Friday, April 24, 2015

Save a life or save a limb

Isla Mujeres Hyperbaric Chamber
The Hollywood A-list actors have a big secret. It is a hyperbaric chamber, normally used for saving the life of a diver, or a lobster fisherman who has been too deep under water, for too long, resulting in decompression sickness.
For years we have walked past the local hyperbaric chamber located slightly behind the health clinic and beside the new public washrooms in centro. The unassuming building has an abandoned feel to it, and we never give it much thought. Recently when chatting with local friends, Sue Lo and Len Sacks, we discovered that Len was undergoing a series of treatments for a shattered humerus bone, that involved twenty visits to the local facility. “Really? How does that work?” I asked.
Unassuming exterior of the building
Called hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) it is used by many medical facilities including the Mayo Clinic in New York. The increase in barometric pressure squeezes the oxygen molecules to allow more oxygen to enter the blood stream, and increasing the healing ability of the body. Sue explained Len's orthopaedic surgeon in Mérida prescribed the sessions to speed the healing of his bone from an accident a few years ago. Patients with diabetes, or who have recently had radiation treatments also benefit from the therapy, allowing their skin lesions to heal over.
Simulating diving pressures
With each treatment the patient enters the chamber and remains inside for quite some time. First the pressure is slowly increased to mimic being the equivalent of 45 five feet under water. Then for thirty minutes he or she is given oxygen, then five minutes of regular air. This is repeated twice more; thirty minutes of oxygen and five minutes of air. The final time the barometric pressure is slowly decreased back to normal atmospheric readings. Len will do this for five days on, and one day off for until he completes his twenty treatments; pressures and times vary according to a patient's complication.
Len - reading to pass the time
Len is currently sharing the chamber with a young man from Cancun who has a broken leg, and a local fisherman who was diving at 120 feet of depth for a long period. I took a peek through the porthole into the chamber. Len was reading a book, the other two guys were just relaxing. They are in communication via a two-way radio channel with the operator of the unit. There is also an internal camera for monitoring during emergency situations such as when the fisherman was first brought to the unit.
Operation of the local hyperbaric chamber, including wages, is funded by the fishing co-operatives with government assistance for the utilities. At times when the fishing season is slow, or the lobster season is closed the funding is sparse or non-existent. The unit is supervised by long-time resident of Isla Mujeres, Rosember de Jesus Dzul Ochoa. He grew up on Isla, continued his education for eighteen months in Chetumal, before spending four years at the UNAM in Mexico City. (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico).
Inside the chamber - photo by Sue Lo
Rosember has worked with hyperbaric chambers for fourteen years, six of those on Isla. Part of his studies involved oceanography plus a week of studies in Cuba, sponsored by Pemex and the university, for specialized training. He says he knew when he was still in high school that this was the career that he wanted. Rosember lives on Isla with his wife and two young daughters. He really enjoys his work, helping out lobster fishermen, divers, and other patients. All of his training upgrades are paid for out of his own pocket. Starting in July 2016 Rosember will begin training local fishermen on the operation of the unit, allowing him to not be on call 24/7.

Rosember Dzul Ochoa 
When asked approximately how much oxygen is used for the procedures, Rosember replied about one and a half tanks, depending on how rapidly or deeply the patients are breathing. These are not your standard recreational-diver sized tanks. They are much larger, standing about five feet tall, and costing about $1425.00 pesos per tank to refill.
The interesting side effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a reduction in skin wrinkles for a short period of time! Now you know Hollywood's big secret. Of course if you live on Isla, the high humidity also significantly reduces skin wrinkles without spending hours in a hyperbaric chamber!
On a positive note, the young man who is currently undergoing treatments for a leg fracture is improving. For two years his leg fracture would not heal. The x-rays now show his leg is on the mend.  How fortunate that we have the availability of the hyperbaric chamber and a trained operator, Rosember Dzul Ochoa, to save lives and limbs.
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie


