Calling all fashionistas!


map Medellin

While many of you know that Medellin isn’t my favorite city in Colombia – it does have its own attractions.  I am not talking about the spectacularly breath-taking ride up to Parque Arvi on the metro cable or the Botero museum.

It’s the shopping – Medellin is the New York of Colombia and much of Latin America.  As home to Colombia Moda and the Colombian textile industry, the array of shopping opportunities are mind-boggling.  Most tourist guides will direct you to the upscale, brand name only shopping malls in the wealthier enclaves like El Poblado.  While these malls are worth seeing, I advise visitors to go in the guise of a museum-seeking tourist.

indoor flower garden at upscale mall in Medellin

indoor flower garden at upscale mall in Medellin (El Poblado district)

That is to say – go to look (at the sculptured gardens, majestic views and boutique brands) and maybe for a light lunch at one of the elegant eateries but save your cash for the real shopping mecca, in El Centro.  Wear comfortable shoes – and plan to finish shopping before 6 pm..

To get here:  Take the Metro (train) to Station San Antonio.  That will put you in the center of the shopping district.

Biggest Open Air Shopping District in Latin America

Don't worry, honey.. I stayed safely outside of this shop dedicated to crochet

Don’t worry, honey.. I stayed safely outside of this shop dedicated to crochet

At least, according to the banner hanging over one of the cobbled pedestrian streets.  But it seems pretty accurate as I wander street after street of an amazing array of goods.. If it isn’t here – than you won’t find it in Colombia.

photo (1)

Since it’s not Buenos Aires (Argentina), yes – they have sizes larger than SIX.

 

There are streets filled with row after row of sidewalk vendors selling a multitude of items.  A whole street devoted to shoes.. Sidewalk vendors selling ornamental sandals with adjacent stores sell every kind of shoe ever made..

sandals

Just one of the many, many displays of sandals in the shopping district of El Centro

Street after street with store after store of Shoes.. Appliances.. Clothing.. Cosmetics.. Electronics.. DVDs.. Porn…  Lingerie.. Hats.  Costume Jewelry.  Fabric. Ribbons.  Yarn..  Several stores filled to the brim with beads.  Pastry and cake shops.  Any kind of soccer (futbol) jersey you could ever want (and not because it’s the world cup – these stores are always here.)

Whole malls (centro commercials) for bridal wear.. Others filled with row after row of beauty salons.

Dollar stores for all the items you forgot to pack.. Luggage stores for extra space to bring back your fabulous finds..

About the only thing I didn’t see was a street devoted to mascotas (pets) but that’s probably just because I didn’t wander far enough.

You can find almost anything here!

You can find almost anything here!

 

Calling all Colombian travel agencies!   Fashion and textile guided tours

Add this to my wish list for Colombian tourism businesses –  or other ways to make Colombia accessible to tourists on a whole new level.  For people who are familiar with Colombia, the tours would just be a nice, relaxing way to have someone else take care of the details…  Not everyone lives in El Centro and has the ability to walk a few streets right into the commercial heart of the city.

But for first-time visitors; wives of travelling businessmen or people unfamiliar with this part of the city – a guided tour to the heart of Medellin’s fashion district would be absolutely essential, particularly as the area gets kind of sketchy after 6 pm.  Tours for fashion sewers, crafters and knitters along with general shopping and factory tours just sounds like a fun way to spend a day.  Throw in a typical Colombian lunch (not the enormous banda paisa but something featuring all of the great local fruits and vegetables) and a mixed group of tourists (Colombians, and foreigners from several nations) as well as a knowledgeable, bilingual guide  – and I think there would be a line of people ready to sign up..

I think it would go along with my dream trip to Bucaramanga for a weekend guided factory tour and shoe-shopping adventure.

Alas!  I am not a marketing genius – just a lover of fashion, sewing and crochet.  But just for fun – I am going to add a survey here where readers can let me know what they think of this idea..  If I get enough interested responses – I’ll pass it along to someone in the tourism industry.

