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.

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’.

Sundays in Cartagena


El Centro

El Centro

Sundays in Cartagena are a bit different from Bogotá or Medellin. As a major tourist destination, Cartagena never really slows down the way other cities do in Colombia.  In Bogotá, my neighborhood (Chico) was essentially deserted on Sundays.  The only signs of life were on the streets closed for  pedestrian walking.  La Candeleria and Usaquen were the destinations of choice for Bogotanos who chose to stay in the city.

Instead the activities change – instead of business, the weekends are for boat trips to the Islands of Santa Rosario, long leisurely lunches, wandering around El Centro and looking at arts and native crafts, and walking along the beach.   Tourists stroll along Bocagrande window shopping at designer storefronts, eating ice cream.  The hotels host popular events in Castillogrande, and restaurants and bars feature the sports of the day, to standing room only crowds.

So today, after sleeping in a bit, Iris and I headed to El Centro for another leisurely stroll around El Centro.  Sunday mornings are a nice time for this – the streets are still pretty quiet and not yet packed with tourists.  (That comes later in the day.)

Cartagena 013

As we wandered down the tree-lined streets, I can’t help put take photos, even if I’ve photographed these same areas many times before.  Somehow, every time I encounter the colorful buildings with the beautiful blossoms on the curving cobblestone streets, I am enchanted all over again.

Cartagena 026

 

After walking around the neighborhood and making our way up the wall, we headed to the nearest Juan Valdez..

Cartagena 027

After our leisurely coffee, we walked back home to escape the heat of the day.  Now I am heading back out – to the beach.

 

The Sincelejo Diaries


 

Sincelejo from the balcony

Sincelejo from the balcony

 

Since I have very limited wi-fi while in Sincelejo, I have been keeping a diary of my time on the cardiac surgery service of Dr. Cristian Barbosa.  But then again, maybe I should explain why I am here.

I came to Colombia to learn how to perform skip harvesting saphenectomies with Dr. Barbosa.  As I mentioned previously, we’ve kept in contact since we first met, and he was gracious enough to offer to teach me.

Before I ever left Virginia, it took a lot of paperwork and diplomacy, but we were able to secure administrative permissions for me to study sapheneous vein harvesting with Dr. Barbosa at the hospital in Sincelejo.  While this isn’t medical tourism, I thought my readers might enjoy hearing about daily life as part of Dr. Barbosa’s cardiac surgery service.

 

 Cardiac Surgery in Sucre, Colombia

 

outside the operating room

outside the operating room

While the cardiac surgery program is located in Hospital Santa Maria, Dr. Barbosa and his team often travel to nearby hospitals and clinics to see new consultations.  This program is the only program in the state of Sucre and patients come from all parts of the state.

Many of the patients come from tiny pueblos of a few hundred (or thousand people).  Many others come from impoverished backgrounds.  (Colombia has a tiered health care system with a national health care plan for people from lower socio-economic classes, kind of similar to the Medicaid concept.)

We arrive in Sincelejo on Monday, March 24th in the evening.  We have a busy day tomorrow and the doctor wants to get started early (without facing the 3 hour drive in the morning.)

En Familia

In Sincelejo, we live en familia, in a large airy apartment with big windows that overlook much of Sincelejo.  There are four of us here, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist (who is Director of the program), the perfusionist and myself.  Iris and I share a large room with a private balcony.  Meals are shared and we usually travel as a group to the hospital and on errands.

After our arrival Monday evening, the doctor, the perfusionist and I head to the largest grocery store and shopping center in town.  We shop as a family, picking out fruit, arepa corn flour, coffee and other essentials.   We then head to the food court.  (They are treating me to Corral, due to my proclaimed love of Corral’s famed hamburgers).   

It sounds like it could be uncomfortable – this domestic scene with my boss and the cardiac surgery team, but surprisingly it isn’t.  Iris, the perfusionist (and my roommate both here and in Cartagena) always says they are a “cardiac surgery family,” and it feels that way – in a comforting, cozy way.

I joke and call Dr. Barbosa, “Papa” as he is the natural father figure of the group, and somehow it feels appropriate.

 

'Papa' of our cardiac surgery team

‘Papa’ of our cardiac surgery team

25 March 2014 – Tuesday

Today we travelled to Corozal to see two consultations in the intensive care unit.  Then we returned to Sincelejo to see another patient at another hospital, Maria Reina.  We eat lunch at the apartment, en familia .  Afterwards, we go back to the office to see patients before heading off to surgery.  (We had to delay surgery for several hours because the patient decided to eat breakfast.  I guess s/he was hungry too).

barbosa 081

 

Finally after this delay (to prevent anesthesia complications), we head to the operating room.  There are the typical delays while the patient is being prepped and prepared.  This gives me a chance to get to know the rest of the crew, Anita (the instrumentador or surgical tech) who runs the operating room table, Raquel, an experienced instrumentador who is training to work in the cardiac suite, and the two circulating nurses,  Patricia and Estebes.

