Springtime in Chile!

Posted by on November 7, 2012

Remember when I talked about how it was so cold you could leave milk out on the counter without it going bad? Well, now it’s so hot that…well, it’s so hot that it’s reminding me of Charleston! (Even the humidity!) I guess I’ll blame the weather on my lack of blog posts…it’s been so lovely outside that I haven’t really wanted to be inside at all!

Finally some sunshine!

It is currently Tuesday, and I am on my second day back from a four day weekend. Wednesday, October 31st was Halloween, which they even celebrate here in Chile now! However, the more important day comes after: All Saints’ Day, on November 1st. I’m not going to go into too much detail about All Saints’ Day, because that’s not really my job, plus I’m sure you can find a better description on Google. Since Chile is still a very Catholic country, everybody gets the day off to go to Mass. And since this year All Saints’ Day was on a Thursday, they went ahead and gave us Friday off as well. (Well, plus November 2nd is All Souls’ Day; for a description of this feast day, please see my advice about All Saints’ Day.)

This long weekend ended up being a pretty good one. Since travel is extremely expensive on holiday weekends, I decided to stay in the city (I traveled to Atacama last weekend and am going to Pucón this weekend, so don’t worry; I’m not missing out TOO much). On Thursday I went to Mass and then walked around Santiago for a little bit; even though I’ve seen most of the sites, it was nice to see them again now that the weather is so nice.

On Friday I went to this really amazing zoo outside of the city; it is a lot bigger than the zoo in Santiago, and a lot nicer! The only bad part was the long line to buy tickets…but even that ended up being okay, because a couple of little kids in front of us in line heard me talking to a Chilean friend and, knowing that I wasn’t Chilean (probably because of my “typical gringa face.” Or my countless Spanish errors), came up to me and started asking me about the United States. It was adorable, and definitely made me miss my swim team kids. The zoo was bien entretenido (very entertaining)…definitely worth the train ride out of the city. Then, that night, I went to go see Paranormal Activity 4—proof that, no matter where I’m living, I will always be a dumb American, getting suckered into yet ANOTHER dragged-out scary movie series.

Saturday I visited Chile’s Museum of Human Rights, where the events of the golpe de estado (coup d’état) are presented from a perspective of human rights (for those of you who don’t know about that either, please Google it; even though I’ve learned a lot, I don’t know enough about it to be able to present it fairly). It was really interesting to me, to know that so many awful things happened in a country that I didn’t even know existed until an embarrassingly few years ago. More than anything, it made me very appreciative to live where I do, and it helped me to put things in perspective.

We have a pretty important election happening today in the United States, and it seems (at least by Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, my email account, and word on the streets—even in Chile) that people feel very strongly about its results. And even though I have my opinions and preferences about the way I want the election to go, I am comforted knowing that, no matter whose name is announced as the next president (at approximately 3am Chilean time, FYI), I am still a citizen of a free country where my rights are guaranteed by a Constitution and protected by the bravest men and women in the world. My support one way or the other in this election cannot jeopardize my safety or that of my family or friends…and for that, I am thankful. Moreover, I know that whoever gets elected, I still have the opportunity to make a life for myself and have the ability, as a citizen, to make the country a better place. That has not always been the case in Chile’s history, and, although things are improving here, my visit to the Museo de Derechos Humanos opened my eyes to the violence and persecution that have, unfortunately, played too big of a role in Chile’s history.

Sunday was probably my worst day in Chile so far (and hopefully ever)…I ended up with some sort of stomach bug and spent all day in bed. I feel fantastic now, but two days ago I was pretty close to the most pathetic person in the world. My host family was really fantastic though, and for that I’m more grateful than I can say. My host brother is a surgeon, and within minutes of finding out I was sick, he had three different types of medicine, boiled water (so I didn’t have to drink the hard tap water), and plain pasta ready for me. My problem right now is, I don’t have enough Spanish vocabulary to tell him how much I appreciate everything he did for me…Even though technically our host families are supposed to take care of us, I know that I’m extremely lucky to have a family that was THAT nice to me when I was sick.

