In Capitol City


Long time readers know that I am addicted to the capital city of Colombia.  So there was no way that I wasn’t going to take a few days to head over to Bogotá the moment I had a chance.  I just got back – and before I head off on my adventure to La Macarena tomorrow, I thought I’d post an update.

Charlie’s Place

8D y 106-84

Usaquen

Since I was just stopping in for a few days, I decided to forgo renting my usual apartment.  It’s a good thing I did or I would have missed out on getting to know the folks over at Charlie’s Place, a boutique hotel and spa in Usaquen.

CharliesPlace

It’s probably not for everyone – people who want to be in the middle of the tourist areas of Bogotá should stick to La Candeleria.  Business travels on large expense accounts can head to the big-name chains.  But for people like me, who want to be in the north side of Bogotá, around Barrio Chico and Usaquen, Charlie’s Place is ideal.

With just 22 rooms, the hotel is very cozy and accommodating.  The manager, Wilson, is a Minnesota native and is delightfully charming and easy-going.  The rest of the staff including Daniela and Javier are equally polite, friendly and helpful.  (There’s a reason Charlie’s Place is consistently rated as excellent by Trip Advisor for the last several years.)  The best part is that the rates are fair and the service is excellent.

Once I was comfortably settled, it was time to get back out and enjoy the brisk weather.  (The weather is one of the reasons I love this city!)  My first stop was over at SaludCoop where the doctors and nurses were nice enough to answer some questions about the ongoing healthcare crisis.

The Colombian Public Health Care Crisis

Right now, the public health system, EPS and SaludCoop are going broke.  Basically, much of the money paid in by members of the health care cooperative has disappeared (been embezzled), leaving hospitals with bare cupboards.  Hospital staff are feeling the pinch as payroll arrives late, in diminished amounts, or in some cases, not at all.   (There are rumors that the money was funneled into the purchase of luxury apartments, fancy vacations and the like).  There have been some protests and work stoppages by health care workers, but unfortunately, the local unions have been unwilling to support their efforts.

Unfortunately, the government seems apathetic to the concerns of the healthcare workers and their patients. The Minister of Health, Alejandro Gaviria went so far as to say that the health care crisis was a “lie” in a recent press conference, following up on his previous twitter (June 2015) and blog comments (Feb 2015), even going so far as quoting Christopher Hitchens in his defense of the health care system.  Of course, no where in his statement does he talk about healthcare workers going without pay or operating rooms without suture.  But he’s not alone in his apathy.

Most of the local politicians  couldn’t even be bothered to show up to a legislative session on the issue.  Only 9 members of the House of representatives (out of 166) attended.

This financial travesty has wide-spread implications beyond just the public health sector (of hospitals and clinics throughout Colombia).  Many of the private facilities also rely on payments from the healthcare cooperative.  (Imagine if medicare went broke through criminal mismanagement – it would affect a lot more that general and county hospitals).  In many cases, these hospitals are forced to write off millions of dollars of nonpayment from the health cooperative.  In fact, one of the largest hospitals in Cali (a city of 2.5 million people) will be forced to shut it;s doors, mainly due to losses incurred from nonpayment by EPS and SaludCoop.  So it’s a huge mess that will probably only get worse without government intervention.

On the flip side of the Colombian Health Care Crisis and the declining peso (over 3200 pesos to the dollar this week) – Hospital Santa Fe de Bogotá  appears to be thriving.

Santa Fe de Bogota’s new emergency department

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of a guided tour of the new Emergency department at Santa fe de Bogota with the current Chief of the Emergency Department (and trauma surgeon), Dr. Francisco Holguin.

Fans of the Bogota book know that I spent quite a bit of time at Santa Fe de Bogotá in the past – and that it is one the highest ranked facilities in all of Latin America, so it was fantastic to see all of the improvements.  (The ER was still under construction the last few times I was there).  The first thing I can say – It’s big! Big, spacious, brightly lit and airy (especially for an ER).  The is good work flow with several large workspaces for the doctors and nurses, instead of the typical traffic jams that occur in older facilities.  It’s on the same floor as diagnostics (CT scan, radiology), the operating rooms and the intensive care units which means that critically ill and injured patients can be rapidly transported to where ever the need to go.