Raquel (right) and Anita, the instrumentadors

Raquel (right) and Anita, the instrumentadors

The circulating nurses are responsible for taking care of all the duties that fall outside of the sterile field, like fetching additional supplies, medications or instruments.  They also control the environment by regulating the temperature, and adjust the electronic machinery (like the electrocautery unit, or the sternal saw) according to the surgeon’s immediate needs and specifications.

Patricia and Estebes, circulating nurses

Patricia and Estebes, circulating nurses

Dr. Salgua is the medical doctor who works in the office, seeing patients and assessing their medical (nonsurgical needs.) For the last year, she has also worked as Dr. Barbosa’s First Assistant in Surgery.  If there is any chance for friction in the operating room, most likely it will come from her.  I am cautiously nice but optimistic when I realize she is fairly quiet, and not overly aggressive.  (I relax, but just a bit.  I am still nervous about how the team will take to me, even though the common Oops! “accidental” needle stick scenario seems unlikely here.

Dr. Salgua

Dr. Salgua

 

Everyone is very friendly and welcoming and even before starting the actual surgery, I am breathing easier and starting to think that maybe I could belong here, with this group.

The surgery went well (valve replacement and annuloplasty).  After the surgery, we transport the patient to the intensive care unit and give report to the doctors and nursing waiting to assume care of the patient.

Note: patient did well and went home on POD # 3 on 3/28/2014.

 

26 March 2014 – Wednesday

More surgery today, but still no coronaries (and thus no saphenectomies).  It was a great day in the operating room – I closed the sternal incision..  (BTW, surgery went beautifully).  I am already starting to feel more at home with the operating room staff, and I feel like they don’t mind having me around.  Dr. Salgua has been very kind in assisting me during procedures, which is a relief.  She still stays pretty quiet during the cases, but I think maybe sometimes she is a bit nervous too.

 

with the team

with the team

After transferring the patient to the ICU, our second visit to the patient from yesterday finds her over in the general surgery ward.  (This morning she had been sitting up in a chair in the ICU when we arrived.)  She looks good and states she is sore, but otherwise fine.

barbosa 082

The cardiac catheterization lab calls; there are four cath films they want us to review, and patients to discuss regarding surgery.  The patients themselves are resting in the recovery area after the cath procedure, so our administrative assistant, Paola makes appointments for each of them and instructs them to bring their families, medications and any questions.

The most interesting part of the cath lab is who is doing the caths.  It’s a nurse, while the cardiologist sits behind the protective radiation shielded glass enclosure viewing the films and calling out for additional views.  I wonder if the nurse knows that in the United States, a similar position would pay over 100,000 dollars.  But this is one of the things that I see a lot of her in Colombia and in Mexico.  Well trained nurses being essentially nurse practitioners (making diagnoses, treating disease, performing invasive procedures) but without the status or the compensation.

My roommate and I talk about this disparity sometimes.  She’s a master’s trained nurse herself, so it makes for some very interesting discourse and insights. (She doesn’t like to have her picture taken, so I haven’t.)

We finish seeing patients and head home.  The doctors head off for a siesta.  Dr. Barbosa has been up since before five for his daily exercise before surgery.

As for me – after some scouting of the immediate areas around the hospital and the apartment, I went on my motorcycle tour.  It was great fun but I got an important reminder of the perils of motorcycles just a few days later.

Note: After and uneventful surgery (defect repair), patient recuperated quickly, and was discharged 3/29/2014.

 

27 March 2014 – Thurday

The week is really flying by.  I’ve been having fun with the operating room team.  They are a great group. Everyone has been extremely nice and welcoming.  (You can never be sure how your presence is going to be tolerated or change the existing dynamic.)   Dr. Melano and I have a couple of animated discussions over current practices, literature and recent meta-analyses.  It’s an enjoyable discourse even though my vocabulary often fails me.  I hear myself making grammatic mistakes and repeated errors in Spanish but it seems with some much going on (reviewing my anatomy, practicing my suture ties, assisting in the operating room and trying to keep up on my writing )- I just can’t seem to remember as much as I should in Spanish.  I inwardly cringe when I substitute ‘conocer’ for ‘saber’ yet again, but the word is out of my mouth in reply to a question before I can corect myself.

Dr. Salgua assists Dr. Barbosa

Dr. Salgua assists Dr. Barbosa

I sit out this surgery (still no coronaries) and spend some time taking pictures to document my experiences here.  I got a couple of shots that I really like, including one of Dr. Barbosa, Dr. Salgua and Raquel.

one of my favorite pictures from that day

one of my favorite pictures from that day

 Note:  Patient discharged home 3/29/2014.

28 March 2014 Friday (and coronaries!)

Today is my big day – and I am excited and a little scared too.  I got up at five this morning and went with Dr. Barbosa to the exercise park, so I would have a place to walk while he played tennis.  It helped me get ready for the day, and I got to see where Dr. Barbosa uses up all of his pent-up aggression.  He turns it into a power slam. (I don’t know tennis terms, but whatever swing he was doing – it must be responsible for his tranquil overall demeanor.)