Now, as I said, I’ve been sick for the past couple days, and although I feel better, I’m still a little weak/tired (/lazy). So for this next part of the blog I’m going to ask you to make up your own segue between being sick and hospitals, because the next thing I’m going to talk about is going to be my adventures in my Clinical Observation Internship, the class I take with IES that allows us to shadow different departments at the hospitals in Chile.

Clinical Observation has been one of the most interesting parts of my study abroad experience. It has definitely been the most helpful; since the medical education in the United States is divided into undergrad and med school, it makes it hard for undergrads to actually get clinical experience—well, at least the kind of clinical experience we’ve been getting here. I have sat (stood, actually…for like three hours) in an OR with scrubs on, listened with a stethoscope to the lungs of somebody with tuberculosis (without a mask, unfortunately—apparently they don’t use them here), helped with a shift in an emergency room, and, on Thursday, will stand “south of the equator” to watch an actual birth.

What really gets me is how informal the medical system seems to be. The first day of my rotation was surgery. My classmate and I, with our white coats on, walked right into the surgery floor. Without asking us for identification or even verifying who we were, they rushed us into the changing rooms to get scrubs on so that we could begin viewing as soon as possible. During the surgeries, they were telling us all sorts of information: the patients’ names, conditions, and medical histories— as if HIPAA didn’t exist (note: here, it probably doesn’t). One of my friends even got to scrub in on a surgery and help with the suturing!

The emergency room was even stranger. For my ER shift, I visited a hospital on a poorer side of town, and I decided within two minutes of walking in the door to the hospital that, if I were ever to get sick in Chile, I would put this hospital last on my list of places to go. There were stray dogs walking in and out of the hospital at will, graffiti all over the walls (yes, inside the hospital!), and ominous looking people standing around the exits. However, the doctors were really great with me, and I learned a lot during my shift there. The emergency room, the doctors explained to me, wasn’t an ER like we would think about it in the US. In this particular hospital, there is a shortage of beds; anybody who doesn’t fit in a room upstairs gets an ER bed until room becomes available elsewhere. So where did the emergency patients go? In the hallway, of course! The ER was full of patients, some who had been there for hours and some for days. I shadowed the doctor as he went through the row of patients assigned to him, and with every patient, he opened the chart and read everything to me, explaining what was wrong with the patient, what he’d ordered for them, and what his expectations were. The patients were right in front of us the whole time, listening to the doctor explain all sorts of intimate medical details to me—and nobody seemed to mind! I’m never going to complain about the opportunity to learn something new, but it was really strange, being able to learn so much about someone so quickly.

Even though I was with doctors during the ER shift, the majority of the supervisors for the Clinical Observation shifts have been nurses. It’s been eye-opening to see what a major role they play in every single part of medical care. In surgery, for example, the nurses bring the patients in to the OR, talk to them as the anesthesiologists put them to sleep, and get them ready for surgery. The surgeons show up after the patients are long past asleep and leave right after they’re closed up. The anesthesiologists stay with them until they’ve woken up, and the nurses take over in Recuperation after that. In Hemodialysis, the nurses are pretty much in charge, minus the quick review/checkup done by a nephrologist at the beginning of the four hour treatment. The nurses have been the ones explaining everything to us, and I’m amazed at how much they know. They do so much with the patients and have an amazing amount of connection with them, and they still manage to have all of the medical stuff perfect. The well-roundedness of nurses is something that I think is taken for granted in the United States, but it’s something that should be aimed for by every medical professional. Watching the nurses during Clinical Observation is what has inspired me most to continue my pursuit of a medical education. If I’m ever a doctor, I can only hope that I can find it in me to imitate them and be as compassionate as I am educated.

Even though I’m not sure I’m allowed to know all of the stuff I’ve learned since I’ve started the Clinical Observation Internship, I have to admit, I’ve learned a ton. It’s been an incredible experience—one that I definitely couldn’t get in the United States (well, at least not without signing heavy amounts of paperwork and being at least a first-year med student). Much like everything else in Chile, it truly has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


Vocab lesson for the day:

al tiro (or altiro) – “Right now.” It means at this very moment, or immediately. However, it’s also used kind of sarcastically, like when our host mom calls us for dinner, and my host brother says “Vengo altiro” (Coming right now!), it usually means in like 5 or 10min.

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