Proexport advertises Shopping Tours but they are short on details..

If you are interested in a personal beauty consultant – and shopping.. a bit pricey but here’s the link.  (link is a bit short on details too..)

Fashion Tourism Survey

 Tips for Shopping in El Centro:

– Wear comfortable shoes

– Don’t bring extras: jewelry, cameras, smart phones.  (This is a high crime area).

– Bring mainly small bills: 2ooo, 5000 and 10,000 peso bills.  It’s problematic to pay for a 3,000 peso purchase with a 50 mil bill for shopkeepers and may be impossible for outside vendors.

– keep your belongings secure – I recommend a zippered purse.  Backpacks should be worn on the front.  Messenger bags work for me – so I can keep the strap across my chest, and the bag close to my body.

– Try not to be too loud and (gringo-ey) in El Centro.. While most Colombians like Americans, in this instance, you don’t want to attract too much attention.

– Be prepared to leave by 6 pm – and don’t stay in El Centro after dark unless you are with a native paisa (person from Medellin).  It is easy to get lost – and dangerous at night.

In general, use commonsense – have fun and good luck on your shopping adventures!

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Is it safe to fly after surgery?


Long haul flights are a health risk for everyone

While the risks of prolonged immobility and pulmonary embolism with long distance travel are well-known, many potential patients are unaware of the increased risks of thromboembolism after surgery.

Increased risks in specialized populations

People with a personal or family history of previous blood clots (PE or DVT), women on oral contraceptives, and patients who have undergone orthopedic surgery are some of the people at greatest risk.

Increased risk after surgery + Long trips

The heightened risk of thromboembolism or blood clots may persist for weeks after surgery.  When combined with long-haul flights, the risk increases exponentially.

In fact, these risks are one of the reasons I began investigating medical tourism options in the Americas – as an alternative to 18 hour flights to Asia and India.

Want to reduce your risk – Follow the instructions in your in-flight magazine

Guidelines and airline in-flight magazines promote the practice of in-flight exercise to reduce this risk – but few have investigated the risks of thromboembolism in post-surgical patients by modes of transportation: car travel versus air travel.

airplane3

But, is it safe to fly after surgery?

This spring, Dr. Stephen Cassivi, a thoracic surgeon at the world-famous Mayo Clinic in Minnesota tried to answer that question with a presentation of data at the  the annual meeting of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery.

This question takes on additional significance when talking about patients who have had lung surgeries.  Some of these patients require oxygen in the post-operative period, and the effects of changes in altitude* (while widely speculated about) with air travel, have never been studied in this population.

Now, Dr. Cassivi and his research team, say yes – it is safe.  Mayo Clinic is home t0 one of the most robust medical travel services in the United States for both domestic and international medical tourists.

After following hundreds of patients post-operatively and comparing their mode of transportation  – Dr. Cassivi concludes that the risks posed by automobile travel and air travel after surgery are about the same.

Additional reading

For more information on deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and safe travel, read my examiner article here.

AATS poster presentation abstract:

Safety of Air Travel in the Immediate Postoperative Period Following Anatomic Pulmonary Resection
*Stephen D. Cassivi, Karlyn E. Pierson, Bettie J. Lechtenberg, *Mark S. Allen, Dennis A. Wigle, *Francis C. Nichols, III, K. Robert Shen, *Claude Deschamps
Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN

Schwarz T, Siegert G, Oettler W, et al. Venous Thrombosis After Long-haul Flights.  Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(22):2759-2764. doi:10.1001/archinte.163.22.2759 .  This is some of the definitive work that discussed the risk of long flights with blood clots in the traveling population due to prolonged immobility.