After breakfast, we head to the hospital.  We check on our hospitalized patients before going to see today’s surgical patient in pre-op.

Our patient is a bit fragile-looking so (of course!) I worry about her and how she will do with surgery.   I also worry that I might not sew straight, now that it’s time for me to get to work.

Some of my previous OR “lessons” have been brutal, including several at a troubled facility that sent me running away from cardiac surgery (of all kinds) for several months*.  This is what fuels my anxiety.  (I am not anxious by nature).

But here in Sucre, in this OR,  this experience is nothing of the sort – Dr. Barbosa is an excellent teacher.  I don’t know why it’s a surprise.  He’s always been a bit of a  Clark Kent of the operating room; pleasant, calm and methodical.**  This is just the same.  In his soft burring voice he goes over the procedure with Dr. Salgua and I.  The he oversees our attempts, gently encouraging and coaxing.  It is yet again, a comfortable experience, instead of a traumatizing, horrible one.

a pretty great teacher

a pretty great teacher

 

I don’t have any pictures which would show my twinkling eyes which are the main indication of my happy grin beneath my mask as I finished closing the last leg incision.

We wrap the leg when we finish and move up to the ‘top’ of the operating room table.  (I’ve learned that the top and the bottom of the operating room table are two very different places.)

I close the chest incision – surgery is over.   We transfer the patient to the ICU.  She remains a little fragile but has no immediate problems.

barbosa 047

After making sure the patient is stable, the team heads over to Clinica Maria Reina.  We have received a call that a trauma patient is being placed on ECMO (to support his lungs) after developing a fat embolism.  We are standing by to help, as needed.

As I look around, and talk to the staff, I find that there are three patients in the small ICU, all young men in their twenties, all intubated with critical injuries, all due to motorcycle accidents.  One patient, just barely an adult has lost a limb as well.  He is awake and hitting the siderails with his remaining hand to capture the nurse’s attention.  She holds his hand and speaks soft to him and he calms down.  Watching this, along with the patient struggling to survive as doctors rush to connect ECMO is a sobering reminder of how devastating my joyride could have been.

The patient is connected to ECMO without incident.  As a weary unit, all four of us return home.

Cartagena 004

The view from my private dance floor..

Everyone is exhausted – but I am exhilarated!  I just want to dance – so I do, by myself, on the balcony with my phone blaring out some music.  Later that evening, we go out for dinner to celebrate a successful week.  I am still in a joyous dancing mood which probably drives my companions a little crazy but it’s been such a great day..  so when we return home, I dance some more.

March 29th, 2014 – Saturday

In the morning after my dancing spree – Dr. Barbosa and I walk down to the hospital.  Our fragile patient from yesterday is doing okay, and our other two patients are ready to go home.  I review discharge instructions with each patient, and hope that I am not mangling my Spanish too badly. But they seem to understand me, so maybe I am doing alright.  The doctor is nearby, writing prescriptions, to clarify anything I have trouble explaining.

One patient asks about getting out of a chair without using his arms (and stressing the sternal incision) so I demonstrate my favorite technique, and together we practice.

After we finish, we head back to the apartment to eat breakfast, finish packing and head back to Cartagena.  Dr. Melano is staying behind (along with Dr. Salgua, who lives in Sincelejo) to check on our remaining patient.

The ride back is pleasant, but I start to feel some of the fatigue from all of the excitement of the week.  I also feel a little sad to be leaving our little cardiac ‘family’ for a few days, which is probably crazy considering how much time we’ve all spent together.  I guess it’s because I know it’s just temporary.

Iris and I head back to ‘our’ Cartagena apartment where the neighborhood cat, Ximena is waiting for us.

Now we will relax, write and get ready for the return trip on Tuesday.

* A deliberate elbow to the face was just the beginning of a series of humiliations at a previous facility.

**Pulling on his superman cape when needed.

The Road to Sincelejo


colombia_pol_map

The Road to Sincelejo

For me, the road to Sincelejo has been in the making for a long time.  Since meeting Dr. Cristian Barbosa, cardiac surgeon in February 2010, I have wanted to know more about his work.  I first meet Dr. Barbosa on my initial trip to Cartagena de Indias when I (literally) accosted him in a hallway in Hospital Bocagrande.  At that time he was the chief of cardiovascular surgery of the now defunct cardiac surgery program at Hospital Bocagrande.  He was minding his own business, walking down the hallway.  As he passed, I read the title on his lab coat, “Cirguia Cardiovascular.”

