Rick and I are on high alert. We’ve been driving for three solid days on this endless gray highway. The detour sign is missing. A truck driver, using hand signals, shows us which lane to take. “Look out,” I shout, pointing straight ahead. Traffic is diverted into our oncoming lane. We proceed on faith.
“Good grief, we’re on the wrong side of the double yellow line.” I warn.
“Yeah, I see that.” Rick looks around, double-checking the direction of the traffic flow.
We share the highway with 18-wheelers. Dirt graders and construction crews repair miles of deep ruts and pot holes. Flaggers in orange-vests stand under the sizzling sun, listlessly sweeping their flags side to side. Tomorrow, we plan to cross the border to the States. I’m so ready for a decent WiFi connection.
Our eyes scour the road for neck-snapping topes (speed bumps). We hit an unmarked hump. “Ouch, I just bit my tongue,” I stammer. “It’s hard to believe this is better than booking a flight to San Diego and renting a car.”
“With your shoulder surgery, we don’t know how long we’d be staying in San Diego. Our return trip needs to be a flexible as possible,” Rick replies.
“Yeah, I know.” I continue keeping a watchful eye.
Goats munch tall grass and wander freely next to the road. Old-west style horseback riders with dogs driving cattle alongside the highway. I’m momentarily caught in time-warp jump to the past.
Toward the afternoon, an eight legged VW Bug catches my eye.
Weeks later, Kevin, (my son) sees the photograph and comments, “Count the legs, Mom, it’s a VW spider, not a VW bug.”
We spend our last night in a comfortable motel and hit the road early. We are at the Mexican/Arizona border crossing by nine.
We pull up to the booth and Rick presents our passports to the US Customs agent. He swipes our books and studies the text on his terminal. The agent turns to Rick and points to a carport parking structure, “Please drive to secondary inspection, sir.”
We pull into a parking space and are met by an Agricultural Inspector. She looks in the back seat and sees our cooler. “Sir, would you please open that?”
Rick gets out of the car and opens the back door. He leans in, slides the zipper around the cooler’s lid, and opens the top. Sitting proud and in clear view are six perfect crisp cold Washington Delicious apples. Each officially stamped with the US fruit sticker.
“Sir, you must surrender the apples.”
‘Why?” Rick asks.
“All fruit and vegetables coming from Mexico must be surrendered. There might be bugs on the produce.”
The agent takes the fruit from Rick and tosses them in the garbage. I’m speechless. The agent continues to search for something else to confiscate. Finding nothing, she says. “You may proceed, sir.”
“I hope you enjoy them for lunch,” I mumble.
We stay overnight in Tucson, Arizona. In the morning Rick spots Starbucks; he can’t resist his custom blend caramel macchiato. Filled with caffeine, we head straight for the Navy Lodge on San Diego Naval base. We’ve stayed there several times; it’s our home away from home.
Four days in this car and we’re ready to unwind in our room. We pull up to the base entrance and Rick presents his military ID to gate security. The guard retains Rick’s ID, steps to the front of the car, and looks at the license plate. Returning to the driver’s side window, “Sir where is this car registered?”
“Nayarit, Mexico,” Rick says.
“Sir, the base commander has determined no Mexican plated cars are allowed on base.”
“This is our car, it’s fully insured, and I’ve driven on this base several times over the last two-years, states Rick.”
“I’m sorry, sir. You’ll have to park on the street.” The guard is adamant.
Rick delivers the reasons in legitimate order, “We have reservations at the Navy Lodge. We have luggage, I’m 40 percent disabled, and my wife is schedule for major shoulder surgery. We can’t drag our suitcases up the hill to the lodge. If I park on the street, our car may be vandalized and probably stolen.”
“Sir, you have access to the base. Your Mexican plated car is prohibited,” says the guard. Further questioning reveals a car from any another county had access. The order just applies to Mexican cars.
Rick prevents security from closing the conversation. He directs the guard to call his supervisor.
The guard places the call, and again access to the base is denied.
Rick holds his ground, “Keep going. Go up the chain of command. Call your supervisor’s supervisor.”
Security calls as directed. Again, access is denied. This time, the cell phone is handed to Rick.
