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PEOPLE & VOICES - Tequila & Me

“Tequila, EMTs and Me”
By: Greg McKinney

It has been said that anyone who travels to Mexico enough will eventually have a “tequila story”….

I have observed this phenomenon in others on prior occasions, only to succumb to it myself: Gringos who come to Mexico who believe that simply because they have crossed an international border, the laws-of physics, gravity, and common sense, in particular, no longer apply.

My girlfriend Melissa and I had come to visit San Felipe in northern Baja for a week. We had found our “little slice of paradise” there on the Sea of Cortez and were having a house built. We were also celebrating our birthdays (we share the same day!). Melissa had driven the last leg of the 12 hour trip from the San Francisco bay area and was not feeling quite as refreshed as I, the guy who can sleep through anything. Pulling into our place, we unpacked and I left her there to rest in our casita while I joined some friends for a barbeque at another campo several kilometers away.

A bottle of “Milagros” tequila disappeared while I was enjoying the steak and shrimp. I lost track of my intake after the first few shots and my sense of balance was put to the test as I walked over to my truck for something I no longer recall. I never made it back to the party. I had stumbled, silently, off a cliff in the night! Gravity took over and I was found sometime later, arms and legs stretched out like a starfish on the beach. My friends brought me back up to the top to “sleep it off” in the front seat of their Jeep. I awoke a few hours later, in pain and gasping for breath. I searched for the keys to my truck, fighting for each lungful of air. Confused, wondering what had happened to me, I was determined to get back to Melissa at the casita.

I made it safely there only to pass out from lack of oxygen.

When I came to, my moaning and heavy breathing woke her up as I dragged myself inside. “What’s wrong with you” she said waking up, clearly annoyed with me. The bedside light came on, illuminating my giant head magnificently as Melissa attempted to see what all the fuss was about. “I, I don’t know”, I honestly squeaked trying to take in and release enough air to speak. “I think I’m allergic to the shrimp” was all I could imagine. She had known me for 7 years and knew that I had no such allergy. Bless her heart; she had the presence of mind to insist on taking me to the emergency room at the St. James Infirmary in San Felipe.

The nurse on duty examined me and found no marks on my body to account for my distress but sure became quite animated as he looked at the results of my x-rays.

A broken left shoulder, broken left collar bone, five broken ribs on the left front side with the middle rib puncturing the left lung. My right lung had also collapsed. The nurse stated that if I did not get flown out of there right then to the UC San Diego trauma center, I would probably die. A quick call north revealed that it was a busy weekend and there was no bed space available in San Diego, so I was going to be transported by ground ambulance. The Mexican ambulance crew was both gentle and professional on the code 3 (lights and sirens) run to the El Centro Regional Medical Center. Somewhere past La Ventana, I awoke to find both of the EMT techs standing over me. They had been working to resuscitate me! Job well done!

We were detained at the border only long enough to move me to an American ambulance service from Calexico. Eleven hours after my impact with the beach, two chest tubes were inserted into me to re-inflate both lungs. Later that day, I was flown to UC San Diego to spend the rest of my birthday week in their ICU.

Here is what I learned from all of this: 1) Tequila, while very good, is not meant to be consumed in such large amounts! 2) The medical treatment available that night in San Felipe, while ultimately saving my life by stabilizing me for transport north, was not sufficient to treat my injuries. We need our own trauma center in San Felipe. Until then, I’d advise everyone to look into some kind of “Life Flight” insurance like SKYMED because out-of-pocket ambulance costs can be kind of pricey. 3) It is so easy to take the good you have in your life for granted. I could have easily died that night. The many facets of this story are insignificant to me compared to the fact that I am still here to tell it. I am now well and forever changed.

Ten months after my accident, my very forgiving love, Melissa, married this “Humpty Dumpty”. She and I still travel frequent to visit our beautiful home in our “little slice of heaven” on the Sea of Cortez-San Felipe. Vaya con cuidado!


  1. Excellent post---I had a heart attack in Playas de Tijuana and was taken to Chula Vista and I'm still here. Thank God

  2. Great post! It was interesting and made me laugh. I just discovered "Milagro" Tequila in San Diego. I got it so I could drink a shot with a friend if I finished my first Half Marathon...I thought it would be a "Milagro" if I did. I love to go to San Felipe so thanks for the 411 about no Trauma Center and I'm glad that you are okay and still keep coming back to Mexico!