Back on 2010, my Spanish was even worse than it is now – just forgotten bits of high school Spanish.  But that didn’t deter me on my mission.  I had entered the hospital under stealth (okay, not really, but I was just a ‘gringa’ wandering around without authorization) to meet and talk to surgeons, so I wasn’t about to let this opportunity pass by.

with Dr. Hector Pulido (left) and Dr. Barbosa in Cartagena (2010) after a chance encounter in a hallway,

with Dr. Hector Pulido (left) and Dr. Barbosa in Cartagena (2010) after a chance encounter in a hallway,

Of course, since my Spanish was limited – I didn’t know how to express all the normal social graces in these sort of situations.   Instead,  I said, “please stop” as it was the first phrase that came to mind.  He did, and we managed to exchange enough conversation for me to explain who I was, and what I would like to know.  Despite my lack of manners, and random appearance, he didn’t seem to mind.   A visiting cardiac surgery nurse, “por supuesto!” (of course!)

I knew I was successful when he then asked, “Do you want to go to the cath lab and review today’s films with me?”  The rest is now history, on the pages of this blog, multiple articles and the Cartagena book.

Sometimes, the language of surgery is universal – which is what makes all of this possible.

in the operating room with Dr. Barbosa in 2010.

in the operating room with Dr. Barbosa in 2010.

Since that first meeting, Dr. Barbosa and I have both improved our language skills (his English, my Spanish) and we’ve kept in contact.  We’ve caught up with each at various conferences and meetings.  Therefore, I was saddened to hear of the closure of the cardiac surgery program at Hospital Bocagrande due to financial difficulties*.

Cardiac Care

I was excited when Dr. Barbosa told me about his new position in Sincelejo (Sucre) a few years ago, providing cardiac surgery services to the local community.  The program called Cardiac Care provides cardiac surgery services to a populace that would otherwise have to travel several hours (to Barranquilla or another large city).

When Dr. Barbosa invited to come join his team in Sincelejo, it took some re-arranging and re-scheduling to do – but it was an opportunity I just couldn’t miss.

The program remains small and relatively unknown even among Sincelejo residents.  For this reason, Dr. Barbosa and his team (cardiac anesthesiologist, Dr. Sebastian Melano and nurse perfusionist, Sra. Iris Castro) all live in Cartagena but maintain another apartment in Sincelejo.  When they have surgery scheduled, they stay in Sincelejo for several days to perform surgery and oversee the patient’s recovery.

Road trip

On Thursday, I took my first trip with the group to Sincelejo to see several patients (post-operative patients and new consultations).

Dr. Barbosa and his cardiac anesthesiologist see patients at the Clinic in Sincelejo

Dr. Barbosa and his cardiac anesthesiologist see patients at the Clinic in Sincelejo

This trip itself was very interesting.  Sucre is a region (state) of Colombia that is entirely new for me.  Even though the trip is just 125 km from Cartagena, it’s a journey into a new landscape of rolling hills (Mountains de Maria) and takes over three hours.

Leaving Cartagena, we pass through the various areas of the city.  We pass through barrio Manga, past several hospitals including Hospital San Juan de Dios, and toll stops.   As we pass through the industrial areas of the city,  the massive oil refinery expansion project dominates the landscape.  Evidence of other ongoing construction and expansion outside city limits is also present.

Like most roads outside cities, we pass through several security checkpoints.

As we leave Bolivar we pass several palm plantations, where palm oil is produced. (Alas, no palm wine – one of my favorites)**.

Like Texas with hills

March is the tail end of the ‘drought season’ of this tropical locale so much of the landscape is brown, and barren appearing (think of Texas, with hills.)  This year has been particularly dry with several wildfires due to the effects of the El Niño weather systems.  This year, they tell me is even worse than previous El Niño years.  A comparison to Texas is appropriate since this part of Sucre is mainly farms with livestock (horses, chickens etc.) and cattle grazing.  For this reason, Sucre is well-known to Colombians for both its beef and the richness of the local cheese.

Along the way, we pass several small settlements of tiny houses along with the fincas (working farms) of the wealthy.  Some of the homes are poured concrete with concrete floors and painted in gay colors, others are hard-packed manure with dirt floors.

one the modest dwellings roadside in Sucre

one the modest dwellings roadside in Sucre

As part of a promise made to improve the infrastructure of Colombia during President Juan Manuel Santos’ famous “five points” most of the roadways are either newly paved or in the process of being paved and expanded.

During the drive, my companions give me the history of the various settlements.

Palenque

One the first settlements we pass while still in the state of Bolivar is the town of Palenque.  Palenque is known for being the first settlement of escaped/ free Africans in Colombia.  (As one of the main ports for the slavery trade, Cartagena – escaping slaves would make their way to small settlements to live as free members of society.)

Palenque is known for adhering to mainly of the African traditions of their ancestors, as female residents wear traditional dress.  Residents speak a distinct dialect of a creole based, Spanish language mix  also called Palenque.

photo courtesty of Proexport Colombia.  Photo by Juan guFo.

photo courtesy of Proexport Colombia. Photo by Juan guFo.

