Life in the fast lane: my most recent assignment


No medical tourism or Latin America this winter, but as my latest assignment finishes, it’s been an interesting journey!

New friends, new places, and new experiences!

Co-workers in the PACU

Co-workers in the PACU

I spent the last few months working in the intensive care unit on the trauma service at a large, busy trauma hospital outside of the nation’s capitol.  It wasn’t quite what I expected – for all of my world travels and travel nursing, I still tend to revert back to Chicago Hope in my mind sometimes.. This was a lot more like St. Elsewhere – meaning that as a person from a rural background, I always expect to be somewhat overwhelmed in larger facilities but by the first week, it was surprisingly familiar and kind of homey feeling.  Instead of a cast of thousands, and a sea of unknown faces, it become a daily chorus of ‘good mornings’ to a close-knit group of providers.  (I was there quite a bit, which probably helped).

the view from the call room

the view from the call room

But somethings were definitely different, and it was more than just monuments, politics and presidents, and the “newsworthy” aspect of some of our patients.

just outside the federal district - and a whole different world from cardiac surgery

the federal district – (and a whole different world from cardiac surgery!)

Crash course in major trauma

Running from the police seems to be a frequent requirement for some of our admissions.  Bad jokes aside, where cardiac surgery is planned, detailed and precise, the world of trauma is often chaos, tragedy and upheaval.  A split-second accident, or fall becomes a forever life altering event.  All of the ugly of the world; crime, abuse and assault comes to our door.  Innocence smashed, so often without any sense of rhyme, reason or fairness.  Working here makes me confront my mortality in a way I’ve never had to before.

Doctors in the ICU

Doctors in the ICU

Scheduled chaos

Sure, many people have unexpected heart attacks – even people we tend to think of being ‘low-risk” – and nonsmokers have no guarantee of avoiding a lung cancer diagnosis.  But, for the most part, that’s the beauty and elegance of cardiothoracic surgery – it’s a calculated, orderly world for those of us working in it.   Cardiac surgery feeds the math-loving, logistical and analytical side, while thoracic surgery with its cornucopia and ‘catch-all’ of chest pathophysiology is a never-ending journey of the Jules Verne variety.

As comforting as this can be, it can also become a hindrance if we stay in the familiar for too long.  Sure, it’s nice to have the experience, to know most of the answers, most of the time – but these brief glimpses outside cardiothoracic surgery are crucial for staying engaged, and involved in medicine.  Even if I feel silly or stupid at times, it’s important to continue to learn new things (and dredge up older knowledge that’s been unused for a while).

The good thing is that the essentials, and the principles of caring for people never really change even if the hospital, the staff, the city and the specialty service does.   I don’t know why that surprises me anymore, but it still does.

So now that the assignment is over – I am back home.  I am planning for my next big trip (Asia, this time for a big thoracic conference), catching up on medical journals, and  a bit of continuing education while awaiting my next assignment.

Until then – we’ll get back to our usual programming!

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Obamacare, American medicine, medical tourism and what it means for me


I haven’t written in a while because I have been looking for a way to describe what’s been going on in healthcare.

the American healthcare system

the American healthcare system

As a provider

There has been a weird unhappy vibe in the  American hospitals these days.. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before in the last 15 years.  There has always been a collective feeling of frustration among providers; but it’s usually sat somewhat untended, like a slow cooker slowly simmering away..  These frustrations were related to our inability to provide the best for all of our patients, our frustration with the broken-ness of a health care system so rife with waste, yet with so little help for our vulnerable populations, and those in dire need.

It was manifested by occasion individual grumbling; during case management meetings, during conversations with faceless insurance companies as we explained yet again, why our patient:

a. really needed XYX treatment and

b. how it was actually more cost-effective in the long run..

But it was isolated for the most part, and the majority of providers still felt like they were helping people – and enjoyed the job satisfaction that went along with that..

