Thursday, October 30, 2014

Week 4: New Friends, New Places, Same Love

Day 23 - 25 - October 20th - 22nd, 2014 - Insomnia and a day in the life

Hello again! This week was very interesting for me because for the first time in my life, I had insomnia and could not sleep. It could have been the altitude, the frequently changing weather, or basically any other random things you could think of.

Because of this my first three days were somewhat boring because I slept quite a bit during the day and did not attend the hospital.

Instead I will be giving you a break down of a day in the life of me, in La Paz! As well as some cultural facts and interesting experiences I have had.

Every morning, I wake up around 7 am, sometimes a little later if I am extremely tired (which insomnia definitely caused). I normally take a shower, get ready, grab something to eat really quick, and head out the door towards the hospital. Not a very exciting morning, but the rest of the day is.

I walk across the same bridge everyday that crosses a major road in La Paz. It is somewhat difficult because it is sloped and the altitude makes it hard to breath.




I pass the same exact stand every morning.


Cultural fact number 1: These stands are normally ran by more indigenous women called cholitas. These women roam the streets, wearing bowler hats and colorful packs on their backs, sometimes carrying children, other times belongings.



The way these women wear their hats describes their marital status. Straight up and down signifies married. Slightly cocked signifies single or widowed. These women also tend to avoid back problems, mainly because they must keep proper posture in order to maintain the position of their hat. Interesting right?

Following my hospital experience, I cross through a plaza called Plaza Abaroa. This plaza is very close to my house and has quite a bit of history behind it.


Eduardo Abaroa was a colonel in the War of the Pacific, where Chile fought against Bolivia and Peru. In the Battle of Topáter, the Colonel was highly outnumbered by Chilean forces as they fought to hold the Topáter Bridge.

As the battle raged on, Colonel Abaroa fought to his dying breath, which sent him into fame as a war hero. Bolivian tales tell of his response to surrender, saying, "Surrender? Your grandmother should surrender herself!" In his name, this statue was erected and the plaza named after him.


This picture doesn't even depict it correctly, but the traffic in La Paz is hectic. My comparison would be New York with fewer traffic laws and regulations. Somewhat dangerous at times, but also extremely fun to maneuver through.


These are the notorious minibuses of La Paz. They are very common and pretty much everywhere in the city. They are also super cheap, which makes them a great choice for travel.


These guys are called "Las Cebras de La Paz". Next week, I will speak of my experience as a zebra! But as of now, I will describe this amazing project that has been going on in La Paz for almost 13 years.

The job of the zebras involves directing traffic and keeping people safe in the streets. But probably the most important thing is their desire to serve. The zebras are known for greeting everyone, bringing happiness to people, being friendly, waving and hugging children, and being superhero-esque to the children as well.

The project creates jobs for orphaned children who come of age to leave an orphanage. Because they never had the opportunity to go to school or get a job, they work at zebras in the city. It also provides jobs for mothers who don't have husbands and don't have the time or ability to get jobs.

After seeing what they did in the city, I had so much respect for them, I decided to try it myself the following week (stay tuned!)


And following every day, La Paz lights up for the night life. The beauty is almost unfathomable in this city and I fall more and more in love every day/night.

Day 26-27 - October 23rd - 24th, 2014 - Surgery Week 2 and a little dancing

As you all remember from last week, I absolutely love the surgery ward. This week was just as exciting as before.

The ward is full of patients recovering from previous surgeries, continually monitored by the doctors and residents in order to insure full recovery.


Every morning the patients are served breakfast. But it is far different than American breakfast. It mainly consists of milk. And maybe yogurt if the patients are lucky.

As the patients lay in bed, most of the residents overview charts, or get on the Internet which is also not typical in the United States. Also, I apologize for the partial thumb in the following picture (haha oops...)


My last day in surgery, I got to witness the removal of a gall stone in a young girl. Sadly, I forgot to bring my phone into the operating room, so I have no gruesome pictures.

Instead I will describe it in gross color.

The first step of the surgery involved making a 4 inch incision right below the ribs on the left side of the girl.

The next step consisted of using a Bovie, a scalpel that uses electrical current to cut through flesh and coagulate blood and tissue. As the doctors cut through layers of fat and skin, the smell of burning flesh and ozone wafted through the air.

