Tag Archives: SCOPE

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After finishing my official month at the hospital, I stayed on in Tuxtla for another ten days with my family, enjoying the freedom to sleep in, help out around the house, and await Josh’s arrival in Chiapas. After nearly five weeks of living on my own, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the thought of living as a couple once again. My time alone in Tuxtla had taught me an incredible amount about myself that I simply would not have learned in the same way if I was traveling with someone else. From the seemingly mundane (but for me, actually quite revolutionary!) lesson of learning to appreciate and even enjoy technology, to the possibly life-altering opportunity of being forced to work in both the ER and Pediatrics, to the maddeningly frustrating yet impossibly proud moments of having to depend solely on my own Spanish skills for communication, to the terrifying yet indescribably rewarding moments of having to depend solely on my own social skills for friendship… Because of experiences like these, I’ve always found it incredibly valuable to spend some time apart from each other, continuing to build our individual lives, and then also adding all the new lessons and challenges learned as individuals to our shared married life.

But as amazing as travelling alone can be, and as amazing as married life can be, the truth is that the transition between the two can be tricky. However, the Tuxtlayork crew were incredible (as they tend to be) at immediately welcoming Josh into our group and planning a week full of activities to show off our beloved Chiapas. As the experienced Chiapeneca, I got to play hostess to Josh, instructing him in the art of combi-riding, introducing him to the wonders of the Cañón del Sumidero, and ensuring that he was well-versed in the flavours of Tuxtla, including my favourites of michelada and tascalate. With Tuxtlayork, we returned to Sancris for a final weekend, and from Sancris, left on a twelve-hour round trip to seek out some of Chiapas’ maravillas:

Sancris 4.0: Columbian arepas, Mercado de dulces, & Maya Vinic fairtrade coffee!
Arepas!!
Dulces
Yes, that’s a chingón of souvenirs!
Maya Vinic

Las cascadas de Agua Azul
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Agua Azul

Misol-Ha (where Josh beat us back to the bus by swimming across, rather than walking):
Misol-Ha

Palenque: site of Mayan King Pakal’s legendary reign
Palenque
Site of torture and subsequent decapitation of criminals (yep, the torture seems gratuitous)
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With all our exchanges coming to an end around the same time, our final few days in Tuxtla were a blur of goodbye dinners and tearful hugs. We kept each other positive by talking about next summer – Sandra was going into her final year of medicine, so we decided a combination celebration/reunion was absolutely essential. The only question remaining is in which country it will be held!

Jammin’ … classic setlist of Radiohead, Romeo Santos, Fall Out Boy, and Heathen Eve originals
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Jammin2
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Despedida 1.0 😦
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Marimba lessons from the experts
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Beautiful farewell dinner (complete with Mexican sushi!) with our host families
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Far sooner than I was ready for, it was our turn to be dropped off at the Tuxtla airport to catch our flight to Cancún and continue the next leg of our Mexican adventure. Thankfully, the airport was tiny enough that we could disregard all the PASSENGERS ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT warnings, and Valeria and Valeria escorted us with besos and a running photo-documentary all the way to the security checkpoint… at which point our final hugs were supervised by armed guards and the Valerias were then escorted back to the waiting area.

Despedida 2.0 😦 😦
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No es un adiós, es solamente un ¡Hasta pronto! a mi querida Chiapas.
And for the moment, es un ¡Hola! a Quintana Roo

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Tuxtlayork

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After a week settling into my new Mexican home, I was informed that another exchange student from Columbia would be arriving the next day, hosted by my host’s best friend (conveniently also named Valeria). As I tend to be, I was leery about introducing someone new into my comfortable Mexican life… but (as is so often the case), I should never have worried. Sandra “La Columbiana” arrived in full force the next morning, flooding Mexico with “usted” (the respectful form of address is used almost exclusively in Columbia, even between dating couples) and exclamations of “chiquitico” and “poquitico” (the Columbian diminutive form manages to be even more adorable than the standard Spanish diminutive).

Warm, generous, wildly affectionate and wickedly hilarious, Sandra was a welcome addition to my exchange experience. From our first day spent together exploring the many parks of Tuxtla, it was evident that the four of us fit comfortably together, and rarely a day or night passed without us going out for micheladas, going out dancing, or sleeping over at one of the Valeria’s houses.

La Marimba, Chiapas’ signature sound, de la Parque Chiapasonate   

Getting pulled into a sexy catwalk/dance contest hosted by a clown in the park. After some Ukrainian Baptist dance moves that I believe only thoroughly bewildered the crowd, La Canada won second place! My prize? A light-up hippo keychain and a heart balloon.    