It seems like a lot of that has changed over the past year.. I don’t know if it’s fear of coming changes, and the uncertainty that goes along with that..  But most providers are actually in favor of the Affordable Care Act – or the concept, anyway.  It’s something else, maybe the forced implementation of governmental changes like clunky and poorly functioning EMRs, the continual threats of “pay-for-performance” or a cummulative effect of all of the above, but many providers seem to have reached the breaking point in frustration.

For the first time that I can recall, a lot of really excellent physicians and other providers I know are just burned out to the point of complete mental and physical exhaustion.  People I’ve know for a long time, people I consider my mentors, my inspiration are talking about retiring early or leaving the field to do something else entirely.

It’s also the first time that I’ve ever seen doctors, nurses, and others as a collective to seem so broken in spirit.

Patients are people, not check box diagnoses

I am feeling a bit of it myself – a kernel of hopelessness that sparks in my heart.. a sinking feeling when I order a standard medication (but individualized for a specific patient/ condition) and enter in the computer – and receive a message telling me that dosage is not permitted.  A follow-up phone call with the pharmacist continues the charade.. Since it doesn’t fall into a specific category between two mandatory dosing schedules (for diagnoses that differ from what my patient has) then – they don’t know how to categorize it on the computer – and thus my patient can’t have it..  This makes no sense to me, I am following best practices, the current literature and evidence-based practice, but somehow my patient’s condition hasn’t been coded somewhere down in the pharmacy, so they won’t release the medication.  Too scared of the consequences I guess – or too apathetic to care that the medicine is for a real, living, breathing person and not a statistical table somewhere.

– and I argue the realities of this individual scenario but the bureaucratic mentality on the other end of the phone doesn’t care..  How am I supposed to do my job; to care and protect my patient in a system like this?  It’s only going to get worse as the government gets more and more involved in patient care.

What?  My patient isn’t a peg, it’s a person – and if this person doesn’t fit the pre-specified check box doesn’t matter to me  (in this specific instance)- what matters is that my patient keeps his leg (which he may not, if he doesn’t get this medication at the dosage I ordered in consultation with his surgeon).

As the consumer – losing my current plan

At the same time that this brokenness is affecting providers nationwide – I have fallen into the dilemma of many of my readers. As a locum tenems provider, I am self-insured.  My current plan, which was flexible, affordable and provided coverage which suited our needs (low monthly fee, low deductible, reasonable co-pay, and two free wellness checks a year) is being discontinued.  It was also a flexible plan that allowed my family and I to see providers nationally.  So if I was working in Texas for six months, I could see a doctor in Dallas. Or Massachusetts, or California, even back in my home state of Virginia.

Now, I am spending most of my days off on the phone and the internet – looking for a policy that doesn’t limit my coverage by location.  Most of the time, I can’t even find the correct phone numbers to talk to the right people.  The numbers listed online at the marketplace are incorrect, or out of service.  The representatives that I do speak to after being on hold for thirty minutes and routed through a computer automated system are sometimes nice, (often completely indifferent) but can’t answer my questions.

I do know that at a minimum my monthly expenditure for even the bronze “no frills” plans will double, and may even triple.  My deductible will also double or even triple, so in January, I will be literally paying two or three times what I paid last month (December) for a fraction of the services.

Paying a lot, and getting almost nothing in return

All of the new government approved plans are based on my home state – and some even limit coverage to my county only.  Since my county is rural – and the nearest major medical center is actually in a neighboring state, having one of these local plans is like being uninsured.  (Some representatives said they would cover out-of-area “life-threatening emergencies*”, but others weren’t sure).

this should be a significant concern for anyone in rural or limited medical access areas**.  For someone with my geographical needs, it’s become a major nightmare.   Even with the increased costs – I may still not have coverage for the majority of my time (for 2013 for example, I was home for a total of 1 month. In 2014, I was home for four months).  Since I can’t predict where I will be sent – I can’t pick a plan for another state.  Not only that – but even if I knew I was going to be posted to Indiana or somewhere like that – I am not allowed to buy a plan outside of my registered address.