*Most flights are pressurized to an altitude of around 8,000 feet – which is the same level as Bogotá, Colombia.  This is higher than Flagstaff, AZ, Lake Tahoe, Nevada, Denver, Colorado or Mexico City, D.F.  – all of which are locations where some visitors feel physical effects from the altitude (headaches, fatigue, dyspnea, or air hunger.  In extreme (and rare) cases, people can develop cerebral edema or other life-threatening complications at these altitudes**.

** Severe effects like cerebral edema are much more common at extreme altitudes such as the Base Camp of Mt. Everest but have occurred in susceptible individuals at lower levels.

Please be careful, my friends..


In the world of internet anonymity, I tend to think of my readers as my friends.  That’s probably because I started this blog – and my journey into medical tourism to be able to provide information for my friends and co-workers.  People who knew me well enough to trust the information I was providing.

The blog was a handy way to keep in touch with people while I travelled through Latin America – and it became a place where friends of friends, and loved ones could pass along inquires.  “Do you know a good plastic surgeon/ neurosurgeon/ cardiac surgeon?”  “Is Bogotá safe?”  “What are the hospitals like?”  “Are the people nice?” and so forth.

Along the way – it become something bigger – and I began to write more, so that people who didn’t know me personally could find more about me, my work and to know why they could trust my findings.  But just as I was writing about the good, the bad and all the different things I encountered – other wonderful kind strangers were reaching out to me.

Sometimes it starts with an email, other times a comment on the page.. and every so often – a ‘forward’ or a google connect.

Now, back when I was in Mexico – I had a pretty shady/ scary encounter with a large organization called Planet Hospital.

I figured it couldn’t be an isolated practice, so I looked around the web – but wasn’t able to find much about the company.  They are privately held – so they don’t have to disclose corporate information.

Since then – bits and pieces have emerged, which paint the picture of an extremely unethical organization but overall the company still stays ‘pretty clean’ as far as the media goes.

But recently, I received by google connect  a forward of a blog post by a young couple that just broke my heart.

The couple had contacted Planet Hospital for assistance in surrogacy – and well – I’ll direct you to her blog for the rest of the details about their long travail as they attempted to have a second child.

http://0kayintheend.blogspot.com

Since then, I have been following her posts – and by posting about the blog, I  hope to give her more exposure  but every post makes my heart sink just a little more for her and her husband.

http://0kayintheend.blogspot.com/2013/08/youre-only-as-sick-as-your-secrets_13.html

So, if you have a moment – take a look.  And, thanks, friends, for listening.

Overseas Radio Follow-up


As a follow-up for all the overseasradio.com radio listeners (and all my loyal readers) I have posted some additional information on the topics covered during the radio program with Ilene Little from Traveling for Health.com including contact information for several of the physicians mentioned.

in the Operating Room at New Bocagrande Hospital

Thoracic Surgery

Esophageal cancer – during the segment we highlighted the importance of seeking surgical treatment for esophageal cancer at a high-volume center.  One of the centers we mentioned was the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Pittsburgh, PA – and the work of Dr. Benny Weksler, MD.

Dr. Benny Weksler*, MD

Hillman Cancer Center

5115 Centre Avenue

Pittsburgh, PA 15232

Phone: (412) 648-6271

He is an Associate Professor in Cardiothoracic Surgery and Chief of Thoracic Surgery at UPMC and the UPMC Cancer Center.  (For more information on Dr. Weksler, esophageal cancer, and issues in thoracic surgery – see my sister site, Cirugia de Torax.org)

(To schedule an appointment via UPMC on-line click here).

We also briefly mentioned Dr. Daniela Molena*, MD at John Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Johns Hopkins Hospital

600 N. Wolfe Street

Baltimore, MD 21287

Phone: 410-614-3891

Appointment Phone: 410-933-1233

(The link above will take readers to the John Hopkins site where they can also make an appointment.)

* I would like to note that I have not observed either of these physicians (Weksler or Molena) in the operating room.

