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.

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

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

 

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.