A decade makes a difference – The Red Zone

Just ten years ago, this simple journey would have been venturing into dangerous territory***.  Guerillas and paramilitary groups controlled the area, and terrorized residents and travelers alike.  No where does the history of conflict in Colombia become more real than in the tiny town of Chinulito.  This town was one of the first casualties of paramilitary activity in the area.  Over 300 families had to flee the area for their very lives.  Many more were killed. (For a bit of eye-opening, remember that while we often think of these massacres  as a thing of the past, the violence is ongoing in parts of Colombia, and this incidence occurred in 2000, not 1970).

It wasn’t until 2008, that 56 of these former residents were able to return, under the protective watch of the Colombian military and police.  The military presence is significantly heavier than any of the other areas I’ve been to. 

Soon we enter the town of Sincelejo and head to the office to see patients.

Not a puebla

Despite being considered a somewhat rural area by more cosmopolitan coastal residents of Barranquilla and Cartagena, Sincelejo is no small puebla.  The city, which is the capital of Sucre, has a population exceeding 200,000.  The city has a long history and was initially inhabited by native peoples prior to Spanish exploration, and subsequent “discovered” in the 16th century.  The city was formally founded in 1535 in the name of San Francisco de Asís de Sincelejo.  (We will talk more about the city in future posts since I’ll be spending considerable time here.)

*Cardiac surgery services lines are particularly expensive to maintain in comparison to other hospital services.

** Apparently, I am not alone in my appreciation of this type of wine, which is widely considered among locals as the  Colombian equivalent of “bum wines” like Thunderbird, Ripple, MD 20/20 or other cheap drinks favored by alcoholics.

*** If you are thinking of doing something like venturing solo into the Red Zones, particularly if unaccompanied by Colombians, please read this article, “Backpacking in a red zone.”

Cuidad Delirio and the spirit of Colombia


This is Colombia!

kids in Cartagena

One the reasons I have so many posts on local culture (in addition to medical tourism) is due to the fact that I struggle to impart the sentiments, the spirit, and the very essence of the destinations.  

Viva Colombia!

The first time I came to Colombia, as we landed the JetBlue airline crew broadcast the song, Viva Colombia! and all the other passengers burst into cheers..  I guess it was that initial experience that has always stayed with me.

No, this isn't the Spirit of Colombia.

No, this isn’t the Spirit of Colombia.

Most of my writing is technically based so it is a huge challenge to attempt to draft essays that actually speak to the character of the people, the richness of the cultures.

there is more to Colombia than this..

there is more to Colombia than this..

But without these things, I think readers have a hard time separating the reputations of many of these places (for crime, or violence for example) from the people.  The news media are so filled with negativity, and one limited perception or view of everything:  Colombia is drugs and war, Mexico is violence and gangs, the United States is consumerism and spending, that it’s impossible for people to see, or read anything without this pervasive opinion poisoning our perceptions.

this is Colombia..

this is Colombia.. futbol

Now and then comes the occasional piece that takes a closer look – and I try to share those here.

and this..

and this..

I also try to include the often whimsical, charming or sweet details that give a better picture of what it is to be here.  What it’s like as a foreigner wandering the streets – seeing everyday life.. Not just sickness and health in the corridors of hospitals and clinics.  But the everyday lives and special occasions of the people I meet.

cartagena 014

For example, one of the things that really, for me kind of captures the spirit and the pride of the people of Colombia is the twice daily broadcasts of the National Anthem of Colombia..

Cuidad Delirio

Another was the delightful film, “Cuidad Delirio” that  I saw last night at the film festival in Cartagena.  The film, which was made in Cali and directed by Chus Gutierrez is pure eye candy.

My response to the film was almost visceral.. I don’t usually like this type of film – the silly romantic stories.. But the film just captured the essence of Cali (and Colombia) so beautifully.  The colors, the music, the liveliness..  In short, the film did in about 90 minutes what I have spent years trying to do – share the “feel” and some of the daily joy of life here*.

* I know skeptics are rolling their eyes – despite the many problems cause by socio-economic disparities and chronic warfare, many people here have a “Joie de vivre” that is unmistakable.  It is this sentiment that brings me to Colombia, over and over.

The photographers of ColombiaModa 2013


As a nurse, and a writer who mainly covers medicine and surgery – I was a bit nervous when I embarked on the Colombia Moda project.  However, with fashion and beauty playing such a large role in Medellin (and other cities in Colombia), I thought it would be a huge mistake not to cover this event.

the other end of the runway (Matt Rines)

the other end of the runway (Matt Rines)

So far – it’s been wonderful – and my fellow writers and photographers have been particularly so.  I was worried with my lack of fashion photography background/ experience that the other prensa (press) at the event would be daunting, or intimidating.

friendly Colombian photographers help the newbies

friendly Colombian photographer, Stevin Ortega helps the newby

But they haven’t been – they have been friendly, nice and amazingly helpful.  Before the first runway – there they were – scooting over so my additional photographer (Matt Rines) and I would have a good view of the runway – and giving us tips on using the best camera setting to capture images in this sort of setting.

