Editor’s Note February 26, 2016:
The original article named the wrong hospital. After that hospital contacted us we made contact with the victim and he confirmed the error. The name of the hospital has been removed. We thank everyone that helped in getting the story correct and apologize for the error.
By Barbara H. Shaw
For many years Dennis Bauer has swum several times a week off the beach at Guayabitos. “I love to swim,” says Bauer (79) a former US Air Force man with a home in Las Vegas. As a young man, he was a lifeguard and after hearing of far too many non-swimmers losing their lives in the ocean here he helped organize the beach patrols, under the auspices of the Guayabitos hotel owners. That team now saves dozens of lives each year in Jaltamba Bay. “The hotel folks stepped right up on that one,” he says, his Mexican wife Margarita looking on.
Ironically, when he needed it most, there was nobody on duty.
Friday morning, January 15, he was swimming when he heard a boat engine roar to life, coming off the beach, before 8:00 a.m. He looked up to see a launch racing at him, it’s front end high out of the water. Dennis waved and screemed, afraid to guess which way the boat might swerve. Then he dove and felt something hit his ribs. “It was a huge impact, then a feeling like sandpaper.” He rose and saw the boat coming at him, in reverse. The boatman cried out, “I didn’t see you! Are you all right?” Then he backed over his victim. The prop cut deep into Dennis’s leg. With the new pain, the water was red. The leg wound and the cut on his back were bleeding profusely.
He says, “If I hadn’t dived when I did the prop would have hit my head. I’d be dead.”
From the point of impact, his memory is not clear. Apparently the boatman went to get help, came back and they got the victim into the boat and soon laid him out on the beach. People gathered around. Blood flowed onto the sand. The ambulance arrived promptly and took him to the Real Nayar Hospital in La Peñita. There, they took X-rays and Dr. Rentería examined him. Dennis needed several units of blood, as soon as possible. From what the doctor saw in an X-ray, he suspected that the broken rib had caused lung damage. This was a situation beyond the capacity of local facilities.
Meanwhile, a policewoman who barely spoke English appeared. “She tried to get a statement when I was barely conscious.” Dennis was confused, and in intense pain. The woman kept demanding that he speak with her in the midst of the chaos at Real Nayar.
Here, small hospitals, keep no blood in storage and doctors depend on relatives to donate. There was no time for that, nor relatives available. Dennis’ wife Margarita had arrived and was in a panic, aware that this was a very serious accident. Back into the ambulance, and they rushed to the hospital in Puerto Vallarta. The hospital in San Pancho was on strike.
The hospital saved me,” says Dennis. “They did a great job and I’m grateful to be alive.” There, Dr. Rodriguez repaired the underlying muscles and tissue and put in dozens of stitches. His assistants have the before and after photos. Dennis’ body is bandaged and still in much pain. There is some kidney damage. Margarita waited almost six hours to hear the outcome of the four-hour surgery.
Thirty-six hours after he was admitted, Margarita was presented with a bill for $180,000 pesos, or $10,000 US. They wanted it now, and only in American funds. Margarita was able to procure the maximum daily withdrawal from her bank at home, just $5,000 US. She was told US Medicare would not pay, and that Dennis could not be released until they came up with all the money. She begged them to let him go home with her, partly so he would not run up an even higher bill. “They were adamant that nobody was leaving until they were paid,” says Dennis.
When the hospital learned she planned to take her husband while owing more, three staff members restrained Margarita and threatened to have her jailed until the bill was paid in full. At that point, Dr. Rodriguez stepped up and said he would waive his own fee of $80,000 pesos, and trust the Bauers to pay him when they could and what they could. Margarita was released and the two headed for home.
The following Tuesday, the pair were at home in Guayabitos, Dennis recovering from a bad night of near constant pain. He talked about the horrible nightmares that had haunted him in previous nights. “I just can’t stop thinking about it,” he said, shaking his head slowly.
Margarita talked about the experience and her anger. “If Dr. Rodriguez had not waived his fee I couldn’t have left. He saved my husband. I’ll pay him when I can.” She was grateful to the doctor. And she was furious about being physically restrained by staff determined to get the money. She was also angry at the lack of response by local police, who refused to investigate or to give her a copy of the accident report. The local Marines may have some jurisdiction over events on the water but if she does not get a proper response she is determined to take the matter to higher-level officials.
In a conversation with local fishermen and the leader of their insurance cooperative, the story is that Dennis was swimming in an area designated for boats, not for swimmers. The signs are clearly posted on the beach and so their insurance will not cover any of his expenses. The men offered sympathy but said they have very little in their treasury, which pays the insurance for all boatmen. They and the police apparently know the man who hit him but so far no local person has provided a name.
The Bauers had not yet contacted the US consulate, nor had they learned whether or not US Medicare, the healthcare plan for those over 65, would cover bills submitted. Based on the experience of other Americans, it is likely most of it will be repaid some time after they present a copy of the detailed bill.
But Margarita is still mad. “I imagine the guy who did it, at peace, sipping a beer and enjoying his life, hoping my husband is dead so he has nothing to worry about. I just want justice. He should not get off without consequences. He was going at top speed, not paying any attention.” Continued costs of medications and wound care will add to expenses.
If anyone has photos or witnessed the events of Friday, January 15, on the beach, please contact Mrs. Bauer at: firstname.lastname@example.org.