I know many people were not thrilled about my latest post, “What I don’t like about Colombia,” but I felt it was a fair question (posed by a reader) and it deserved an honest answer. Whitewashing my opinions / experiences and perspectives or painting a pretty picture does a disservice to this beautiful country and its people.
Colombia, like any country – has its beauty, its strengths, its joys and its share of problems. Ignoring issues because they may appear less than favorable undermines my integrity and the integrity of my work.
So I apologize if I have offended anyone, particularly any of the wonderful people who have graciously extended hospitality and friendship to me. That was not my intention. But I cannot apologize for sharing my perspectives as an outsider looking in.
As my time here in Cartagena and Sincelejo comes to a close – I hope that my readers, colleagues and friends can appreciate my experiences for what they are, my experiences.
Last week in Sincelejo
My last week in Sincelejo was a bittersweet one. Sweet because we had two coronary cases but bitter because it was sad knowing this was the last time I would see everyone.
Anita, Patricia and Estebes
These three ladies have made all the difference in my operating room experiences here, and I am grateful for that. I have really enjoyed getting to know them – and I feel sad at the thought that I may never see them again.
I am really going to miss Patricia and her perpetually sunny nature, easy smiles and ready laughter. She was so sweet to introduce me to her son so I would have an escort and companion if I wanted to go out dancing.
I will miss Estebes, who always seems to go out of her way to help me. She is always there to adjust the light, offer a stool or anything else that might make it easier for me while I am peering into one of the dark tunnels of someone’s leg.
Anita, too, has wonderful. I feel like we have also had some fun, working at the ‘back’ of the table. I’ve tried not to be in her way – and to actually be somewhat helpful. (I’ve probably failed at this – but she has been very sweet and has never made me feel unwelcome.) She’s also extremely knowledgeable about surgery so it’s good to have her there. It’s hard to feel nervous with Anita watching over me. Or when I need a third hand – she is always there – even while managing everything at the top of the table too.
We arrived in Sincelejo this morning for surgery this afternoon. I did a fitting with Dr. Barbosa and his new headlamp apparatus so I could fit the final piece of Velcro. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it’s functional and fully washable. (The previous headlamp anchor is an uncovered foam that crumbles with washing). I added a border to the old one as well, and repaired it the best I could, so he would be able to swap them out as needed. I hope he liked it – despite its ‘ugly duckling’ appearance. I thought it would be a nice gesture since he has done so much for me – and I don’t know how to say “Thank You.”
The patient only needs one small segment of vein – so Dr. Barbosa decided it would be a good time for me to learn open saphenectomy. (I think I have convinced him on the soundness of my theory of learning the principles of saphenectomy, especially with my argument on the need to know for emergency cases.)
It was amazingly fast and essentially a bloodless field. Since everything is open before you, it is easy to ligate and clip all of the collaterals. I was surprised by how quickly I was able to free the vein. Closure didn’t take much longer than normal because even though it was an ‘open saphenectomy’ since it was only one graft it wasn’t that long of an incision.
I am glad I had an opportunity to try it because it certainly gave me more confidence than I would have had if I was expected to learn it during an emergency case. I also felt it gave me a better feel for the anatomy – because it’s all laid out in front of you. (It doesn’t matter how much you read or study a textbook – people are ‘never’ completely textbook, and ‘real’ anatomy looks different from the pretty drawing in my Grey’s Anatomy, especially when you are peering down a dark tunnel tract.)
The patient from yesterday is doing well. The morning chest x-ray showed significant atelectasis but the patient was hemodynamically stable and without other complications. I reviewed post-operative teaching (pulmonary toileting, ambulation) with the patient and explained that due to underlying COPD, he needed to be more aggressive in pulmonary toileting, and post- operative exercises.
Just a nurse? I don’t think so…. But you are only a doctor.
Today a doctor attempted to insult me by stating, “You aren’t a doctor.” (Don’t worry, dear readers – it wasn’t Dr. B – I think he ‘gets” me.) It made me want to laugh out loud but I managed to restrain myself since I was scrubbed in at the time. Of course I’m not a doctor – and thank the lord that I am a nurse! I never have and never will want to be anything else!
I feel sorry for someone so limited that they can’t see all that is missing from their life because they are “just a doctor.” They are just a doctor, but I am fortunate enough to be a nurse! I get to be everything that they can’t. For him, the people who come to us for help are just patients – part of an endless cycle of work, a means to pay the bills, buy a big house and have the status that being a doctor brings.