Colombian photographer before the show

Colombian photographer, Federico Rios before the show

Watching the professional photographers is a little awe-inspiring.. Since we are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder (and even closer sometimes!), I can see their photos almost at the moment the shot is taken (on the digital display), and these guys are just amazing!  The clarity, the vision (to see that it’s going to be a good shot) is just phenomenal.  I was actually sucking in my breath –  a couple times as I glanced at some of my neighbors photos while we waited for the next model to come out..

with Juan Bouhot and Juan Estaban (Colombian press) - waiting for the runway to start

with Juan Bouhot and Juan Estaban (Colombian press) – waiting for the runway to start

International Press but little American representation

The majority of the journalists are from Colombia (InFashion, Caracol, El Colombiano and just about every Colombian magazine/ paper you can think of) but I have seen journalists from Panama, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and even Australia.  Matt and I haven’t seen any other press from the United States yet – but somehow that doesn’t surprise me.  (When I was pitching this story to two different news outlets – both said that readers weren’t interested in stories about Colombia.)

But for my readers here – I’d like to get closer, and get some more stories about the people who shoot the photos.

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More than Colombian News

But this isn’t a story about Colombia, really.  It’s more of a story about fashion, beauty and all that goes with.   Fashion is international – and this event certainly proves that. One of the big focuses this year – is trying to “reshore” the clothing construction industry as one of this year’s lecturers from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) explained.

It’s no longer cheaper, or easier to have clothing made in Bangladesh, India or China.. And that (previous) cheapness came with other complications – like long wait times, and a lot of bureaucratic headaches for designers and retailers.. Relocating these industries to the Americas is a boon for everyone.  Especially now that designers and retailers are changing their selling models – to embrace 7 or more lines a year “short lines” versus the traditional 2 to 4 lines.  But we’ll talk about that later – it’s almost time for the next runway to start!

Impanema runway model

Ipanema runway model (K. Eckland)

If you want to see more images by some of the photographers I have met:

LookatU – Paolo Trujillo

Julian Carvajal – (I was peeking over his shoulder at times – he’s a fantastic photographer).

Style Street –  fashion + photography

Estudio 8A – photographer, Jorge Ochoa from Argentina

Succo

John Drews  – highlights some of the work of Medellin-based John Erick Velasquez M.

What the runway looks like from behind the lens

whitedress1

 

As for me – I am working on several articles for other outlets – so I will post more information, and links when they are done. For the time being, you can follow my Colombia Moda twitter feed: K. Eckland for up-to-date photos and news.

Stories from the front


Security on a street corner in an upscale Bogota neighborhood

Security on a street corner in an upscale Bogota neighborhood

Stories from the Front

Anyone want to hear about the summer I spent living with a group of young journalists, in a South American country in the midst of a civil war?  Oh, wait – that’s this summer – and it’s not as dramatic as all that.   While everything I said in the first sentence is factually correct; it’s also horribly misleading.

I live in an exciting, wealthy cosmopolitan city where the murmurs of FARC and continuing peace talks garner little notice – unless, of course, you are living in the corporate offices of Colombia Reports.  But otherwise, paramilitaries are not a big part of my daily life with the exception of the occasional amputee in the park.

(This is not to minimize the horrors faced by the populace for the last fifty years, but to avoid over-sensationalizing daily life here.)

 

lost his leg due to a landmine

lost his leg due to a landmine

Daily concerns

A bigger concern is a more basic one – for any woman alone in any major city, particularly as a traveler navigating a foreign city, and foreign language: the usual safety concerns to avoid being victimized.  So, I worry more about being mugged for my purse than being kidnapped and held by gangs or para-military groups.  Living here is like living in Chicago, Detroit, and Washington D.C in that respect.  But that’s not always what people want to hear.

Flashy Headlines

Big headlines attract readers, but substance and content are what’s really important.   So instead of trading in on ‘war stories’ with my readers, I try to bring portraits of daily life in Colombia and other parts of Latin America.  It’s not as flashy; and exciting – but it’s worthwhile reading all the same.  So with that in mind, I hope you enjoy reading about the lives of some of the people I encounter in my travels.

In the operating room with Dr. Luis Botero, plastic surgeon


Please note that some of the images in this article have been edited to preserve patient privacy.  

Today, Dr. Luis Botero has invited me to observe surgery at IQ Interquirofanos in the Poblado section of Medellin.  He is performing full-body liposuction and fat grafting of the buttocks.

Dr. Luis Botero, in the operating room

Dr. Luis Botero, in the operating room

The facility: IQ Interquirofanos

Interquirofanos is located on the second floor

Interquirofanos is located on the second floor

IQ Interquirofanos is an ambulatory surgery center located on the second floor of the Intermedica Building across the street from the Clinica de Medellin (sede Poblado).  The close proximity of this clinic to a hospital is an important consideration for patients in case of a medical emergency.