No one knows the answers – and what they do know doesn’t sound good:

After another full day on the phone with representatives for the Healthcare Marketplace and different insurance providers, it looks like the answers are pretty ugly when they even know them.  Most of the representatives had no answers.  One of them even asked me, “Well, do you vote?”  They won’t even give a call back number or extension so that when they “accidentally” disconnect you during another of the “let me transfer you to another representative” spiel, you have to go thru the whole rigmarole all over again.

1.  If you have a plan that does not have out-of-network coverage – consider yourself uninsured if you become injured or have a medical emergency outside of your area (which may be as small as your county.)  The cheapest plan for two people on Blue Cross/Anthem/Blue Shield (my existing company) that offers out of network coverage is 594.00 a month (we paid 213.00 a month before).

2.  None of the plans cover medical tourism – even from companies that previously provided these options.  So, if you live in a county like mine (with no trauma center, and a tiny rural hospital) – you aren’t covered for the neighboring hospital in another area in an emergency.

Not only that – you can’t receive coverage for a non-urgent (elective) procedure for something like a knee replacement at another facility.  My town has one orthopedic surgeon (and he isn’t someone I’d ever chose to go to.)  Now I can’t go to Duke, UVA or another nearby facility – and they won’t pay for me to have the same treatment (at a fraction of the cost somewhere else like Bogotá.)

Here’s a typical example of what I’ve learned after several days/ weeks of reading & talking to representatives –

I’ll pay $5,112 in premiums with a $13,200 deductible with NO coverage of any conditions (except an annual physical and a flu shot) until I’ve put out a total of $18,300 (every year – not a one time deal).   Then the insurance will start to pick up the tab.. This is supposed to be affordable?  For whom?

And while some people will pay less in premiums based on their income level – they still have to come up with the $13,200 deductible.  How the heck is that supposed to work for someone making $30,000 a year?

So now we are calling all the other companies and reading, reading, reading all the fine print.  For now – it looks like I will paying an exorbitant amount for minimal coverage, and will need to rely on medical tourism for any non-urgent but essential treatment that either falls below my high deductible or isn’t even available in my home area.  Luckily, I am pretty healthy (but I am currently working in a trauma unit so I know how quick that can change) – but isn’t the whole point of insurance to prepare for the unexpected?

So what does that mean?

I don’t have the answers for everyon1e.. In fact, I don’t even have them for myself. But it may mean that I am better served by paying my premium and using medical tourism for all of my other (non-emergency) health care needs.  After all, $13,199.99 buys a lot of care in Colombia, Mexico and many of the other places I’ve researched and written about.

*And, if you survive – you may have to argue with some bureaucrat whether your illness was actually life-threatening or not.. I mean, it can always be argued that “how serious was it, really, if you made it home alive?”

** Limited access areas may include major cities.  For example, the city of Las Vegas has a very limited number of specialists.

Ebola and medical tourism


 

biohazard

There’s a new editorial over at the IMJT on Ebola, medical tourists and the medical travel industry.  In the article, “Ebola: a hot topic for the next medical tourism event?” by Ian Youngman, he explores the potential pitfalls from medical tourists who are seeking treatment overseas.  As an insurance expert, who makes his living by preparing for “What if?” scenarios, the author offers valuable insight on a topic that has provoked wide speculation and fear-mongering among the general media.

Mr. Youngman explores current medical screening at airports, the impact on current medical tourists as well as the potential impact of a global pandemic/panic on the medical tourism industry.  Mr. Youngman urges for a clear, reasoned and cohesive discussion and response from leaders in the medical tourism industry.

passport w money

Death of young patient raises questions of safety

IN other news, the BBC is reporting on the recent death of a 24 year old British medical tourist.  While the BBC article offers few details on the patient who died during a liposuction procedure in Thailand, a more in-depth report from the UK Mail reports that the woman stopped breathing after receiving anesthesia at the private medical clinic.  The article reports that this was a repeat visit for the patient, who had previously undergone another plastic surgery procedure at the clinic.

