Subject:  Our TJ Story
Date:  Mon, 19 Nov 2001 13:06:53 -0500
From: "Chuck Needy"
To: <wsmith_AT_waynesmith_DOT_net (Remove the underscores]>

My wife and I live in Wash DC.  Dr. Kuri banded my wife, Karen, this past April 2001.  I went back three weeks later with my sister and niece, who live in Missouri.  I offer the following description of our experiences in hopes that others may find it useful.

 BORDER CROSSING.  On our first trip to Kuri, Wayne Smith was kind enough to pick us up at San Diego airport and drive us to Kuri's office in TJ.  If you have a chance to meet Wayne, you will like him.  If we had to do it on our own, we would have taken a cab to downtown SD ($8.50) or a shuttle bus ($2.25 each) and then gotten onto electric trolley that runs to TJ every 15 minutes ($2 each) to within 100 feet of the border.  You can then walk across (a distance of about six blocks, partly uphill) until you reach the taxicabs.  Better yet, take a bus ($1-2.00 varies) across to the taxicabs.  Then take a taxi to Kuri's office ($6.00 if you confirm price before entering taxi).  It is at 1844 Agua Caliente Blvd., the most heavily used street in TJ.

 Coming back, we saw Kuri in his office for final checkup and then he drove us one mile to the border crossing at San Ysidro (suburb of San Diego).  We only had to walk 300 feet from his car (through immigration checkpoint) to trolley, which is right outside the checkpoint.  Trolley dropped us off downtown SD, just one block from Horton Plaza Mall and lots of hotels.  Had we stayed on trolley a few more stops, we would have found taxis waiting to take us the 7-block distance to SD airport.

 Since Sept 11 attack, however, San Ysidro border crossing has been so slow that people sometimes stand 3 hours in line to walk across.   Kuri now recommends that patients take Mexicoach. (cost $1.25) from downtown TJ to border crossing at nearby Otay.  Diane says that, in Nov 2001, she stood in line there for only 30 minutes.  After crossing on foot, she got back on bus and rode it to San Ysidro, where it stopped near SD trolley.  Because the San Ysidro delay may improve over time, you should ask Kuri's office about current situation if you are planning a return flight.  Incidentally, crossing into Mexico is effortless and has no delay at all.

 DOCTORS.  During Karen's surgery, Kuri was assisted by an anesthesiologist  four doctors.  Wayne actually was invited to observe one surgery, which he described to me.  Wayne says the surgery team generally consists of five people, all five of which are doctors.  Kuri makes four small incisions (about 1/2" long) and one larger incision (about 1" long) for the instruments to enter the body. 

 According to Wayne,  four different people use instruments at  four different openings at one time.  One is a doctor or technician who holds the miniature camera showing movements inside the body.  At two other incisions, Kuri and another doctor each have instruments inserted and are performing a sort of "dance" with those instruments.  In order to secure the band to the side of the stomach, they take turns alternately holding and pulling the thread as they make stitches and tie a double knot at three different locations.

 The band is not actually stitched to the stomach wall.  Instead, the stomach wall is gently pinched and stitched to itself.  That is, the wall rolls down over the top of the band and up over the bottom of the band, meeting "above" the band.  Where the wall tissue meets over the band, it is stitched together, forming a sort of "belt loop" that may be an inch wide.  This is done in three locations, I believe, making the stomach look somewhat like a belted bathrobe.

 As Wayne explains it, this is the technique Kuri uses to prevent band slippage.  Given the complexity of doing this inside the body through small incisions, you can see the need for at least two surgeons and an anesthesiologist.  For a better explanation, you may want to contact Wayne at his website.

 And, yes, Kuri is as friendly and attentive as you have heard here on the board.  He is professional and, indeed, very gracious.  When I put the cashier's check on his desk during our first office visit (for testing), he handed it back and asked that I give it to him after the surgery.  Kuri did the first fill for all three ladies (i.e., my wife, sister, and niece) when he was here in Wash DC attending a bariatric convention.  Each fill took about five minutes, not counting the ten minutes he took to unwrap things and prepare the syringe.  He took a taxi from his hotel to our apartment to do these fills.  When I tried to reimburse him $15 for the two cab rides, he refused to accept the money.

 HOSPITAL.  Called "San Francisco Hospital," it is one of many hospitals in TJ but nonetheless is well known by the cab drivers.  It is small and modest but clean.  It has one hallway with 5 patient rooms on left (all being "doubles") and 4 patient rooms on right (all being "singles").  Also on the right is a small, glassed-in nursery at the back where you can watch the babies.  That whole area is one story.  Hallway goes through swinging doors into surgery area, which I did not see.  That area is two  stories.

