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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