The next week, we found out that one more exchange student would be joining Tuxtla for the summer – a chico from Venezuela who was studying medicine in España. We went to his SCOPE welcome dinner more out of curiosity than anything: he was a research student while the rest of us were clinical students, and he would be living on his own by the university campus instead of with a host family, so the expectation of seeing him regularly was low.

However, Andrés had the definition of buena onda, the Latino description for that indescribable quality possessed by truly genuine people that irresistibly attracts you to them. Impulsively, we invited him out with us the next night for more micheladas… which turned into a uninterrupted string of beautiful days and impossibly fun nights together.

In all the roads I have travelled, las cascadas de Aguacero is the most breathtakingly beautiful place I have ever seen   

Enjoying pollo asado for lunch after miraculously keeping it dry walking through the falls  

Reina de la cascada! 😛 (gracias a Valeria para encontrar mi corona jajaja)            

It wasn’t only the insane weekends spent dancing until 6AM in Sancris that made our time together unforgettable (although those certainly helped 😉 ). It was also the mornings after dancing, when we’d go out for breakfast empanadas at noon in the Mercado de los Dulces and argue about body image and health education in our respective countries. It was the long afternoons in Andrés’ apartment, watching Amityville Horror (not my choice, I assure you!!), eating Rockoleta chili suckers, and discussing our countries’ views on homosexuality, our own views on sexuality in general, and all the social/political/religious/personal elements that affect our relationships whether we want them to or not. It was sharing stories about taking night shift at the hospital, our agreements and disagreements regarding doctors’ bedside manner, our arguments about antibiotic use. It was the twelve hours round-trip to Palenque that we spent crammed in a combi together, careening through the jungle and tipping precariously over mountain cliffs, trying to sleep wrapped around each other like the canned tunafish we shared for supper on the road. It was the long afternoons spent lying on Valeria’s bed, sharing pictures from our incredible day and stupid memes on Whatsapp.

While out dancing at a club in Tuxtla, we got our photo taken for a local pop culture magazine. Apparently I’m a bigger deal in Mexico than in Winnipeg!

Sancris 2.0
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Afternoon sliding fun at Rancho Nuevo with new Sancris friends
  

Sancris 3.0: Midnight birthday celebrations with more wonderful new friends  

“Hay figuras…” Informative and hilarious guided tours through Las Grutas by local kids    

This is the golden reward of an exchange. Unlike, say, a conference, where you have the opportunity to talk to people of different backgrounds and cultures, but only for an isolated moment in time; an exchange gives you the gift of actually living and breathing and eating together in a real snapshot of your life. Having the gift of time allows you to spend time doing absolutely nothing together, thus cultivating a level of comfort that paves the ground for even more genuine conversations. And surprisingly, it is the in-between times, the times between ridiculous adventures and intense conversations, where you learn the unexpected things about yourself and others that you can both laugh at and challenge each other on.

We were five individuals of different ages, skin colours, faith backgrounds, language backgrounds, travel histories, sexuality, and definitions of family. One of us can’t handle spicy food. One of us doesn’t drink. One overuses antibiotics. One didn’t know what cystic fibrosis was. One of us was terrible with changes of plan. One was terrible with punctuality. We were all medical students, all determined to improve the health of our world around us in some way, with different resources at our fingertips, different supports at our back, different goals in front of us. And wherever we went next, we would all be immutably changed by our time spent together in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico.

Valeria, Valeria, Sandra, y Andrés, como podría describir la importancia de su amistad en mi vida? De nuestros conversaciones, de las historias de sus vidas, del tiempo que pasamos juntos, he aprendido un chingón de cosas de ustedes que van a cambiar mi vida por siempre! Muchísimas gracias para desafiar mis pensamientos y me daban apoyo y amor cuando lo necesitaba. Tienen siempre una casa y una amiga loca en Canadá! Los quiero muchísimos, mis bebés, y los extraño. #Cancún2016!!

“UPED” is also a 4-letter word…

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I have a confession to make: I have no desire whatsoever to blog.

I feel so at home here in Tuxtla that it’s easy to forget I’m supposed to be a traveller. The truth is, I’m not travelling anymore – I have my home here, a job to go to every day, friends I can make plans with, public transit I’m comfortable taking, new cellphone chargers to buy when mine dies. It’s only when I consider blogging that I remember my time here is temporary, and as a result, I have been avoiding this blog like the plague.

However, with the month drawing to a close, it is becoming difficult to ignore the fact that I have another life in Canada, and when I return to that life, I know I’ll want these blog posts to remind me of my home in Mexico!