Rick takes the phone and describes our situation to the higher-up, “I’m being denied access to the base. I’m 69 years old, 40 percent disabled, and here for my wife’s major shoulder surgery. We have reservations at the Navy Lodge. I’m being told to park on the street where there is no security. Then I’m expected to drag our suitcases through the turnstile gate and up the hill to the Lodge. I cannot do that.”
Rick takes a breath and continues, “If necessary, I’ll sit here until I speak to the base commander.”
“That’s not going to happen, sir. Let me speak to security,” says the person on the phone.
Rick hands the phone back to the security guard at the gate. The guard listens, nods, and closes the phone.
“Sir, you may proceed. Please be sure to display your Navy Lodge registration paperwork on the dash.”
I exhale and take a few deep breaths to calm down. “I’m so relieved you knew how to work the military chain of command. Where would we have stayed?”
“I don’t know,” says Rick.
We drive to the Lodge and Rick checks us into our room. Relieved we a have place to live for the next few weeks, we unload the car and display the parking pass on the rear-view mirror.
In our room, I shift my focus to unpacking and buying groceries at the commissary (military super market).
Housekeeping chores completed, it’s time to email the doctor’s office and tell them we’ve arrived in one piece.
Rats and mice! I can’t connect to the WiFi. One hour on the phone with tech support and the front desk results in two choices. Stay in the room with no WiFi or move to a different room.
“This internet is worse than our little fishing village in Mexico. And we’re on a United States Navy base, for heaven’s sakes,” I grumble as we cram our stuff back in our suitcases and pile our treasures on the luggage cart. To complete our homeless motif, we hang bags of groceries on the end hooks. We drag it all down the hall to a room around the corner.
The next morning, I gather my medical records for my appointment with Dr Valletta. I can’t help but wonder if there will be any complications. One doctor said I wasn’t a good candidate for surgery. Doubts creep into my thoughts. I tie my fears into a tight knot and bury them deep.
Thank goodness my CPM chair was pre-approved by Medicare. A CPM is a Continuous Passive Motion machine with a mechanized arm that slowly moves the shoulder joint. This gentle passive motion is a proven method to restore range of motion; critical to regaining full function.
After our free continental breakfast, we drive to the doctor’s office. I’m greeted with smiles and asked to sign in.
Minutes later, I’m alone, sitting on the exam table waiting for the doctor. My cell phone rings. Someone from the medical equipment rental company is calling to advise me the CPM chair rental is not approved by Medicare.
“What?” I say through clenched teeth. “The rental was approved weeks ago.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s not covered,” says the voice on the other end of the phone.
“I confirmed it several times.”
l slide off the exam table and walk into the hall. I interrupt Rick who is speaking to someone standing behind the counter, then say to no one in particular, “I just got a phone call informing me the CPM machine is not approved and I must pay for it.”
A handsome man with a runners build begins to speak, “Yes, if you want the CPM you must pay for it.” I assume he’s a bookkeeper.
“What do you mean I have to pay for it?” I take a breath and continue, “Your office assured me it was approved by Medicare. I drove four days through Mexico to have my surgery here.” I fixed my eyes on him, daring him to challenge me.
The past week of pent up emotions of fear and frustration surge through me. Days driving on crummy highways; US Inspectors taking my apples; the base denying us access; no WiFi—I massage my pounding temples.
With gentle kind eyes, he says, “It is your responsibility to check with Medicare.”
“That’s crazy, I checked and confirmed with your office. You can’t expect the patient to know the rules of Medicare. I depended on you.” I’m in a blind rage.
The man must finally realize there is no reasoning with me. He turns and consults with someone in the office. Maybe, my argument was confirmed: someone in the office said the chair was approved. Turning back to me, he says, “The company will pay for it.”
Back in the exam room, Rick leans against the wall, arms crossed. “Do you know who you just chewed out?”
“The surgeon who’s operating on you in the morning.”
Just then, the door opens and the “bookkeeper” steps into the room. He extends his hand and says, “Hello, I’m Dr. Valletta.”
CONTINUED IN PART THREE
~~~~~ _/) ~~~~~ _/)~~~~~ _/) ~~~~~
To view the photos in this post and more please click on the Photo tab (above) or click on the camera icon (below).