Now questions are being raised about the doctor’s qualifications to perform the procedure, as well as the lack of availability of life-saving medical equipment at the medical clinic.  The doctor at the clinic, Dr. Sombob Saensiri has been arrested while this case is being investigated.

Note: There are conflicting reports regarding the exact circumstances of this patient’s death.  An Asian story reports that the patient had returned after a recent surgery with complaints of a developing infection.

Related posts:  Plastic surgery safety archives

Plastic surgery safety: Know before you go radio interview

Is your cosmetic surgeon really even a surgeon?

Liposuction in a Myrtle Beach apartment

 

Story updates: Be care my friends, and Mexicali


It may have been a while since my last post, but I haven’t been idle.  In the last few weeks, I’ve traveled to Mexicali to check in, have some dental work done as well as attending professional conferences and working on my next locum tenens assignment.

Mexicali sign

First – some updates on Mexicali:

I don’t have photos to accompany these updates, but the new emergency department at Hospital General de Mexicali is big, beautiful and open for business.

I also met with both Carlo Bonfante and Dr. Carlos Ochoa to talk about some of the upcoming improvements to the Hospital de la Familia.  Nothing has been completed yet, but they have some big plans to improve services for local residents and medical tourists alike.  I’ll write more when I have the rest of the details.

I also had a chance to catch up with Dr. Horatio Ham (Bariatric surgeon) and Alejandro Ballestereos (Anesthesia).  Dr. Ham reports that Dr. Abril’s radio show has been revived as an internet radio program.

Sadly, Dr. Alberto Aceves, a well-known Mexicali bariatric surgeon died in a private plane crash back in June.

 

My Mexicali dentist: Dr. Luis Israel Quintana

 

Dr. Israel Quintana with one of his American patients

I don’t have dental insurance but I have a history of bruxism (grinding my teeth) so I am pretty fanatical about taking care of my teeth.  I’ve written before about the difficulties in reporting on dental tourism, as well as my previous experiences with Dr. Quintana, so when my dentist at my last locum assignment gave me a work estimate for almost eight thousand dollars!*,  I knew I needed to plan a trip to Mexicali before my next assignment.

photo (12)

I ended up having 12 fillings (no cavities but plenty of damage from grinding), as well as a root canal and a partial crown.  He also made me a new night guard since my old one obviously wasn’t preventing ongoing damage.  While several days in the dentist’s chair was no picnic, I had minimal discomfort and little damage to my wallet.  All told, the bill was less than 1300.  I still need some additional work, but the majority of my teeth are now taken care of.  I don’t have to worry about having a dental emergency while I am working a contract.

Dr. Quintana also reminded me that his office accepts most American insurance plans – with no co-pays or other payment required.

* My initial estimate in Dallas only covered work on four teeth.  The additional surface fillings were not included.

 

Story Update: Please be careful my friends!

baby

Baby making and Planet Hospital: Lots of money and no baby

Some readers may remember the sad story that I received from a childless couple last year.  The couple had contracted with Planet Hospital for surrogacy services after receiving devastating news on the birth of their only child.  The child had been born with a terminal disease (the child later died).  The couple also learned that due to a rare (and previously undetected) genetic condition, it was likely that any future children would also contract this disease.   The couple had started a blog to document their journey into surrogacy, but after several months, it devolved into a story of deception, with the couple being defrauded of thousands and thousands of dollars by one of Planet Hospital’s contracted facilities.

Recently, Planet Hospital and their surrogacy scams made the front page of the print edition of The New York Times.  The story by Tamar Lewin rips the mask off of Rudy Rupak, the shyster I told you about previously.  (I also wrote about his shady transplant tourism practices at the Examiner.com back in 2012).

Surprisingly, the “Medical Travel Quality Alliance,” a branch of the MTA that advocates for “self-regulation” of the medical tourism industry only seems to partially condemn the practice of tourism surrogacy and Rudy Rupak in their latest publications and newsletter.  Of course, anyone with even a few years experience covering medical tourism remembers that Rudy Rupak was the poster child for the medical tourism industry for many years, even after the first rumors of shady business practices emerged in 2010.  Mr. Rupak has since filed for bankrupcy, but knowing of some of the deals Planet Hospital was involved in, I think he should be in prison.

