My Journey Through Tijuana for the Best Surgery $2,000 Can Buy
Orthopedic surgery would have bankrupted us in the United States. So we went to Mexico instead.
“Holy shit,” my husband said when he saw the doctor’s son pull over and park his car next to a small, concrete building in the neighborhood of Nueva Tijuana. The exterior paint of the clinic was peeling and there were bars on the windows. We parked and stared at the clinic silently without getting out of the truck. I’d hoped $2,000 for orthopedic surgery was going to buy us something a little nicer than this.
Five days earlier, Aaron and I drove the half-hour from our rental home in the Mexican beach community of Rosarito to Tijuana’s Zona Río to see what we could do about his ankle, which was broken in two places after a hard landing off of a step in the house. We pulled up to Hospital Angeles, which has a reputation among American tourists for being the best private hospital in the city. Valets greeted us in the parking lot. They let Aaron wait in our car by the entrance so he wouldn’t have to put any further strain on his injury. I hurried inside to see how soon I would be able to schedule an appointment with a doctor. Neither of us had health insurance.
We’d been living in Rosarito for two months. I was working as a freelance writer, and Aaron was an independent contractor in construction and roofing sales. For most of his adult life, Aaron didn’t have health insurance, instead paying cash when he got sick and using superglue to repair injuries that would have otherwise required stitches — a sort of DIY version of a procedure doctors actually do. The last time I shopped for health insurance was in 2017 when we were living in Texas. The cheapest plan I could find on the ACA marketplace cost around $700 a month — a significant bump from the $200 a month we’d paid when I’d had a staff job at a newspaper. The plan had poor reviews on HealthCare.gov and didn’t include the good hospital just a few miles from our home, where I would want to go in an emergency. I felt like I was about to set our money on fire. So we decided to go without insurance, especially since we were thinking about leaving Texas to take advantage of our flexible work situations.