The stone was very large and had migrated from the beginning of the gallbladder towards the back half. This required the doctors to make a larger incision (actually had to do it twice).

Once the incision was large enough, the doctors took sutures and tied knots surrounding the gallbladder in order to locate the stone.

Following the removal of the stone, a large portion of tissue was removed because the stone had pretty much destroyed it.

Although the surgery was very long (approximately 3 hours!), the procedure was far different than the hernia repairs as well as the pulmonary infection. It provided new insight into a different location of the body and gave me great experience.

Day 28 - October 25th, 2014 - Tiwanaku and La Noche Blanca

On Saturday, I finally got to visit the ruins of Tiwanaku (highly recommended by my grandpa).

The mix of stone carvings and statues was extremely intriguing, and the fact that these ruins existed over 1000 years ago without modern technology is even more profound.


This map shows a basic layout of the ruins, including the pyramid and the cemetery.


And welcome to Tiwanaku! Or as spelled here in this picture, Tiahuanaco.


This is a megaphone, used to make announcements to the surrounding areas around the pyramid. There were four, located on the North, West, South, and East sides.


This photo depicts the cemetery, possibly where royalty within the Tiwanakan empire existed.


This statue represents both the light and the dark. The hands are arranged in a very peculiar way, as with every Tiwanakan statue. The left hand of every statue is normal. However, the right hand is backwards. What this represents is a separate person. The left side represents giving, the right receiving. The Tiwanakan culture believed this showed how the gods would give to the people there.



This image is of the Gate of the Sun. The story behind this is actually incredible. Every year we have two equinoxes and two solstices. The gate was arranged so that the sun would shine directly through, illuminating a statue directly behind it on the two equinoxes, signifying the change in seasons. During the solstices, the light would illuminate the corners of the pyramid, either on the west or east, depending on if it was the summer or winter solstice.


This wall surrounds the pyramid, and although it looks legit, it had to be completely rebuilt. All original stones were used, but it was found in ruins.


These are the legendary faces of the world found in Tiwanaku. Legend has it that each one of these faces represents a different people group around the world. How the Tiwanakans would have known that? I have absolutely no idea.



This specific face has been recognized by archaeologists and scientists around the world for one reason. The face is constructed of a white stone, different than any of the other faces in the entire ruin. The facial structure is different as well. The reason it is sought after is this: some speculate that the Tiwanakan culture was shaped partially by extraterrestrials, explaining there ability to build structures, disappear without traces, and this particular face.



Not only are the ruins amazing, but the location is also incredible. The rolling hills and mountains surround a large area of farm land; probably where the Tiwanakans thrived long ago.


This statue was the largest statue ever found in the ruins. Like the others, the hands are once again weird.


Puma Punku was a separate site in Tiwanaku, lying completely in ruin. The only thing that remains are the stone carvings crafted by this apparent super genius people group.


The precision involved in the stone craftsmanship is phenomenal; almost outer-worldly you could say.


These are the infamous H-blocks, carved with perfect 90 degree angled cuts and unreplicable today.




Note the perfect cut in the stone.

Tiwanaku was incredible and extraordinary. I also ended up meeting a friend who went with me to an art festival later that night, called "La Noche Blanca".

The artwork here was extravagant, and included video art as well as paintings and even a manikin dressed up as an art project.





I had no idea what these were supposed to mean, but they looked like swimming pool noodles, so I decided to take a picture with them. Make of it what you will.


This was a large box with open faces and green lights on each of the edges. Once again, I have no idea what it meant but I will try to decipher something. I believe it stood for that if we remain in a box and don't have open minds, we tend to be jealous or green. Make of it what you will.



These two photos show parts of a video art section in the display. These include loud noises and thought-provoking images. Making a connection between the two is the real art.

Following the art show, we had made some friends, who we went dancing with to finish the night.

Day 29 - October 26th, 2014 - Las Cholitas Luchadores and the cable car... again!

On Sunday, I did one of the weirdest things I think I've ever done. Cholita wrestling. You remember me saying something about the cultural aspects? Turns out they have a wrestling ring in El Alto where Cholitas wrestle with men dressed in costumes.

And no it's not actual fighting. It was very staged, similar to the WWE.