The spacious department now has 56 beds with an overflow unit for critically ill patients.  Several specialists are on-call, in the ER and available 24 hours including orthopedics, trauma and internal medicine.  Downstairs from the main ER is the fast track – for all of the non-life-threatening general medicine problems.

After spending two days interviewing and talking to people about the SaludCoop problems and EPS – it was nice to leave Bogotá on such a nice note.

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Heading South!


It’s been a long hiatus as I’ve replenished Latin American Surgery’s coffers on a couple assignments over the last several months, but I will be back in the Southern hemisphere later this summer, and I am sure we will have a lot to talk about..

It’s an unfortunate reality that travel and travel writing costs money.  That, coupled with the long hours required in my “day job” mean that I do less writing and researching for the blogs than I’d like.  I was able to keep pace initially, but there was a point where it became a question of getting some sleep so I could work and pay my mortgage (and buy groceries) or continuing to churn pages for the blog.

on the runway at Colombia Moda 2104

on the runway at Colombia Moda 2104

After spending a lot of my resources working on a thoracic project this Spring over at the sister site, thoracics.org and working – it’s nice to be back here at Latin American Surgery.com

I’m going back to Medellin soon – and I look forward to taking all my readers with me.  (I wanted to travel to a couple other areas, but frankly, couldn’t afford it).  I won’t be attending Colombia Moda this year – but there is always someone to interview, health topics to talk about, cultural events explore or people and places to photograph.

I have a couple if ideas for some interesting articles, but we’ll have to wait to see how these ideas come together..  I hope it will be worth the wait..

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.

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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!

Days of Summer


cautionary tale for my on-line friends in another botched surgery case in Florida.

Let the buyer beware:

In the most recent case, four individuals have been arrested for impersonating surgeons and operating an unlicensed surgery clinic. According to the media reports, only one of the four people charged is a licensed physician, nurse or other trained healthcare provider – but that didn’t stop them from performing major operations such as liposuction and abdominoplasty procedures on their unknowing patients.  While Dr. William Marrocco* was the doctor on record for the clinic – patients report that he wasn’t the one operating!

scalpel

Unlike many of the ‘chop shops” we’ve written about that take place in garages, motels and private ‘parties’, in this scenario, unwary consumers were duped by a savvy group of criminals who had owned and operated the “Health and Beauty Cosmetic Surgery” clinic in downtown West Palm Beach.

*The good doctor Marrocco remains a legally licensed doctor in the state of Florida – though interestingly enough – he does not have prescriptive privileges.  One the Florida Department of Health website, Dr. Marrocco (whose secondary address corresponds with the clinic address) reports active licenses in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana and Nebraska.

But let’s check it out… so I did my own preliminary online search –

Virginia: No records found.  No active or past licensees (expired in the last five years) found.  So he may have had one – but not recently.

Pennsylvania: William Charles Marrocco held a license in Pennsylvania for a brief two-year period between 1998 to 2000. This includes his period of medical residency training at Temple University Hospital.

Michigan: Three expired licenses – one for student status (resident) and one as a pharmacist.

Indiana: Dr. Marrocco was a licensed plastic surgeon in the state of Indiana from 2000 to 2011 and has a notation “reinstatement pending‘.  Maybe Dr. Marracco is planning on heading back to Indiana – where his license remains unblemished – despite the scandal surrounding the 2003  death of his wife after he performed liposuction on her).  License # 01052282A

Nebraska:  Expired, license #2909, educational license permit (training) affiliated with Indiana University

Jorge Nayib Alarcon Zambrano – (one of the individuals charged) is listed as a member of the Colombian Society of Plastic Surgeons – from Cali, Colombia.  So he may be a trained surgeon, just not a very good one (and not licensed in the United States).

Licensing isn’t everything..

Kind of goes to show some of the pitfalls of relying on licensing boards for consumer protection.  Dr. William Marrocco was a licensed plastic surgeon, but that’s little consolation for many patients at that West Palm Beach clinic.