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Friday, April 17, 2015

Yesterday's News is Today's New Business

Sandra Herrera - new store on Juarez north of Elements
Who'd have thought - your morning newspaper and coffee could be turned into art.
What started as method to learn English, reading discarded newspapers from the hotel where her papa worked, has turned into a business for Sandra Herrera. Eight years ago she moved to Isla Mujeres from the silver town of Taxco in the state of Guerrero. 
Soon her sister Monica followed, then her dad, and finally she returned to Taxco to bring her mom and younger brother to the island.
Sandra working on a new item (from her photo collection)
Working at a local café, Rooster on the Go, her boss urged her to learn English. She attended the English School on Isla for a year and a half, and diligently read the newspapers. Slowly, slowly she learned to understand, and then speak the language. And then her life took a funny little twist. She made a small basket out of the discarded newspapers as a gift for a customer at the coffee shop. The recipient was delighted: “It's beautiful! Why don't you make more of these?” Using glue to bind the rolled paper, and coffee to varnish the finished products she created more baskets to sell at the café.
January 2012 Artist Fair at original Barlito's location
Then when approached by Brad and Tiffany Wareing of Barlito's to participate in their first Artist's Fair, Sandra shyly agreed to display her baskets. She was pleasantly surprised when her creations sold at the event. Sandra agreed to participate in the second show as a way to practice her English. A year ago when the Artist Fair changed locations from the street corner in front of Barlito's to the larger municipal plaza, Sandra continued to participate, gaining more confidence and selling more of her art work.
Sandra's new store on Juarez
Recently Sandra decided to take the plunge, opening her own store on Juarez just north of Elements of the Island. She said the scariest part of being a new business owner is keeping up with the demand for new creations, and special orders. 
Even though discarded newspapers are plentiful on the island, she still needs a steady supply of clean papers to keep up. Sandra smiled as she recounted one incident - she was checking various nearby garbage cans for newspapers when a customer from the café recognized her. She laughed with embarrassment, felling a bit foolish at being caught with her hands in the garbage can. If you happen to have newspapers that you are throwing out, why not drop them off at her store and check out her newest creations.
Materials for making baskets (photo by Sandra)
Sandra is normally at her store Monday to Friday from 10:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening, unless she is in Cancun buying supplies.  On weekends she works at Rooster on the Go, situated on the street behind the Artisan's Market near Poc Na. The owners are very supportive of her creativity.
Sandra at a recent Artist's Fair 

When the Artist Fair resumes in the fall, you will find Sandra set up at the municipal plaza with her beautiful creations and a gorgeous welcoming smile. Be sure to stop and say hello. She makes some pretty cool stuff!
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie


My favourite - a purse made of paper! (photo by Sandra)







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Friday, April 10, 2015

Tropical creepy crawlies

Sign  - low to the ground so that dogs and cats can read it
Scorpions, spiders, ssssnakes and a lonely crocodile – these are some of the creepy crawlies that call Isla Mujeres, home.
A recent post on a community information FaceBook page tweaked our interest. 
A tourist was aghast at finding a scorpion in a house that they were renting on Isla. The family left the island because they were terrified of scorpions. Someone quipped that maybe they should go back north if they wanted to avoid nasty critters. Well, unless you are in the far-frozen north, up near where Santa Claus lives, that won't work either. 
Our black scorpions look much skinnier than this one
Scorpions are found in every country from the tip of South America to central British Columbia Canada, from Australia north to France, Spain, and across all of Europe and China. There are more countries where they do live, than countries where they don't live. You can run but you can't hide.

Black Widow & Brown Recluse spiders
And spiders, they live in almost every habitat on the earth. The only places where there are no spiders are the north and south polar regions, the top of highest mountains and in the oceans. A few spider species have even adapted to living in the rock and coral crevices of the intertidal zone.


A Scorpion-Hunting Snake, looks like the snakes on Isla
Well then what about snakes? The 2900 species of snakes are found throughout the world except for Antarctica, plus the islands of Greenland, Ireland, Iceland and New Zealand. They live in forests, prairies, grasslands, and several species live in lakes, rivers and along the ocean shorelines. The two types of snakes that I have heard about on Isla are both non-poisonous, including a native boa constrictor that typically is not a concern to humans – small pets maybe, but not people.

Scorpion habitat - National Geographic map
As for your chances of dying from a bite or sting? According to the internet statistics for just the USA, out of 140,000 reported snake bites per year about 5 people die. 
Other stats include about 11 people a year die from scorpions stings, and one or two a year from spiders. The death rate for car crashes on the other hand is 3297 people per day in the USA.