We also talked about several of the thoracic surgeons that I have interviewed and observed numerous times, including both Dr. Rafael Beltran, MD & Dr. Ricardo Buitrago, MD at the National Cancer Institute in Bogotá, Colombia.  These guys are doing some pretty amazing work, on a daily basis – including surgery and research on the treatment of some very aggressive cancers.

in the operating room with Dr. Rafael Beltran

Dr. Rafael Beltran is the Director of the Thoracic Surgery division, and has published several papers on tracheal surgery.   He’s an amazing surgeon, but primarily speaks Spanish, but his colleague Dr. Buitrago (equally excellent) is fully fluent in English.

Now the National Institute website is in Spanish, but Dr. Buitrago is happy to help, and both he and Dr. Beltran welcome overseas patients.

Dr. Buitrago recently introduced RATS (robot assisted thoracic surgery) to the city of Bogotá.

Now, I’ve written about these two surgeons several times (including two books) after spending a lot of time with both of them during the months I lived and researched surgery in Bogotá, so I have included some links here to the on-line journal I kept while researching the Bogotá book.  It’s not as precise, detailed or as lengthy as the book content (more like a diary of my schedule while working on the book), but I thought readers might enjoy it.

In the Operating Room with Dr. Beltran

There are a lot of other great surgeons on the Bogotá website, and in the Bogotá book – even if they didn’t get mentioned on the show, so take a look around, if you are interested.

in the operating room with Dr. Ricardo Buitrago

Contact information:

Dr. Ricardo Buitrago, MD 

Email: buitago77us@yahoo.com

please put “medical tourist” or “overseas patient for thoracic surgery” in the subject line.

We talked about Dr. Carlos Ochoa, MD – the thoracic surgeon I am currently studying with here in Mexicali, MX.  I’ve posted all sorts of interviews and stories about working with him – here at Cartagena Surgery under the “Mexicali tab” and over at Cirugia de Torax.org as well.  (Full disclosure – I assisted Dr. Ochoa in writing some of the English content of his site.)

out from behind the camera with Dr. Ayala (left) and Dr. Carlos Ochoa

He is easily reached – either through the website, www.drcarlosochoa.com or by email at drcarlosochoa@yahoo.com.mx

HIPEC / Treatment for Advanced Abdominal Cancers

I don’t think I even got to mention Dr. Fernando Arias’ name on the program, but we did talk about HIPEC or intra-operative chemotherapy, so I have posted some links to give everyone a little more information about both.

HIPEC archives at Bogotá Surgery.org – listing of articles about HIPEC, and Dr. Arias.  (I recommend starting from oldest to most recent.)

Dr. Fernando Arias

Oncologic Surgeon at the Fundacion Santa Fe de Bogotá in Bogotá, Colombia.  You can either email him directly at farias00@hotmail.com or contact the International Patient Center at the hospital.  (The international patient center will help you arrange all of your appointments, travel, etc.)

Fundacion Santa Fe de Bogota

   www.fsfb.org.co

Ms. Ana Maria Gonzalez Rojas, RN

Chief of the International Services Department

Calle 119 No 7- 75

Bogota, Colombia

Tele: 603 0303 ext. 5895

ana.gonzalez@fsfb.org.co  or info@fsfb.org.co

Now – one thing I would like to caution people is that email communications are treated very differently in Mexico and Colombia, meaning that you may not get a response for a day or two.  (They treat it more like we treat regular postal mail.  If something is really important, people tend to use the phone/ text.)

Of course, I should probably include a link to the books over on Amazon.com – and remind readers that while the Mexicali ‘mini-book’ isn’t finished yet – when it is – I’ll have it available on-line for free pdf downloads.

Mexicali book update


The service is quiet so I am spending the day writing and working on the Mexicali book.  For new readers, I would like to explain that the Mexicali book is a little different from my previous offerings.  This is not an exhaustive compilation of surgeons and facilities in Mexicali, as frankly, I do not have the time or resources to accomplish such a task at this point in time.