In fairness to Dr. William Marrocco, Jorge Alarcon and the other individuals in the case – they have been charged with multiple counts, but have not been convicted of any crime.  Until that time, they remain innocent until proven guilty.

Apologies to my loyal readers for the long lapse in posts but my plate has been pretty full.  But I will be finishing my latest assignment in a few weeks and starting a couple of new projects for the summer months.

airplane3

I applied for and received a new assignment from Examiner.com to expand my focus to include more than just health topics.  Now I will be able to write more articles focusing on life and culture in Latin America.

Colombia Moda 2014

To kick-start my new assignment, I have applied to attend Colombia Moda 2014.

(official image from Colombia Moda / Inexmoda)

As many of you already know, I was able to attend last year – and got a fascinating glimpse into the fashion industry and the future of both fashion and consumerism.

Last year’s speakers were promoting the concept of “re-shoring” and changing from the traditional ‘seasonal’ lines and collections to an ongoing, evolving fashion line with new designs and items being designed, developed and sold to the public in shorter mini cycles.

dsigners

This year – I’ll be able to cover all of this – along with interviews with individual designers, fashion lines and the Colombian fashion and textile industry.  (Last year, my articles were focused on the role between fashion and plastic surgery).

Fashion is so intrinsic to Colombian life, and many parts of Latin America, so I am really excited about it.  It plays such an important role in the economic, social and an even personal lives of many Colombians.

sew

I won’t have an assistant this year – but I am getting a new lens for the event (I will be journalist/ photographer for the event).

After Colombia Moda, I will be flipping back and forth between writing about culture and my ‘usual’ medicine and health storylines.

I will be staying in Colombia for several weeks as well as covering the Latin American Association of Thoracics (ALAT) conference at the end of July.   It’s one of the biggest international conferences in thoracic medicine/ surgery with many of the legends of thoracic surgery planning to be in attendance.

Sponsors del Congreso ALAT 2014

In August, I’ll be heading across the globe to interview the head of an innovative surgical program.

I’ll be checking in along the way – and posting photos, interviews and articles as I go.

 

End of the road


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.

Raquel (right) and Anita, the instrumentadors

Raquel (right) and Anita, the instrumentadors

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.

Patricia and Estebes, circulating nurses

Patricia and Estebes, circulating nurses

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.

with Estebes

with Estebes

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.

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Tuesday

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.”

Dr. Barbosa models his new headgear.

Dr. Barbosa models his new headgear.

 

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.)

performing a saphenectomy

performing a saphenectomy

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.)

Wednesday

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.

Just a nurse?

Just a nurse?

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.

Ever Luis, one of my favorite floor nurses

Ever Luis, one of my favorite floor nurses

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.

Thursday

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.

Dr. Salgua Feris

Dr. Salgua Feris

San Jacinto and taking the long way home


San Jacinto

As we left Sincelejo to return to Cartagena, I noticed that we made an unexpected turn away from our usual route.  This was confirmed as we passed the fitness center on the other side of town and headed towards Corozal.

The department of Sucre as outlined in RED

The department of Sucre as outlined in RED

“Ah, this will be my adventure today,” I said to myself.  Sure enough – I kept quiet and enjoyed the change of scenery as we drove away from Sincelejo into a mountainous area that reminded me of my high school years in Angels Camp – Murphy’s area of  California (Sierra Nevada foothills).

The terrain was dotted with trees interspersed with dry straw-colored grasses.  Cattle grazed in pastures on either side of the small, winding two-lane highway.

As we drove through Corozal, I ventured to voice my suspicions.  The good doctor laughed and confirmed that it was, indeed an ‘adventure’ designed for me – since he and Iris knew of my love of Colombian countryside.

avocados 002

the apple is just there for scale

First stop on our tour was for the famed avocados.   (Indeed – these famous avocados have been the source of much amusement among the cardiac surgery team due to a previous episode involving a “bait and switch” by another team member (who ‘stole’ a bag of these avocados from the good doctor, and left behind a small bag of more ordinary avocados in their place.)

woven fabric made on traditional looms

woven fabric made on traditional looms

We then passed into Bolivar –

Our next stop was San Jacinto, which is a town that is locally known for their artisanal crafts.  (The Sucre – Bolivar regions are noted for many of their textile crafts.  Some of the techniques date to the pre-Colombian era).