Common sign on golf courses in southern BC Canada
For the most part these critters are more afraid of you than you of them. They will scoot, slither and crawl away to avoid confrontation with predators and humans. Don't get me wrong, some of these guys can be downright nasty if they do bite or sting especially if you are allergic to their toxins. If you do have a close encounter of the bad kind and are having an adverse reaction, you should get to a medical clinic as soon as possible. Knowing what bit you will be a big help in getting the proper treatment.
So, how can you avoid these bad guys? If we are working outside, we always try to wear a pair of gloves and never put our hands into crevices where we can't see what we are touching - that includes gopher holes on golf courses!
Lonely fourteen-foot crocodile - escaped for one day
Before putting on a pair of shoes we give them a vigorous shake to dislodge unwanted visitors. Give them some warning you are headed their way and they will scurry off in the opposite direction.
Usually we find one or two scorpions in our courtyard every year. Since my first encounter with a scorpion in southern France in 1991, I have perfected a live-capture method. 
I place a wide-mouthed drinking glass over the critter, and then slip a piece of paper or thin cardboard underneath. This traps the scorpion or spider inside the glass. I then walk over to an empty lot and set it free. Killing them just doesn't work for me.
Crowd of on-lookers watching escaped crocodile
Stepping on a nest of fire ants – now that can be very unpleasant. These tiny guys are aggressive, and like to build nests underground. The nest entrances are usually an inch or two across, and hard to see, until you step on it. Then look out! The soldiers will swarm your legs biting as they travel upwards. I am allergic to their venom, and must apply ice packs, plus take an antihistamine as soon as possible. The bites take about two weeks to disappear.
Crocodile wranglers - captured and returned to its habitat
But what about that lonely crocodile you ask? He (or is it a she?) lives in the swampy lake at the old Pirate Mundaca Hacienda located in the middle of the island. Two years ago during a particularly rainy October it made a break for freedom, scooting down the road past the big church, right on by the new cemetery, and into the ocean.
Free at last! Except someone reported its breakout. Soon there was a gaggle of curious people, the police, the marines toting big guns, and a boat load of fishermen chasing the reptile while it swam towards Playa Norte and a buffet of tasty pale tourists. It swam so quickly past our house I couldn't get a decent photo, so I hopped into the golf cart and drove ahead of the swarm of on-lookers. Eventually the crocodile was netted in the bay near centro, and returned to the lake at the hacienda. Occasionally I wonder, what exactly does that crocodile feed on, all by itself in that not-overly large lake?
Crocodile habitat at the Pirate Mundaca Hacienda
So you see, we do have lots of interesting and somewhat dangerous things living on Isla, but changing your vacation plans just to avoid the creepy crawlies seems like an over-reaction. 
Come back! Give us another chance, you'll love it here.
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie


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Friday, April 3, 2015

A dog's eye view of Isla

Sparky tells his story about Isla
Hi! My name is Sparky, and I thought you might be interested in a tour of Isla, from my point of view. 
Oh sure, my humans are always taking pretty pictures of what they see, but I think it's time to show you my island, Isla Mujeres, or as I call it: La Isla de los Perros.


Sparky and his driver
I'll start my introducing you to some of my friends, and then we'll explore my favourite places in my golf cart. Yup! It's my golf cart. Well, that's what I tell my friends. 
Okay, maybe it's not really my golf cart. We get to use it when it when other family members don't need it, and besides, dogs can't own vehicles. I won't tell if you don't tell. It will be our little secret. Okay? Great!

Bowser, Sombra & Sparky on the beach near our house
My closest friend is my housemate Thomas the Cat.  
He's pretty famous. He has his own book written about him, but I know there is a second book being created that will star both Thomas and me. 
That's right! I'm going to be famous too, soon, very soon.  I think it is going to be called: The Adventures of Thomas, Sparky and the Pirate. Pretty cool, don't you think?  My other two good friends are Sombra and Bowser.  They both live quite close to my house.  We have lots of fun playing together.
Sparky and his girlfriend Lola at Playa Norte
Since I adopted my people last year I have had lots of fun experiences. Every day I swim in the ocean. We used to go early in the morning to Playa Norte so that I could have a swim without worrying about big waves slapping me in the face. I don't like getting salt water in my eyes. And sometimes at the beach I would meet other dogs who were walking with their humans. We would have a bit of fun playing in the water before we went off in separate directions. However, the rules have changed. (I don't like rules. They ruin a dog's fun.)
Running in mud is almost as much fun as swimming
All the signs posted at Playa Norte have that weird symbol – a circle with a red slash through a picture of a dog. Apparently it means no dogs allowed. But the words underneath say that if my people keeps me on a leash, and picks up my – um, poop, I can go to the beach. But whenever we try to go for a swim we meet up with all sorts of cranky folks who don't want me there – so we have found other places I can play.