Although it was staged, it was extremely entertaining to watch these women get "kicked" and flipped by these men.







I honestly don't have any other words for how weird, disturbing, but greatly entertaining this was.


Again La Paz continues to show its beauty more and more everyday that I've been here. The cable car was incredible, and just as much fun with new friends as with old.


It's very hard to explain every reason why I love La Paz, but these pictures show some of those reasons. If you ever think about going to Bolivia, visit La Paz. You won't regret it.


My friends and I ended the night by riding the cable car back from El Alto to Sopacachi, our home town. Also this picture shows how difficult it is to take a picture with flash, include three people, and the city as well.

I have come to find La Paz as a home, and it's sad that I have to leave friends that I feel like I just became close with, and a city that I just became familiar with. But with these great experiences, I have no doubts that I will make just as many great friends, amazing memories, and life experiences in Tarija, my final destination in Bolivia.

Thank you again for reading through my blog and being so patient when I have been busy! You all mean so much to me and I can't wait to share these stories in person.

I love you all and ¡nos vemos!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Week 3: Completely Comfortable (Almost)

Day 16 - October 13th, 2014 - The Surgery Ward

Fair warning: for those of you who have weak stomachs or who are faint-of-heart, some of the pictures I will be posting this week show surgical procedures and open wounds. Please view at your own risk.

Anyway, now that I got that out of the way, I can write about my experiences this week.

Monday began very early. I was told by Dra. Uribe to arrive around 8 o'clock or so. I ended up getting to the hospital around 8:15, which is common in Bolivia. I met with Dr. Velasco to be placed in the surgery ward with a surgeon, but Dr. Velasco is very busy with resident studies and coordinating classes for them.

He asked me to wait a little bit for him to finish his work. So I waited.

As expected, it took a little longer. Doctors are very busy people. So when I finally arrived in the surgery ward, the doctor I was going to be working with was already in the operating room. So for that day I read of medical histories about surgical procedures and how the patients were recovering.

After the hospital, I had my Spanish lesson, and I am becoming extremely comfortable with the language. My comprehension far exceeds where I expected I would be. I am still struggling a little bit with speaking and conveying what I feel, but I have 7 more weeks right?

After Spanish, I went to a cafe as usual. I am starting to realize that I am totally living out a stereotypical life.

I am constantly blogging in a cafe, watching the outside world passing by as I learn new things about myself in a completely different culture. I absolutely love it.

Day 17 - 18 - October 14th - 15th, 2014 - Sick days and coffee

The weather and altitude here in La Paz finally caught up to me.

I woke up the first morning with a ton of pressure in my sinuses, a sore throat, sore ears, and a low desire to get out of my bed.

Instead of attending the hospital, I tried to sleep more in order to get over whatever it was I had (most likely a cold, but a cold in La Paz is more than a cold).

I did actually make it to my Spanish lessons both days though so that was good. My days mostly consisted of blowing my nose, watching movies, and practicing my Spanish while my voice was muffled.

It wasn't as bad as one would expect because I had an opportunity to reorganize my room and my thoughts and prepare for surgery the rest of the week. But it made for a very uneventful week.

The second day was nearly the same, but I had a little more energy and went to some cafes.

And by some, I mean a lot.

And by energy, I mean caffeine.

This day I believe I had 6 cups of coffee to keep myself awake, as well as busy. I attempted to apply for jobs back in Oregon, apply for a scholarship, and fix my financial statement for my tuition. While being somewhat foggy in the brain, the coffee was definitely a necessity.

Thankfully I got through these two days with minor setbacks and had one of the greatest experiences in surgery.

Day 19 - October 16th, 2014 - The start of a surgical excursion

I woke up early enough and arrived at the hospital at around 8;45 in the morning. I was supposed to be working with a doctor named Dr. Galindo but he was not there yet. Instead I met another surgeon named Dr. Alarcon. He had a very different persona about him. He talked softly, yet firmly, and interacted much more seriously than previous doctors.

That is, until we entered the operating room.

All of the staff in the operating were very lighthearted and constantly made jokes, which made me very comfortable. The surgeons asked me where I was from, what year I was in college, what I liked to do, how much longer I would be in La Paz, and many other personal questions that definitely lightened the mood.

They also referred to me as "Justin Bieber" which has become a very common thing here...