The anesthesiologists estimate that 90% of the procedures performed here are cosmetic surgeries but surgeons also perform gynecology, and some orthopedic procedures at this facility.

The are seven operating rooms that are well-lit, and feature modern and functional equipment including hemodynamic monitoring, anesthesia / ventilatory equipment/ medications.  There are crash carts available for the operating rooms and the patient recovery areas.

There are fourteen monitored recovery room beds, while the facility currently plans for expansion.  Next door, an additional three floors are being built along with six more operating rooms.

Sterile processing is located within the facility with several large sterilization units.  There is also a pharmacy on-site.  The pharmacy dispenses prosthetics such as breast implants in addition to medications.

The only breast prosthetics offered at this facility are Mentor (Johnson & Johnson) and Natrelle brand silicone implants (Allergan).  In light of the problems with PIP implants in the past – it is important for patients to ensure their implants are FDA approved, like Mentor implants.

In the past seven years, over 31,000 procedures have been performed at Interquirofanos.  The nurses tell me that during the week, there are usually 30 to 35 surgeries a day, and around 15 procedures on Saturdays.

Prior to heading to the Operating Room:

Prior to surgery, patients undergo a full consultation with Dr. Botero and further medical evaluation (as needed).  Patients are also instructed to avoid aspirin, ibuprofen and all antiplatets (clopidogrel, prasugrel, etc) and anti-coagulants (warfarin, dabigatran, etc.) for several days.  Patients should not resume these medications until approved by their surgeon.

Complication Insurance

All patients are required to purchase complication insurance.  This insurance costs between 75.00 and 120.00 dollars and covers the cost of any treatment needed (in the first 30 days) for post-operative complications for amounts ranging from 15,000 dollars to 30,000 dollars, depending on the policy.   All of his clients who undergo surgery at IQ Interquirofanos are encouraged to buy a policy from Pan American Life de Colombia as part of the policies for patient safety at this facility. International patients may also be interested in purchasing a policy from ISPAS, which covers any visits to an ISPAS-affiliated surgeon in their home country.

Today’s Procedures: Liposuction & Fat Grafting

Liposuction – Liposuction (lipoplasty or lipectomy) accounts for 50% of all plastic surgery procedures.   First the surgeon makes several very small slits in the skin.  Then a saline – lidocaine solution is infiltrated in to the fat (adipose) tissue that is to removed. This solution serves several purposes – the solution helps emulsify the fat for removal while the lidocaine-epinephrine additives help provide post-operative analgesic and limit intra-operative bleeding.  After the solution dwells (sits in the tissue) for ten to twenty minutes, the surgeon can begin the liposuction procedure.  For this procedure, instruments are introduced to the area beneath the skin and above the muscle layer.

During this procedure, the surgeon introduces different canulas (long hollow tubes).  These tubes are used to break up the adipose tissue and remove the fat using an attached suctioning canister.  To break up the fat, the surgeon uses a back and forth motion.  During this process – one hand is on the canula.  The other hand remains on the patient to guide the canulas and prevent inadvertent injury to the patient.

fat being removed by liposuction

fat being removed by liposuction

Due to the nature of this procedure, extensive bruising and swelling after this procedure is normal.  Swelling may last up to a month.  Patients will need to wear support garments (such as a girdle) after this procedure for several weeks.

Types of liposuction:

In recent years, surgeons have developed different techniques and specialized canulas to address specific purposes during surgery.

Standard liposuction canulas come in a variety of lengths and bore sizes (the bore size is the size of the hole at the end of the canister for the suction removal of fat tissue.)  Some of these canulas have serrated bores for easier fat removal.

Ultrasound-assisted liposuction uses the canulas  to deliver sound waves to help break up fat tissue.  These canulas are designed for patients who have had repeated liposuction.  This is needed to break up adhesions (scar tissue) that forms after the initial procedure during the healing process.

Laser liposuction is another type of liposuction aimed at specifically improving skin contraction.  This is important in older patients or in patients who have excessive loose skin due to recent weight loss or post-pregnancy.  However, for very large amounts of loose skin or poor skin tone in areas such as the abdomen, a larger procedure such as abdominoplasty may be needed.

During laser liposuction, a small wire laser is placed inside a canula to deliver a specific amount of heat energy to the area (around 40 degrees centrigrade).  The application of heat is believed to stimulate collagen production (for skin tightening).  Bleeding is reduced because of the cautery effect of the heat – but post-operative pain is increased due to increased inflammatory effects.  There is also a risk of burn trauma during this procedure.

There have been several other liposuction techniques that have gone in and out of fashion, and many of the variations mentioned are often referred to by trademark names such as “Vaser”, “SmartLipo”, “SlimLipo” which can be confusing for people seeking information on these procedures.

Fat Grafting

Fat from liposuction procedure to be used for buttock augmentation

Fat from liposuction procedure to be used for buttock augmentation

Fat grafting is a procedure used in combination with liposuction.  With this procedure, fat that was removed during liposuction is relocated to another area of the body such as the buttocks, hands or face.