The second time is the charm!


My apologies to my dear readers for this late post.  I usually write about surgery and surgeons, but occasionally drift into other things..   I visited the new Clinica de Medellin facility in late July, but didn’t have time to write about it before now.

Dermatology

Just before travelling to Medellin to cover Colombia Moda and the ALAT conference, I developed a dermatology problem.  As my American readers know, getting an appointment with a specialist in the USA can often take several months.  In fact, I was given an appointment in early July for later this fall.

However, during my stay in Medellin, my dermatology condition continued, so I decided to give the Clinica de Medellin another try.  I had heard rumors about some re-organization of the medical travel division so I decided to use this as an opportunity to verify those rumors.  I am very pleased to report that after sending my initial email to the Clinica de Medellin requesting a consultation with a dermatologist that I received a reply that same day (from Adriana Henao – email: ahenao@correo.clinicamedellin.com.co).

The coördinator called me back to confirm my availability and to ask if I would be willing to go to a clinic at one of the other Clinica de Medellin campuses.   (She also asked about my level of Spanish fluency so she could direct me to the appropriate physician.)

By the next day, an appointment had been scheduled for the end of the week.

New clinic

The clinic was so new that when I gave the address to the cab driver, he merely raised an eyebrow before starting the car.  On arrival, he expressed surprise – and said, “This wasn’t there before.”  The Clinica de Medellin Sede Occidental is divided into a hospital and an outpatient clinic area.  The smell of fresh paint was still evident in the immaculate, and sparkling facility.

The officer at the information desk had me personally escorted to the correct clinic when he heard my American accent (and hesitant Spanish).  I waited about fifteen minutes before being escorted into the private office of Dra. Sara Gonzalez Trujillo.  She was very friendly and pleasant.  We reviewed my past medical history and current treatments before she examined me.  She explained the condition in-depth before writing several prescriptions and requesting a lab test.

She provided me with a full copy of my medical records to take to my upcoming appointment and gave me her contact information.

Total cost of consultation: less than $50.00

 

Lab:

The labs cost about 25.00.  After a quick lab draw, I was given a lab slip with my record number on it.  I later received an email with my login to access my results.  Since I was headed back to the states, I emailed my results to Dr. Gonzalez, who called me with additional treatment recommendations and an explanation of the results.

Since seeing Dr. Gonzalez, I have been using the medications as prescribed – and my condition has improved dramatically.

Follow-up:

I have been taking the medications as prescribed and it is getting better.  I will email Dr. Gonzalez after seeing the dermatologist here to give her an update.

 

To make an appointment with Clinica Medellin, click here.

Crazy days!


It’s been a couple crazy, busy days here in Medellin.  I have a bit of a backlog of posts – from a day learning to finger crochet in a group crochet class, the festival of flowers, a visit to Clinica Medellin Occidente and the ALAT conference.  It will take me a little while to post everything before heading home in just a few short days.

DSC_0001

The ALAT conference was fantastic.  In addition to numerous wonderful, learned speakers from all over Latin America, it was a great chance to connect with innovative thoracic surgeons from practices all around the world.  We also re-connected with surgeons we’ve interviewed in the past – to hear what they have been doing since my last visit.

One of these surgeons was Dr. Andres Jimenez at Fundacion Santa Fe de Bogotá (SFdeB).  As astute readers of the Bogotá books may remember, our encounters haven’t always been as collegial as they could have been.   However, he did grant me an interview, and permit my ingress into the operating room.  To my surprise, I found that while he was a hesitant interviewee, he was also a promising young surgeon.

With that in mind, I re-connected with Dr. Jimenez briefly to ask about the program.  Dr. Jimenez reports that they have started a lung transplant program and recently performed his first lung transplant at SFdeB.

Dr. Carlos Carvajal (right)

Dr. Carlos Carvajal (right)

Dr. Carlos Carvajal, who was a thoracic surgery fellow when we first interviewed him – is now a practicing thoracic surgeon at Hospital Santa Clara in downtown Bogotá.