Cliffs at Punta Sur
My second favourite thing to do is run. My humans sometimes drive me in my golf cart to Punta Sur – at the southern end of the island. There is a trail that follows the tops of the cliffs, where I can run as fast as I want and I won't bother anyone. The only thing is I have to remember not to get too close to the edge of the cliffs, because somethings things break off and slide a long, long way down to the deep water. I wouldn't want that to happen to me. I can swim, but the waves at Punta Sur are really big, and sometimes there are huge sea turtles or dolphins swimming there. Scary!
 Carnitas Zinapecuaro - tasty pork, and fresh juice
When my people take me out in the golf cart I like to hang my nose out over the edge and let my Spaniel-type ears flap in the cool breeze. It's a great way to see and smell all the interesting sights on the island. 
Just up the street from our house is one of my favourite stops. It's the place where they sell cooked pork. My human sometimes stops on our way home and buys a small package of the delicious meat. If I am really really good, she will give me a little piece as a treat. I can also woof at other dogs as we pass, letting them know that I'm out in my golf cart. Look at me! Some of the dogs get jealous, and chase us, barking loudly. I don't let it bother me. I just look at them running along, tongues hanging out and think, lucky, lucky me.
Lucky, lucky me!
Besides the golf cart, did I mention that we owned a boat? Well, we shared it with other people but I think it really was my boat. Boats are as much fun as golf carts, you get to see different parts of the island, and you can go swimming anywhere you want. No rules! 
One day we traveled around the island. We saw Playa Norte, Playa Media Luna the turtle release beach, our house, Punta Sur, Garrafon Reef Park, Playa Indio, and then motored back to the marina in Makax Lagoon. 
We got quite wet when the waves splashed us, but it sure was fun.


Sunset cocktails at Ballyhoo
Another place I like to visit is the corral on the south-west side of the island – Isla Mujeres Horseback Riding. There are a bunch of pretty horses that people pay to ride, which, I guess, is interesting if you are a human. 
I am more interested in the chickens. I want to chase them, but I'm not allowed. It's those darn rules again: No chasing chickens! Pfft!


Chillin' at the Soggy Peso Bar & Grill

Another fun activity I enjoy is going out to lunch, or sunset cocktails with my humans. So far I have visited Barlito's @ Marina Paraiso Hotel, Ballyhoo Restaurant, and the Soggy Peso Bar & Grill. 
As long as I am on my leash, well-behaved, and my human picks up my – um, you know, deposits, I am welcome. Some times on hot days I sit right in front of the big fan at the Soggy Peso, and cool down while my people are chilling with a cold beverage.


Roof-top alarm system
Since I have mostly told you about different places on my island, I think I should also mention some of the jobs that we dogs have. We are all watch-dogs, and alarm systems, giving our humans a warning bark if someone comes near the house. 
One really lucky guy, a black and brown German Shepard, works for the Navy. He is in charge of sniffing out drugs that people might try to sneak onto our little island in paradise. He's a very serious guy, and doesn't like to have pictures taken of his face, so I can't show you how good-looking he is. You will just have to take my word for it. 
Camera shy Navy drug dog
There are also two pretty Golden Labradors who guard the Navy airport runway and tower. 
I'm a bit jealous of their important jobs, but then they don't get to ride around in a golf cart so I think I have the better deal.
Anyway, that's my view of Isla Mujeres. If you see me out and about on the island, stop and say hello. I'm very friendly.

Woof, woof, oooooo!  See ya soon!
Sparky (aka The Sparkinator!)

Sparkinator sharing his boat with his lucky humans


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