Having Iris as my tour guide was wonderful.  As a certified artisanal artist of traditional Colombian crafts, Iris was able to give me a detailed explanation of each of the different types of craft making – including information about regional differences in weaving designs, colors used, and other traditional items.

(For more information about the processes used in this craft work, click here.)

sincelejo 002

Since I am in the midst of  (very slowly) learning how to crochet one of the traditional Colombian bags  – I can certainly appreciate the amount of time and skill that goes into crafting each of these individual items.  There is no assembly line, factory floor or Made in China” labels here.  (Yes, I looked).

sincelejo 003

 

As the road wound its way back to the fork where we usually take the other branch) we stop at our usual coffee shop.  There we were greeted by a Palenque resident selling baked goods.

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We bought a sweet, round ball of a popcorn(ish) treat called Alegra which contains corn with coconut and panela.  She then came and sat with us and attempted to teach us to speak a few words of Palenque.

After our brief respite, we continued to the main highway to Cartagena and proceeded home.  It took a little longer, but to me – it was well-worth it.  Thank you, Iris and Dr. Barbosa for my unexpected surprise!

Sincelejo Diaries, part 2


Sincelejo

Tuesday –  We drove back from Cartagena this morning before heading to surgery in the afternoon for a bypass grafting case.  For the first half of the way, I sat in the back and enjoyed looking out the window.  It’s amazing how dry parts of Bolivar are.

The drought has been responsible for the deaths of over 20,000 farm animals here in Colombia.  The small lakes are disappearing, from my first trip to Sincelejo to my most recent visit just a few weeks later.  The trees and bushes besides the roadways are completely coated with layers of dust from passing vehicles.  It gets greener as we pass into Sucre, but it’s a sad reminder of the devastating effects of climate change.

After stopping for breakfast along the way, where we met up with Dr. Melano, Iris went with Dr. Melano and I stayed with Dr. Barbosa.  We talked about music mostly.  At one point, a former patient from several years ago called, just to say hello.  The patient had recently heard that Dr. Barbosa now had a surgery program in Sucre. (The patient had previously traveled to Cartagena from a small town in Sucre for surgery.)

Once we got to Sincelejo, we headed to the hospital to see our patient before surgery and go over any last-minute questions or concerns.

(Of course) I was worried about finding vein but we easily found good quality conduit.  Dr. Salgua has been very nice about helping me with the saphenectomies.  The team teases me because I have a difficult time pronouncing her name.  We have a kind of system: While I finish closing the leg, she moves up the table to assist the surgeon in starting the grafts.  Then when I finish wrapping the leg, I stay at the back of the table with the instrumentadora, learning the Spanish names for all the instruments.  Once the chest is closed, she does a layer of fascia and I close the skin incision.

It’s a little crowded sometimes with the new instrumentadora learning the essentials of cardiac surgery, but the atmosphere at the back of the table is a lot different from the climate at the top.  (Dr. B is always calm, pleasant and entertaining – but Dr. Salgua is almost completely silent the whole time).  I am a lot quieter than my “out of OR self” when I am across the table from the surgeon too..

Wednesday – Another coronary case, on a fragile-ish patient (multiple co-morbidities including chronic kidney disease etc).  It was a long case and I was a little worried the whole time but the patient did well.  (I always worry about the frail patients).

I did okay too – performing a saphenectomy with Dr. Barbosa.  The patient had a vein stripping procedure previously (on one leg only) so I wanted to be sure to get a good segment of vein on the remaining vein.  I think Dr. Barbosa was worried about the quality of the conduit (because he kind of hovered – and didn’t relax until we started harvesting it.)

skip harvesting

Skip harvesting

I wish I would have more opportunities to perform a traditional saphenectomy (one very long incision).  I assisted on one several years ago – and I think if I had a chance to do a couple more, I would feel more comfortable skip harvesting.  Of course, a headlamp would also help.  (It’s kind of dark looking down the skip ‘tunnels’).  Then once I’ve mastered skip harvesting, I think it’s just another small jump to endo-harvesting with a scope.  I know a lot of people never bother learn to skip harvest, but I feel more comfortable building on the principles of open procedures first.  I might need them in an emergency case which is kind of why I wished I had more open saphenectomy experience.