Dr. Ricardo Buitrago continues his work in robotic surgery at Clinica de Marly.  Caught up with Dr. Luis Torres, the young and charming thoracic surgeon from Clinica Palermo.

But the biggest surprise at all – was the twinkling brown eyes of Dr. Cristian Anuz Martinez.  (The twinkling brown eyes above a surgical mask are all I remembered from my 2012 trip to the operating room with Dr. Frnando Bello in Santa Cruz, Bolivia).

with Dr. Cristian Anuz Martinez

with Dr. Cristian Anuz Martinez

We spent some time over coffee talking about the current state of cardiothoracic surgery in Bolivia, his private practice and his colleagues.

The conference itself was phenomenal – the amount and range of topics covered – from sleep medicine, tuberculosis, critical care medicine and pulmonology in addition to thoracic surgery.

The Festival of Flowers

The festival of flowers, one of the largest events in Medellin also started August 1st.  The event which is expected to draw 19,000 visitors to Medellin this year – celebrates the floral industry of Antioquia with ten days of events.  The events are staggered through out the city and include musical concerts, singing contests, parades, flora displays, children’s events and arts.

 

 

Festival of Flowers displays in Plaza Mayor

Festival of Flowers displays in Plaza Mayor

Tomorrow: Clinica de Medellin – Second time is the charm!

Street of Dreams – Calle 49


el centro map with shopping districts outlined

el centro map with shopping districts outlined -high resolution

During Colombia Moda, I met several American business people looking for more information about fabric and textiles than the small booths could provide.  Many of them wanted to go out and see the fabrics, some of the shops and the factories but no one thought to take them to see any of these things.  All of the people I met were first-time visitors to Medellin (and some may never be back).  I can’t help with factory tours (I’d like to see those myself) but I do live nearby, so I thought maybe I could help provide some information for future visitors to this fair city. Since I thought wandering around El Centro as a first-time visitor without a guide might be a little daunting, this post might help people feel more comfortable. So I spent all day Saturday wandering around the district  – to take pictures and be able to provide more information to people interested in finding fabrics and materials while in Medellin.

A note about Fabric shopping in Medellin: If you are looking for super cheap – crazy bargains, you probably won’t find them here.  But you will find a huge array of all kinds of fabric – most of it made right here in the city.  For someone like myself who is sometimes (okay, frequently) frustrated by the lack of floor space given to apparel fabrics in the United States – (where it seems like 90% of fabric is for quilting and such), it’s still a bonanza.

Also, while it isn’t made in the USA (which is increasingly rare, I know) – I still feel a bit of loyalty towards buying locally sourced items – even if Medellin is that source. Still interested?  Good.

How to get here – the real Medellin

The best fabric and general shopping in  Medellin isn’t in the fancy malls of El Poblado and Enviagado.  It’s in the busy, teeming streets of El Centro.  El Centro is also where many of the most famous tourist attractions are, so if you are interested in seeing some of the famous architecture, the Botero collection (at the Museo de Antioquia) – you can do that too.  El Poblado and Enviagado are the rich, sanitized versions of Medellin – so if you have friends that aren’t interested in shopping but would like to see more of Medellin – this is a trip to take them on…

1.  Taxi – if you want to take a taxi, ask him to take you to the Plaza Botero.  It’s a few streets away from your destination, but it’s a nice central space – especially good if you are meeting friends or other visitors.

2.  Metro Train –  the metro train is cheap, clean and quite reliable.  It’s also a good way to see a bit of the city.  Take the (blue line) train to either Parque Berrio station or the San Antonio station.  San Antonio is closer to shopping, but Parque Berrio puts you right at the Plaza.  (For more information about the Metro, see this helpful article at Medellin Living).