 The hospital looks to be 60 years old.  Nursing  staff members were friendly and attentive.  Floors are tiled and walls are plaster, painted light blue.  Room has a bed, a  rollaway bed for spouse, TV, two chairs, and a private restroom with tiled shower.  In the hospital lobby, a receptionist will sell you a $3 or $10 calling card that works in any payphone..  To reach USA, dial 001 and the number.

 While at the hospital, your spouse/friend can get fruit juice and other supplies just two blocks away at a large supermarket.   A large modern shopping mall (Plaza Rio) is one mile away (I took a taxi over there but walked backed to hospital).  Just 1 block from hospital is a pharmacy where your spouse/friend can get pain pills (Kuri will give him a written prescription).  He can also get large  Band-Aids to put on the five incisions you will have after surgery.  Each day, you will wash incisions with soap and water and put fresh  Band-Aids on them.  After 7 days, they will be healed  and you can pull out the stitches.

 DRINKING WATER.  Water is filtered in the hospital and in major hotels and is said to be safe for drinking.  This might also be true in the better restaurants.  Everywhere else you should avoid drinking tap water, eating ice, or eating anything that was washed in tap water.  This means avoiding uncooked fruit and vegetables.  To be safe on our first trip to TJ, Karen and I drank only bottled water and bottled juice or soda.  We had no ice.  On my second trip there, I was brave enough to drink the tap water at the Grand Hotel because they said that water is filtered.  We did fine and did not get sick.

 HOTELS.  The three hotels most often used by American bandsters are the Grand Hotel (rated 3-star by AAA), Palacio Azteca (probably a 2-star if it were rated), and Hotel Country Club (rated 1-star).  The Grand looks like any modern downtown Marriott, the Palacio Azteca like a Holiday Inn, and the Country Club like Motel 8 or Travelodge.  AAA also gives a 3-star rating to Camino Real, a fourth hotel I discuss below.

 Dr. Kuri's receptionist, Angela, will be glad to make reservations for you at any hotel.  To reach her or Dr. Kuri, dial 011-52-664-684-7787.  Alternatively, you may want to call the hotel direct (phone numbers are shown below) or, in the case of the Grand, reserve a room at their website.  If you ask, any of these hotels will send you a written confirmation so there is no misunderstanding.

 The Grand Hotel   On the lobby level of this high-rise hotel is a 20-store shopping mall, mini-mart, and two movie theaters where current movies are shown in Spanish.  Hotel was built in 1982 and looks like any modern Marriott you have seen in a major city.  We stayed at the Grand on both of our trips and really liked it.  The Grand and Country Club sit on edge of a golf course and are a mile apart, with the Grand being about 1.5 miles from the San  Francisco Hospital and the Country Club being about 2.5 miles from hospital.  Distance does not matter much, however, because it has little effect on taxi rate.

Cost is $97 ($86 plus tax) if you ask for business rate and tell them the name of a business here in the USA.  Any business seems to work.  (Rack rate is $150 but a travel guide says few  travelersí pay that much.)  For an extra $10/night, you will be upgraded to Club Level, which is the top three floors of this 22-story hotel.  For you and your spouse, this upgrade includes not only a better view but also continental breakfast (i.e., pastries, yogurt, cereal, tea, coffee, fruit juices), served in lounge on top floor.  The Grand assigns that floor a number greater than 22 because it uses Donald Trump's creative method of numbering floors.  Call toll free at 866-GRAND-TJ.  Note that this is 866, not 800.  Alternatively, you can reserve at their website.


Palacio Azteca  This hotel is only one block from the hospital.  I have not been inside it but one Bandster member, Diane, wrote the following description in Nov 2001:

 "The Palacio Azteca is a nice hotel probably on the line of a Holiday Inn.  My son thinks it was a little nicer than that.  The rooms are good sized.  The room was comfortable but did not have a refrigerator in it.  They give you the usual soap and shampoo and things like that.  Plus there was bottled water in the room. The air conditioning worked fine.  They have a restaurant/bar that my son ate in several times and I ate in once.  They offer a couple of buffets during the day also.  We also used room service the first evening and the food was good and delivered warm.  They bent over backwards to get us what we wanted.

 "The people at the front desk were very friendly and helped a lot with how to get around TJ.  There is a taxi that sits at the end of the drive that we used a few times.  As it turns out I guess they would have run to the Farmicia for me if I had needed it.  Dr Kuri said to make sure the hotel knew I was one of his patients so I would get his discount.  The nice thing about this hotel is the hospital and pharmacy are just a short block away."

 Hotel Country Club.  Despite its name, this place is not a hotel but, rather, a two-story motel.  Nor is it as posh as the words "country club" might suggest.  This motel charges Dr. Kuri's patients a nightly rate of $53.76 ($48 plus tax), well below the rack rate of $66.08 (includes tax).  I walked over there to see it and thought it looked like a Motel 6.  Several Bandsters members have said that this hotel is nice and very comfortable.  Several did not like it.  If your budget is tight, this hotel may be a good value.  You can call toll free at 800-303-2684.