Thursday – Saw three patients in the clinic today.  However, on reviewing the patient records and an intra-office echocardiogram, one of the patients definitely doesn’t need surgery at this point. (Asymptomatic with only moderate valvular disease).  We were happy to let him know he didn’t need surgery even if that means fewer cases.

Two surgeries today.  The first case was a bypass case for a patient with severe coronary disease and unstable angina.  Dr. Salgua and I did the harvest.  I think Dr. Barbosa is a little nervous about handing over the reins to me for harvest because he keeps a pretty close eye on me while I am doing it.  But then again, it might be because I am a little overly cautious and hesitant at this point.  If I didn’t have Dr. Salgua to look over my shoulder and encourage me onward, I’d put clips on everything and proceed at a snail’s pace to make sure I do it right.  But since it’s still my first week, maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

On the other hand, he must think my suturing is pretty good, because he just trusts me to do it correctly.

The second case was a patient from last week, who developed a large (symptomatic) pleural effusion and cardiac effusion (no tamponade or hemodynamic instability) which is a pretty common surgical complication.  The case proceeded well – I placed the chest tube, with Dr. Barbosa supervising.  Dr. Barbosa performed the cardiac window portion of the procedure.

Sadly, one of our patients from last week died today.  It was a fragile patient to begin with, and even though surgery proceeded well, the patient could never tolerate extubation and had to be re-intubated twice after initially doing well.  From there, the patient continued to deteriorate.

Friday

Today we had a beautiful aortic valve surgery.  This has always been one of my favorite cardiac procedures.  Somehow its elegant in the way the new valve slides down the carefully coördinated sutures.  (I don’t have pictures from this case – since I was first assisting – but I will post some from a previous case – so you can see what I mean).

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Dr. Salgua worked an overnight shift, so I was at the top of the table – (and yes, noticeably quieter than normal.)  I was surprised at how fast it seemed to go – but maybe that’s because everything went so smoothly.  Or maybe because we’ve done a lot of coronaries lately, which is a much more tedious and time-consuming process.

Iris and I are working on a patient education process – as a way to improve the continuum of care for patients (particularly after discharge).  I really enjoy working with Iris because I feel like we are always on the same page when it comes to patient care.

While it’s been a tiring week for the crew – I am, as always! exhilarated and happy to be here in Sincelejo.  Just knowing it’s the end of another week (and I am that much closer to going home) has me feeling a little sad.  But I guess I can’t stay forever, and I sure don’t want to take advantage of all the kindnesses that have been extended to me.

That being said:

At the end of every surgery, every day and every week in Sincelejo – I am grateful.  Grateful to Dr. Barbosa for being such a willing and patient teacher – grateful to the operating room crew (especially Iris Castro and Dr. Salgua) and particularly grateful to all the kind and generous patients I have met and helped take care of*.

The medical mission

This week I had another inquiry about ‘medical missions’.   I know people mean well when they ask about medical missions, or when they participate in these types of activities but…

Long time readers know my philosophy on this – don’t go overseas so you can pat yourself on the back over the ‘great deeds’ you performed ‘helping the poor’.  It’s patronizing to the destination country and its inhabitants – and generally not very useful anyway.  An awful lot of volunteers with real skills and talents go to waste on these so-called mission trips when their skills might be better served (in less exciting or glamorous ways) in free clinics in our own country.

But it does give everyone involved a chance to brag about how selfless and noble they have been; traveling thousands of miles, sleeping somewhere without 24/7 wi-fi (and who knows what other hardships).

Instead, change your orientation – and maybe challenge that assumption that everything you’ve learned about medicine, health care and taking care of people is better and superior.  Open your eyes and be willing to learn what others have to teach you instead.

* I always opt for full disclosure and transparency with the patients.  I introduce myself and explain that I am a studying with Dr. Barbosa, what my credentials and experience is to give them the opportunity to ‘opt out’.