But for me, well, I am not usually overly religious in my speech but there is no other way to describe it but to say, I am blessed. I do feel it’s a ‘calling’ of sorts. I am blessed with the opportunity to care for these people, each one unique; with their own hopes, dreams and rich histories. I have the privilege of being one of the people alongside the family and friends who cares for them. I am lucky enough to be invited to share in that care. The patients may leave the hospital, but they never leave my heart.
I am so much more than just a nurse to my patients; I am a teacher, a friend, a source of comfort and compassion during a life-changing experience. I am the one who holds their hands when they are frightened – and the person who brings a smile to their face when they think they will never smile again.
I am a little bit social worker, a tiny little angel, a physical therapist, a cheerleader and friend, and even to many, their favorite ‘doctor’. Often, I am the one they feel comfortable talking to – I am the one they bring their questions and concerns to. Usually, I am the one they trust – to tell them to truth and to assist them on their journey back to health. And, that sir, is a privilege you may never know.
To my surgeons, I am the extra right hand they didn’t know they needed. I am always where I am needed – often behind the scenes, taking care of small issues so the surgeon can continue to do the things he needs to do – namely operate. I am someone to bounce ideas off of – someone to teach (and wants to learn). I am the very best resident a surgeon will ever have.
To the other doctors (who may have limited experience with cardiac surgery patients), the ones who are willing to admit it – I am an advisor, a teacher and a trusted colleague.
To my nursing colleagues – I am a mentor, a teacher and someone willing to listen to their concerns. I know their jobs and I know their intrinsic value. I know their talents – even if you don’t. I never shrug off a nurse’s concerns, and that has saved lives. If the nurse caring for the patient comes to me and says, “I don’t know what it is but something isn’t right,” than I know that something isn’t right. And together, we figure it out and make it better. I know that these nurses, the ones you dismiss – they have hopes and dreams too – and they take pride in excelling in their job. If they don’t know something, it’s not for a lack of trying – it’s for want of a mentor.
And yet – there is still more to this nurse – I am an investigator, a researcher and a bit of a detective. But you sir, are only a doctor.
In today’s case, the patient needed two grafts. Dr. B started the initial incisions (I was off by a centimeter yesterday on my initial incision, so I think he lost confidence in my skills – I was worried about avoiding the patients more superficial varices.) I am a little afraid of jumping in too quickly and harming the patient – so I am cautious in making my initial incisions – but once that’s done, I feel like I am in familiar territory. I looked at my case log after the surgery – and it seems incredible for me that I’ve only had eight cases because it feels like I’ve been doing it for longer – parts of the procedure feel almost automatic now. I wish it was 25 or 3o cases but the service just isn’t that busy. I knew that would be the case when I came here – so I am grateful for the eight cases. Eight is still more than none, and none is how many cases I was getting back at home. (It’s that tired cliché – everyone wants someone with experience but no one wants to give a person a chance to get experience.)
I am still hoping that future employers will take my willingness and eagerness to train into consideration and offer me a chance even though I am a locum tenens provider. I have just been burned too many times in permanent positions to risk taking another one in hopes that they will fulfill their promises to train me.
No surgery today but a full clinic! It was a good day in clinic because I got to see all the post-operative patients from our previous surgeries, and it was just a bit heart wrenching. But then again, I am always a big sap for my patients.
All the patients seemed so happy to see me – and I was so happy to see all of them too!
Everyone looked really good, and I was impressed by their questions and attentiveness during the appointments. My patients knew all of their medications by name, and were eager to discuss this and other post-operative instructions they received at the time of discharge. (Usually it seems like people forget a lot of what we talk about in the hospital – but I think my horrible gringa accent sticks in their minds).
The only disappointing aspect, was seeing one of our patients (who had been really fragile pre-operatively) amble in. She looked great – and said she felt pretty good, (other than the usual sternal soreness) but one of her leg incisions had partially dehisced. (Luckily it was a very small skip incision and the patient had been fastidious about cleaning it as directed). The wound was very clean, with no signs of infection. It was healing well by secondary intention but I was disappointed in myself that the wound closure didn’t hold up.
After clinic – we headed back home. All the while, I was thinking of how I will miss Sincelejo. I will miss my friends, my patients and Clinica Santa Maria. I will miss the chance to work with Dr. Barbosa – who was always such a great teacher, even if we didn’t always see eye-to-eye. Most of all, I will miss Iris, who has been my best friend, confident and colleague during this journey. I will miss working with her – I honestly think that between the two of us, we could be a force to change the world (or at least cardiac surgery) for the better.
From the bottom of my heart, I sincerely say, Thank you Iris, Thank you Dr. Barbosa, Thank you, Estebes, Anita and Patricia – and thank you Dr. Salgua for having me here among all of us – and making me part of the team. I will miss you all.