Get a map –  Now, I know this is a digital age, but sometimes a paper map is just easier.. Safer too because it makes you less of a target for thieves who prey on upscale tourists for all of our fancy electronic devices.

tourist kiosk with maps

tourist kiosk with maps

There are several of these kiosks located in/ around Plaza Botero and around the Parque Berrio station.  Just ask for a map “Mapa, por favor” and they will be happy to provide you with a free map of Medellin.  I used this same map for reference for the shopping areas, to make it easy for visitors to recognize where to go.

Navigating the city Places like Medellin and Bogotá are particularly easy to navigate because streets use numbers, not names for the most part.  (Once you get used to the system – our system of street naming in the USA seems needlessly confusing.) Everything is basically on a grid – Calles run in one direction and are abbreviated as Cll.  Carreras run in a perpendicular direction and are often abbreviated as Cr. It makes locating a business very easy.  For example, my favorite fabric store in Medellin is Textiles El Faison – and their address is Calle 49 #53 – 101.  This means that they are located on Calle 49, about 101 meters from the cross-street, Carerra 53.

Now that you are here – with your map Walk south towards Calle 49.  (To orient yourself – remember that Medellin is set in the foothills.  If you start walking uphill, you are heading East (the wrong direction) – towards the financial center of Medellin (near where I usually stay). On Calle 49 – turn West (or downwards on a very slight grade)  The next several streets will be crammed with shops filled with all kinds of sewing related items – thread stores, fabric stores, sewing machine repair etc.

Sewing machine repair and sales

Sewing machine repair and sales

Many of the shops look tiny compared to JoAnn’s or the big craft stores you may be used to.  Sometimes they are tiny – but sometimes, it’s just the entrance to a larger indoor mall.

Entrance to one of the small fabric markets

Entrance to one of the small fabric markets

Fabric

Now, the fabric stores line Calle 49 and many of the cross-streets.. But sometimes notions can be a bit trickier to track down.  A lot of tiny shops sell just one product – like elastic or ribbon trims, buttons and the like.

small shop in an indoor fabric mini-mall selling thread

small shop in an indoor fabric mini-mall (Shanghai) off calle 49 selling thread

elastics and trims

elastics and trims

As I mentioned before, my favorite fabric store from my wandering on Saturday – is Textiles El Faison.  It’s a big store, and not quite as claustrophobic feeling as some of the smaller shops.  (When the shops are crowded, and the fabric piled to the ceilings, I get a bit closed in feeling in some of the smaller shops..) Not that this would prevent me – if I saw ‘the fabric’ there.

many shops are small but piled high with fabric

many shops are small but piled high with fabric

Lots of great stuff- but limited luggage space, so I move on to the next ones.

as you can see - the width of the store is pretty narrow, maybe 12 feet in total. Now add ten customers and I get a bit 'crowded' feeling

as you can see – the width of the store is pretty narrow, maybe 12 feet in total. Now add ten customers and I get a bit ‘crowded’ feeling

But for general browsing, or to see fabric in a shop more like what most of us are used to – Textiles El Faison is a well-lit two story shop.   Jaime Sosa is the manager there – and he is very nice and helpful.  My photos are a bit blurry because I was relying on my small phone (an older model) because I don’t like lugging my fancy Nikon down to El Centro).

Jaiime Sosa

Jaiime Sosa

Here’s the address for people who want to skip the adventures and go straight to his shop:

Textiles El Faison Calle 49 No 53 – 101 Medellin

displays piled high with fabric

displays piled high with fabric

But that’s not the only great place.. I really liked Portofino Textil too.. It’s located on the ground floor of a little textile mall.  (It’s a very interesting mall – about half the shops sell custom printed fabrics).