Like all my books, it is a labor of love, but differs in that it highlights some of the best, and worst of Mexicali and medical tourism in this city.  So instead of interviewing and observing hundreds of surgeons, it highlights the limited number of physicians who agreed to participate in this project.

As such, no plans are being made to market this book commercially. Instead, I plan to offer it as a free pdf download for interested readers.  I will also be offering a full color soft-bound edition (at cost) for people interested in the many full color photographs of surgeons and surgery in Mexicali.  I will be placing the soft-bound edition on Amazon.com for interested persons.  Unfortunately, the cost of producing such a book (color photos) in limited runs is fairly expensive, so I apologize in advance to readers – but as I said – it’s a labor of love, and I won’t make a dime off of it.  I can only hope that if readers enjoy this book, they will consider purchasing one of my longer, more detailed books on medical tourism (such as the Bogotá book.)

More information will be forthcoming as I get further and further towards completion of this project.

Welcome to Mexicali!


As I mentioned in a previous post – here at Cartagena Surgery, we’ve decided to explore some of the border cities of our neighbor to the south, Mexico.  For many people,  Mexico is the most practical option when it comes to medical tourism.

For our first look at Mexico, we’ve decided to travel to Mexicali, in Baja, California.  It’s just across the border from Calexico, California and is home to around one million people – making it a large metropolitan area.

With the drastic increase in drug-related crime and killings plaguing many of the other cities in Mexico such as Cuidad Juarez “Murder capital of the world,”  Tijuana and even the smaller Nogales, Mexicali is the safer, sweeter option for border cities.

In fact, Mexicali is known as the most affluent of cities in Baja California – and it is certainly apparent during our visit due to the availability of a wide range of medical services.  While the entry from the central border gate leads to a bustling commercial district, the more upscale, attractive residential neighborhoods are only a fifteen minute walk from the border.

At the Mexicali - Calexico border

About Mexicali:

Travel and Tourism links for Mexicali:

Official Mexicali tourism page – has English version. Also has a health section promoting local physicians and hospitals.

Mexico Tourism Information

WikiTravel

Getting Here:

The easiest way to get for (for many people) is to walk.  After driving to Calexico, California – turn down Imperial Boulevard and head towards the border.  Turn right on second street – and cross the railroad tracks.  Immediately on the left – there is a secured parking lot.  It costs about three dollars to park here overnight.

Take your valuables with you – and as you leave, proceed back down second street towards Imperial.  Cross Imperial – and walk about two more blocks.   Turn left on Rockland, and proceed towards the Calexico government building.  On the front of the building – you will see a set of turnstiles (like at an amusement park.)  Walk through the turnstiles – walk another 40 feet to the second set of turnstiles – and you are now in Mexico..

the doorway to Mexico

You will then walk through a short underground causeway – filled with little shops, and money changers/ cambios.  (This is one of the better places to change money – the rates are surprisingly competitive, and beat anything on the American side.)  When you emerge from the short hallway – there are stairs on the left.

These stairs lead to one of the main streets in Mexicali for medical services – Maduro.

Update: March 2012

I will be living in Mexicali for several months – so look for more postings and information about medical tourism/ medical services in Mexicali in the future.

The App Store: Android Market


For anyone traveling to Bogotá or Cartagena, I have created some FREE mobile apps for Android phones. (Still working on iTunes versions).  These apps contain maps, local resources, travel links, and emergency information.  Where to go if you are experiencing chest pain?  Got you covered.. Where to stay?  also covered.. Cheapest flights – in the app..  Where to get a good meal – it’s in there too.. The apps will also keep you connected to the blog where I post all updates to the books, and news about the destination.

Bogotá Apps:
Bogotá Surgery – primarily based on the blog – for those who can’t stand to miss a post.

The Bogotá Companion– maps, travel resources and references, emergency information.

Cartagena app:
The Cartagena Companion – chock full of information, including short videos about Cartagena.

You don’t have to be a medical tourist to enjoy these apps – best thing is, they are all FREE..