In this patient, Dr. Botero injects the fat using a large bore needle deep into the gluteal muscles to prevent a sloppy, or dimpled appearance.  Injecting into the muscle tissue also helps to preserve the longevity of the procedure.  However, care must be taken to prevent fat embolism*, a rare but potentially fatal complication – where globules of fat enter the bloodstream.  To prevent this complication, Dr. Botero carefully confirms the placement of his needle in the muscle tissue before injecting.

Results are immediately appreciable.

fat being injected for buttock augmentation. (Photo edited for patient privacy).

fat being injected for buttock augmentation. (Photo edited for patient privacy).

The Surgery:

Patient was appropriately marked prior to the procedure.   The patient was correctly prepped, drapped and positioned to prevent injury or infection.  Ted hose and sequential stockings were applied to lessen the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis.  Pre-operative procedures were performed according to internationally recognized standards.

Sterility was maintained during the case.  Dr. Botero appeared knowledgeable and skilled regarding the techniques and procedures performed.

His instrumentadora (First assistant), Liliana Moreno was extremely knowledgeable and able to anticipate Dr. Botero’s needs.

Circulating nurse: Anais Perez maintained accurate and up-to-date intra-operative records during the case.  Ms. Perez was readily available to obtain instruments and supplies as needed.

Overall – the team worked well together and communicated effectively before, during and after the case.

Anesthesia was managed by Dr. Julio Arango.   He was using an anesthesia technique called “controlled hypotension”.  (Since readers have heard me rail about uncontrolled hypotension in the past – I will write another post on this topic soon.)

Controlled Hypotension

However, as the name inplies – controlled hypotension is a tightly regulated process, where blood pressure is lowered to a very specific range.  This range is just slightly lower than normal (Systolic BP of around 80) – and the anesthesiologist is in constant attendance.  This is very different from cases with profound hypotension which is ignored due to an anesthesia provider being distracted – or completely absent.

With hypotensive anesthesia – blood pressure is maintained with a MAP (or mean) of 50 – 60mmHg with a HR of 50 – 60.  This reduces the incidence of bleeding.

However, this technique is not safe for everyone.  Only young healthy patients are good candidates for this anesthesia technique.  Basically, if you have any stiffening of your arteries due to age (40+), smoking, cholesterol or family history – this technique is NOT for you.  People with high blood pressure, any degree of kidney disease, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease or diabetes are not good candidates for this type of anesthesia. People with these kinds of medical conditions do not tolerate even mild hypotension very well, and are at increased risk of serious complications such as renal injury/ failure or cardiovascular complications such as a heart attack or stroke.  Particularly since this is an elective procedure – this is something to discuss with your surgeon and anesthesiologist before surgery.

The patient today is young (low 20’s), physically fit, active with no medical conditions so this anesthesia poses little risk during this procedure. Also the surgery itself is fairly short – which is important.  Long/ marathon surgeries such as ‘mega-makeovers‘ are not ideal for this type of anesthesia.

Dr. Julio Arrango keeps a close eye on his patient

Dr. Julio Arango keeps a close eye on his patient

However, Dr. Arango does an excellent job during this procedure, which is performed under general anesthesia.   After intubating the patient, he maintained a close eye on vital signs and oxygenation.  The patient is hemodynamically stable with no desaturations or hypoxia during the case.  Dr. Arango remains alert and attentive during the case, and remains present for the entire surgery.  Following surgery, anesthesia was lightened, and the patient was extubated prior to transfer to the recovery room.

He also demonstrated excellent knowledge of international protocols regarding DVT/ Travel risk, WHO safety protocols and intra-operative management.

Surgical apgar score: 9  (however, there is a point lost due to MAP of 50 – 60 as discussed above).

Results of the surgery were cosmetically pleasing.

Post -operative care:

Prior to discharge from the ambulatory care center after recovery from anesthesia the patient (and family) receives discharge instructions from the  nurses.

The patient also receives prescriptions for several medications including:

1. Oral antibiotics for a five-day course**. Dr. Botero uses this duration for fat grafting cases only.

2. Non-narcotic analgesia (pain medications).

3. Lyrica ( a gabapentin-like compound) to prevent neuralgias during the healing period.

The patient will wear a support garment for several weeks.  She is to call Dr. Botero to report any problems such as unrelieved pain, drainage or fever.

Note: after some surgeries like abdominoplasty, patients also receive DVT prophylaxis with either Arixtra or enoxaparin (Lovenox).

Follow-up appointments:

Dr. Botero will see her for her first follow-up visit in two days (surgery was on a Saturday).  He will see twice a week the first week, and then weekly for three weeks (and additionally as needed.)

* Fat embolism is a risk with any liposuction procedure.

**This is contrary to American recommendations as per the National Surgical Care Improvement Project (SCIP) which recommends discontinuation within the first 24 hours to prevent the development of antibiotic resistance.