how the vaccine would come back into the USA. They put it in little vials. Those vials–and some terrific, long-lasting blue ice go into a little red soft-cloth cooler. The cooler is about 6 inches by 6 inches by 6 inches square with a strap for carrying. The cooler sits prominently displayed in the middle of the back seat of the van that drives you across the border. NO PROBLEMS with border patrol.
The things that stand out most in our minds are the warm, friendly staff first and the wholesome, delicious food second.
We would recommend that hospital to other medical tourists.
Thank You Message from a Patient
We received this message from another patient, Ana Rosa Peterson, and we are reprinting this here with her permission.
Dear Mrs. Issels
Now that I have been back home for some days and have settled in, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you very much for all your help. Since the first time I spoke with you on the phone, I felt you sincerely wanted to help me and that immediately made my family and I more at ease in a most difficult time I don’t have words to express my gratitude to you for allowing me to take part in your health program I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. The doctors and all the staff in Los Angeles Hospital were very warm and knowledgeable. Thank you.
My transition to Santa Barbara was very smooth. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Issels and Dr. Kim. They helped me to better understand how to monitor the cancer, what to look for, and most importantly what to do to reverse it! I am very hopeful. Some of the IV treatments in SB were a little harder than what I thought especially because my veins were not cooperating, however the nurses were very dedicated, patient, and warm, always very ready and determined to help each one of us get what we needed. Truly, a level of professionalism I have never seen. And one I will always be grateful for.
I’m happy to say my experience with Issels was a positive and pleasant one. I was very overwhelmed and touched by all the kindness shown to me. On my family’s behalf and mine I would like to express our heartfelt thanks to you, Dr. Issels, and all your wonderful staff. It is the wonderful actions of others that help us to keep going.
Ana Rosa Peterson