One of the malls for custom printed fabric

One of the malls for custom printed fabric

I was trying to cover a lot of ground, so I didn’t stop in and get all the details on custom printing – even though I saw little storefronts printing the fabric during my wandering.  (Maybe I will get a chance to go back and ask some questions.)  Custom may be the wrong word since most of it seems to be more like “Small lot pop prints” but at one shop, I did see a customer hand over a jump drive filled with images for printing).  But some of the other shops / kiosks didn’t look to have computers just their own style of pop prints (justin beiber, popular artists, other cool designs).

small storefront.. the lady in the blue tank is printing custom fabric

small storefront.. the lady in the blue tank is printing custom fabric

Portofino IMG_1881 Portofino has more of a warehouse feel  –  and a two meter minimum.  Fabric is priced by the kilogram.  I couldn’t resist one of the fabrics there – and my two meters of this lightweight lycra was 0.7kg in total.  For an example on prices – the tag on the bolt said 45,000 per kilogram but advertised a discount.. After the discount, my fabric total 27,156.  tax added a bit – for a total of 28,350 for my two meters of a 60 inch (or there about width).   According to today’s exchange rate – that’s about $15.35 (or around 7.50 a yard since a meter is a couple of inches more.)  So, like I said – not a crazy, amazing deal – except that I love the fabric, it was made right here, and it’s certainly not something I’d find at Hancocks or Joanns (if we even had one in my town). It’s actually located under another fabric store but I found it to have better selection, and salespeople that were very helpful and friendly. (Fabien was particularly nice – and patient with my limited Spanish).

I just couldn't resist..

I just couldn’t resist..

Portfino Textil #162  Carrera 53 No. 49 – 68 Medellin There were quite a few other shops – so you will just have to make you way down Calle 49 and find your own favorites. Patterns Pattern magazines can be especially hard to find – but when you do find them – they are a great deal.. Most pattern books contain anywhere from 20 to 200 patterns.  It depends on the magazine.  My favorites are Bianca, Quili and the more simply named Patrones.  Bianca has a lot of the patterns that are hard to find in the United States – like an extended variety of swimwear, lingerie and exercise apparel.  They also have a great assortment of patterns made for the new stretchy fabrics; lycra blends and modal.

Magazines containing 10 - 40 different patterns

Magazines containing 10 – 40 different patterns

Patrones is a grand brand because it has copies of a lot of the designs by major labels.  Want to wear your own Dolce & Gabbana? Then patrones is the magazine for you.  Sometimes you can find the magazines at larger newsstands or bookstores like Panoamericano.  Some of the patterns in Patrones are pretty intricate and instructions are limited (and in Spanish) but at 4,000 to 10,000 pesos (2.25 to about 6 dollars) a book – if you are an experienced sewer it is still quite the find.) patterns2 Now – for patterns on Calle 49 – the best place to go is – this little shop..

the place to buy patterns

the place to buy patterns Calle 49 #53 – 14

The place is tiny, so you have to ask to see the pattern books (or point, if necessary.)  They don’t have long aisles to browse like some of the bigger bookstores.  But the owner is very sweet – and they have a large array of titles available.

some of the patterns available at this small shop

some of the patterns available at this small shop

Yarns

Now, Medellin has that ‘perpetual spring’ climate we have been talking about, so I didn’t find as many places offering the bulky and superbulky yarns that I love.  Quite a few thread stores offered the smaller crochet threads and yarns similar to Lily’s Sugar N’ Cream but since I am on a superbulky yarn kick – I will keep looking..   I did see a couple, but shame on me because I didn’t write down exact addresses or take pictures (but since one of them is on a street close to home, I may venture out later this week – when I’ve exhausted my current supply and get some pics.)

yarns

yarns

Now before you head out for your shopping adventure  – review a few things to make your shopping more enjoyable and safe.  

In Medellin – alone or not quite ready to venture into El Centro by yourself?

I am always up and willing to lend a hand – if I am in the city.  (It’s a good guess if I am blogging about Medellin, then you can find me here.)  You can always call me/ text me at 301-706-3929 (If I am not in Colombia, I won’t answer) or email me at k.eckland@gmail.com I’d be happy to arrange to get together for a day tour of the shopping areas.  We can check out museums, eat some tasty street food, buy local produce, window shop – or hunt down that one special piece of fabric you’ve been waiting for..

If you don’t catch me on this trip – I’ll be back.. I’ll definitely be back for Colombia Moda 2015, so if you come a few days early (in July) we can have some fun.