 Camino Real Hotel.  This high-rise is half the size of the Grand but is newer.  CR is one mile from hospital and sits next to Plaza Rio, a large modern outdoor-type shopping mall where local townspeople actually shop.  It appears equivalent to Grand in quality but is  more expensive and does not have a block-long indoor mall where your spouse can wander around indoors.  On the other hand, it is located by a large outdoor shopping mall (maybe six times the size  of Grandís indoor mall) which may be a real plus if your spouse intends to shop a lot.   Cost is $140 ($125 plus tax) for business rate.  Rack rate is even higher.  Call toll free at 800-7-CAMINO.

 Length of stay.   I suggest that your spouse/friend stay three nights at a TJ hotel.  If your budget is tight, he might spend first and third nights in hotel and second night on cot in your hospital room.  First day is testing, second day is surgery, third day is discharge from hospital, and fourth day (after brief checkup by Kuri) is your return home.  If you want, you can stay only 2 nights and return on third day but Kuri recommends returning on fourth day, especially if you are traveling far.  I know that my wife was not up to traveling on 3rd day and, on fourth day, Kuri removed fluid from her largest incision.  Because we had the time, we even spent additional nights in a SD hotel to rest up.  On the other hand, my niece  (being in early 30s) was able to travel on the 3rd day.

 If you go alone, tell hotel desk that you are checking out the day you are staying overnight at the hospital and then are returning for one more night.  Otherwise, you likely will get charged for three consecutive nights even though you are there only two nights.

 RESTAURANTS.  While you are in the hospital, your spouse/friend can eat directly across the street at a wonderful inexpensive Mexican restaurant.  It prepares all food from scratch.  In center of the restaurant is a huge (6' by 20') stainless steel stove, which has ten huge burners with a stainless steel hood hanging overhead.  A U-shaped counter, covered in white tiles, surrounds that large stove.  I enjoyed sitting on a stool at the counter, where I could watch the steam rolling off five 20" wide pots, the large burner fires, and the busy workers.  I ate there several times and counted at least 16 employees each time.  The corn tortillas are the best I have ever eaten.

 If you stay at the Grand, there are two restaurants inside the hotel and three (including Carl Jr. hamburgers) across the street.  Our favorite, however, is four blocks away.  It is an inexpensive Mexican seafood restaurant called "Los Arcos."  I ate there several times and thought the food was great.  Wayne said it is his favorite also.  From front door of lobby, go one block straight ahead and then left 3 blocks.

 At the Palacio Azteca, the restaurant/bar in the hotel serves good food, according to Diane.  And just one block away is that good Mexican restaurant (described above) that is across from the hospital.  At the Country Club, the Merlot Bistro in front of the hotel has very good  cosmopolitan food.  It offers soups, salads, sandwiches, pasta entrees, and fancy coffees.  One Bandster member reported that she particularly liked the tortilla soup dinner, dinner salad, and sandwiches made on a variety of breads, which you select from a tray they bring out.  Her friend particularly liked the apple dessert and fettucina alfredo.  I ate there one time and really enjoyed it.

 TAXICABS.  Taxis do not search for customers.  Instead, they sit at various spots throughout city waiting for a phone call.  When you are discharged from hospital, a nurse will call for a taxi.  At other times, however, your spouse/friend may rather walk to where they sit.  There is a group just 1 block from hospital (out front door, go left 1 block).  Another group sits in front of Grand Hotel (and perhaps at Country Club which I did not visit). Diane says that a taxi usually sits in front of the Palacio Azteca, which is one block from hospital.  I found that two taxi groups sit several blocks apart in the busy tourist zone on Revolution Ave.  Always negotiate taxi price before getting in.  You don't have to speak Spanish.  For a $5 ride, just hold up five fingers during negotiations.

 MONEY:  Take lots of small bills:  ones, fives, and tens.  Shopkeepers and cab drivers like to be paid in American dollars but, due to scarcity of dollars, are reluctant to part with them when you make small purchases.  As to tipping, a travel guide says that cab drivers do not expect tips in Mexico but that restaurants expect 10%.  Restaurants sometimes show your billed amount in both pesos and dollars.  If amount is shown only in pesos, ask "dollars?"  They will whip out a calculator and show you the result on the screen.  Again, no Spanish is necessary.  Away from tourist zone, people are very friendly.  To really enjoy TJ, you must enjoy the people.  But that is easy because they are so warm and expressive.

From: "Chuck Needy"
Note From Wayne:  Thanks Chuck for the information

NOTICE:  All opinions expressed herein are the author's own.  None of this is to be construed as to being medical advice.

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