Day 1 - September 27th, 2014
Bienvenidos todos a La Paz!
This week has not only been hectic, but extremely rewarding. I arrived in La Paz at about 6:20 pm, following a 7 hour flight and some great conversation on the plane.
Immediately after exiting the plane, I began to realize the struggle I was about to face. I had not practiced my Spanish near enough to be proficient and I was already in the country. Luckily, I had met some dual citizen Bolivians on the plane who helped me with the visa process and guided me to the next step.
But their bags arrived.
And mine did not.
So for the next 15 minutes or so, I talked with customer service (who happened to be bilingual), and all I had to do was fill out a form with my Bolivian address and phone number. That I didn't know.
I finally got it figured out, and found my taxi driver who spoke broken English. That was my first opportunity to practice my Spanish skills. On the way to my host family's house, the taxi driver stopped and let me take that picture as shown above!
Upon arrival, I met Gonzalo Fernandez the "dueño de la casa", or head of the household, and I also met his son Jorge. Gonzalo does not speak any English, but Jorge's English is phenomenal and definitely saved me from being completely lost the entire night.
I unpacked my two carry-on bags that had two outfits just in case my bags didn't arrive, as well as some, NOT ALL, toiletries. When I finished unpacking, Jorge made me some tea and we talked about where I was from and what my plans were. It was only 8 o' clock, but I was exhausted, so I brushed my teeth with the last bit of bottled water I had and went to sleep. In Bolivia, the tap water is bad for anyone who isn't a resident. I also found out that night that Bolivia cannot install heating systems because of the underground rivers, and it was a very cold night.
I didn't sleep well the first night because of the altitude as well as being in a new place. But I ended up sleeping for 14 hours in total.
Day 2 - September 28th, 2014
Today I met with the Local Coordinator here in La Paz, Gonzalo Claure. And what a relief it was. I won't say I was thankful that his English was incredible, but it definitely made me more comfortable. When I met him at his office, he asked me if I had any problems upon arrival. When I told him my bags hadn't come, he began to help me get them from the airline. First, he called the airline. Then we took a taxi back to my residence. And finally, he proceeded to wait with me until my bags arrived, which honestly made all of my stress diminish. He gave me a few more instructions on city safety, transportation, and travel, and that concluded our meeting.
I also had my placement exam for Spanish after the meeting. I didn't realize how much refreshment I needed in my language skills. For everyone that plans to study abroad, practice the language before you leave. It would have definitely helped me a ton.
Later in the day, I had my meeting with Doctora Uribe, the medical coordinator for the program. When I got to her office, I expected her to speak English, somewhat like Gonzalo. But it was near impossible for me to communicate even though I could understand her in Spanish. Thankfully, another student in the program named Katie showed up, and helped me figure out my schedule for the week. The meeting consisted of a presentation on intercultural medicine, and concluded with my assignment for the week. When the meeting was over, Katie and I went to dinner and talked about everything that would happen. This was also her last week of the program.
Day 3 - September 29th, 2014 - My first day in the hospital
El Hospital del Niño is located in a smaller district called Mira Flores. I walked with Katie to the hospital to figure out where I was going. Upon entering the hospital I was astounded. People and children everywhere, the floors were full of cracked tile, the place smelled nothing like a hospital in the US, and I did not know what to expect next.
I walked up the stairs to the ward I was placed in the first week, "Infectious Diseases". The halls were dark, the equipment was poor, and the patients were everywhere.
As I sat waiting for the doctor I was placed with, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.
I met Doctora Salete at around 9:45 that morning and was rushed into the ward to begin patient overviews and resident training. Although I feel as if my comprehension is decently strong, the residents talk unimaginably fast and I didn't understand a lot of the medical terminology in Spanish, but that's what this internship is for, right?
The resident doctors gather around the rolling desk, offering their observations to the attending doctors, like Dra. Salete (in front). They run through all of the patients' files who remain in the ward, getting signatures from the doctors and providing valuable information about diagnoses and treatments.
One of the first patients I experienced in the ward was a baby, probably less than 4 months old, who had HIV, or in Spanish, el virus de la inmunodeficiencia humana (VIH). What I recognized between the parents and their children was love. True love. Even 5,500 miles away from home, I felt like I belonged because of this. No matter where you go in the world, some things will always be the same.
Following all of the patient overviews, I read through the charts in order to gain a better understanding since my comprehension was low. Once I finished, that concluded my day in the hospital and Katie and I walked back into town.
I had my first Spanish class on this day with my professor, Jenny. Not only did it boost my confidence a great amount, but Jenny invited me to go on the teleférico, or cable car the next day after Spanish.
Day 4 - September 30th, 2014 - The cable car and Down syndrome
When I met with Dra. Salete this morning, I was greeted with the most amazing surprise. Every week on Wednesday's, Dra. Salete has consults with patients. But not just any patients. Strictly children who have Down syndrome. This one day changed my life, and possibly my career plan. The children are full of life, smiles, and abnormally calm in most cases, which made helping them much easier and more fun. Dra. Salete worked so well with the children and their families, that I began thinking about working with mentally handicapped patients in the future as well.
This young girl had Down syndrome, and she was constantly acting like she was on the phone or checking a watch. Patients with Down syndrome often compartmentalize memories or experiences, and in order to entertain themselves, solve a problem, or express feelings, they engage in self-talk like this patient. Care for patients with Down syndrome is extremely important, as most of them exhibit developmental issues as well.
After one of the best experiences I've had in medicine, I got to experience one of the greatest sights I have ever seen. The cable car. Katie, Jenny, and I all went on the car the traveled to a city north of La Paz, called El Alto. As we soared over the city of La Paz, I noticed the poverty in the northern part that was much different than the main part of the city.
The house were covered with rocks and other objects to hold the roofs down as well as items laying in courtyards and on top of houses. A completely different world that I had never experienced. Although this part of the city was poor, El Alto actually had one of the wealthier populations in the La Paz department. At the top of the track, the view was absolutely incredible. La Paz sits in a valley, surrounded by mountains; something unimaginable coming from Salem, Oregon.
If you find this as amazing as I did, go vote for La Paz as one of the new 7 wonders! www.new7wonders.com
This day marked the first day where I felt like I lived in La Paz. I found out why I wanted to do this internship in the first place.
Day 7 - 8 - October 4th - 5th, 2014 - Lake Titicaca and the Island of the Sun
Saturday morning marked the beginning of my excursion to the highest navigable body of water on the planet as well as the highest lake. It was not only the most incredible experience, but the history within the island dates hundreds of years back.
My trip began with me sleeping through my alarms and missing my tour bus (I know, it sounds bad but it worked out). I ended up catching a taxi, and taking it to the bus terminal to find that it had left. From that point, I took a minibus all the way to the city called Copacabana. Even though it was not the most ideal situation, it was still fantastic.
When I finally reached the city, I met up with my tour guide and everything was fine. I ate fresh trout from the lake three times the two days I was there, and I never regretted it once. The meals were delicious each time.
The trip was a once in a lifetime experience. When we arrived on "La Isla del Sol", we began our hike towards our hostel.
We visited the Fountain of Youth (La fuente de la juventud). I can now say I will live forever because I drank from the fountain.
On my trip, I visited the Temple of the Sun,
Sat on the throne of the Incan king,
And watched the sun set over the lake. An experience like none other in the entire world.
When we got back to Copacabana, we visited the church, and the architecture was phenomenal. This church is over 400 years old, and took almost 200 years to complete.
Overall, this first week in La Paz has definitely been the most incredible and influential experience of my life, and I can't wait to share my next experiences with you all.
Nos Vemos Amigos!