The surgeons were very good at describing procedures and what was happening during the operation.

The first surgery I experienced was on a young girl you had gotten an infection surrounding her left lung, caused by pneumonia.

The procedure consisted of opening up her left side, separating her ribs, and proceeding to clear the lung of pus.

I watched intently throughout the entire operation, and found that this was by far my favorite ward I had seen.

The anesthesiologist was also extremely nice to me, and described the medical equipment that he was using to control pain as well as breathing, heart rate, and sleep of the patient.



At one point in the operation, the doctor wanted the anesthesiologist to manually respirate for the patient in order to expand the lungs to find the entirety of the infection.

Instead of doing it himself, the doctor handed the pump to me and I actually got to help the surgeons finish the operation.

After completely clearing the lung of disturbance, the doctors placed four layers of sutures, starting with the muscular tissue, and finishing with the outer layer of skin. Overall, this day rekindled my love for medicine, just like this entire trip has done.

Day 20 - October 17th, 2014 - Hernias and an unexpected surprise

Friday was one of the coolest days I have ever had in medicine. Even though hernia surgeries are very common and simple procedures that take only an hour or so, they were interesting and the surgeons explained everything to me.

Warning: this is where the pictures become graphic. You have been warned.


A hernia repair consists of about three steps: the initial incision through the muscular layer of tissue.


The extraction of the membrane where the intestine has intruded.


And the replacement of the intestine, as well as the sealing of the gap in the muscular wall. The procedure is finished by suturing the initial incision with three layers of sutures, and then bandaging the wound.

But the most exciting thing about this day was a very basic surgery in which a young boy's testicle had not descended (please be more mature than I am right now).

I do not have any pictures from this surgery for that reason as well as one other.

During the surgery, I found out the boy had some troubles with his heart. The anesthesiologist was constantly adding drugs to his system to keep his heart rate up during the procedure.

Near the end of the very common surgery, the boy's heart rate steadily dropped.

Until he flat-lined. His heart literally stopped right in front of me.

The surgeons and nurses began rapidly running around. An inflow of nurses and other surgeons from a different operating room occurred.

I watched as Dr. Galindo (I found him today!) began compressions as the other doctors checked for a pulse and eagerly awaited the result.

Thankfully, Dr. Galindo was successful, and the little boy was revived as I watched. This moment was extremely exciting for me as well as stressful. Now I look at it as awesome, mainly because the young boy is recovering well from the surgery!

Day 21 - 22 - October 18th - 19th, 2014 - A festival in the country and friends around the world

This weekend I decided to rest instead of travel. I needed a little more sleep and I didn't want to be stressed out about trying to find my bus and all of the other logistics involved.

So instead I met up with some of my friends from different countries.

We ended up going to a festival in the south part of the La Paz department. The festival was actually in the country, where the stars shown brighter than I have seen them in quite a bit of time. The experience was amazing but not my normal style.


They were playing electronic music really loud and there were flashing lights and a large group of people dancing in the middle.


To go along with the music, they had some barbecued food and fire dancers to "brighten" the conversation a little.



Oh I forgot to mention they were on some sort of stilts.

My group of friends and I ended up staying until around 5:00 in the morning. It was somewhat difficult finding transportation back to our area of the city, but when we did, the sun was on its way up.


And with that, I fell asleep for about ten hours. The rest of my day consisted of conversation with one of my friends from the US.

We talked about life in La Paz and what our plans were next. I realized how much I miss the people in Oregon and how excited I am for my up-and-coming career and to continue living life.

All of you reading this have probably had a major impact on my life and I thank you so much for that. The people I have met here are incredible as well, and it makes me want to travel the world that much more.

As I go into my fourth week here in La Paz, I am astounded by the culture that surrounds me, and the beautiful language I have the opportunity to learn. I am also blessed by the many doctors and patients I have met in the hospital and the great medical experience I have earned here.

I will continue to look at this trip as a privilege, and not a right, because I have found that living here as someone who is lucky brings way more emotion and gratefulness into the equation.

This week I leave you with this:

Life may seem short and difficult. But if you can look past the negative sides, and only view the good in life, everything is much more meaningful. Live life like you never get to again (because you don't)

Love you all and ¡nos vemos!

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