Centro medico

Let’s backtrack a minute to A Day in the Life of el Estudiante Sarita, and to that fateful comment posted by a faithful reader: “Your new position doesn’t make for as harrowing a blog post but it sounds much better for you – way to go on suggesting a switch.”

Now, let’s fast-forward to a week after I had comfortably settled into my routine in Pediatria. On Friday afternoon, after my regular debriefing with la Doctora, I kissed her good-bye and told her I’d see her on Monday, to which she responded, “Oh, I won’t be here on Monday – I’m leaving for holidays for the next 2 weeks!”

… say what?

I bemusedly contacted Lizeth, my exchange coordinator, informing her that my placement would need to change yet again, and somehow she worked rapid magic and found me a placement for the next week.

Remember my comment from my first week, about how I had little interest in Emergency and even less in Pediatrics? Well, the fates decided that I was giving up on both too soon, and I was to report the next work day to …
*drumroll please*

Las Urgencias Pediatricas Emergency Department (UPED).

Urgencias
Note the makeshifts tent set up along the gates, where people sleep while waiting for news about their family members
Tents

Upon arrival, I was introduced to Miguel, an incredibly kind if incredibly fast-talking interno (Year 5 of 6 in Mexican medical education). Our introductions were suddenly interrupted by shouting behind us, as the doctor doing rounds engaged in a heated debate with a nurse and a resident regarding a discrepancy in patient care. I have never heard so many creative variations of groserías as I heard coming from that doctor’s mouth. As his tirade was winding down, Miguel nudged me. “Go introduce yourself to that loco,” he whispered. “That’s your supervising doctor.”

Hesitantly, I approached the doctor, who was, self-admittedly, completely loco and not one to mince words when he felt his staff was slacking off. But he was also an amazing doctor, devoted to his patients and passionate about improving their level of care and his staff’s skill level. He warmly greeted me, and instructed Miguel to provide me with every possible opportunity to learn during my time in UPED.

UPED

Miguel took this to heart and took me under his wing, immediately walking me through the process of how to take a patient history for new entries, how to fill out a lab req, and where to drop off blood samples (Quick reminder: This is all in Spanish. Oy vey, my ears were bleeding from trying so hard to listen and absorb everything!) However, as Miguel and I were taking down the patient history of a 6-year old with a ruptured appendix, there was another flurry of activity as the surgeon came striding into the ER – there was a 3-year old with a perforated intestine requiring even more emergent surgery, and I was informed that I was to accompany them into surgery.

I do not know how much more clearly I could have stated, “I HAVE NO CLINICAL EXPERIENCE IN SURGERY. I HAVE NEVER SEEN A SURGERY BEFORE.” Before I knew it, I was on the surgical ward, changing into Miguel’s borrowed surgical scrubs and frantically trying to listen to how I was to scrub my hands and what to do with the surgical booties and where to stand so I wouldn’t contaminate everything. The surgical resident was extremely personable if extremely brusque, and as he was unpacking the sterile trays, he showed me each instrument and told me its name. I tried to absorb as much as possible, but since he was only showing me everything once and since I was very clear that it was the first time in my life I had ever seen these things – in English OR Spanish – I was assuming this experience was more of a bonus teaching session.

Assume nothing. Behind us was the operating table with the tiny patient already anesthethized, and within minutes, the surgeon was on one side of the table, the resident on the other, and I, the first-year exchange student, was beside the resident as the instrumentist for the surgery.

Pardon my Spanish, but ¡¿QC?!

Long story short: They quickly realised I meant it when I said I had no surgical experience, and another resident was called in to act as instrumentist. Once the resident took over as instrumentist and I was able to simply observe the surgery (which was all I wanted to do in the first place!), I was in awe. This was (as I have mentioned many times!), the first surgery I have ever seen, and it was beautiful. Watching the surgeon delicately slice through each layer of tissue, cauterizing the edges of the cut to control the bleeding, that distinctive smell in the air, the metres of intestines that literally came ballooning out of the body once they were freed from their confined space… The human body is incredible, amazing, miraculous, and powerful, and to see it exposed so carefully was a true gift.

(Speaking of gifts, the surgery occurred on my sister’s birthday, and I kept wondering what her reaction would be if she were in the room :P)

Once the perforation was corrected by resectioning 20 cm of intestine (which were handed to me with the instructions, “Guardalo.”) and a stoma made in the side of the patient, the pinch-hitter resident and the surgeon left me and the original resident alone to sew up the incisions. And I kid you not – completely scrubbed up with only our eyes visible, standing on opposite sides of a draped patient with a gaping open abdomen, with my finger acting as an anchor for the stitches holding the abdominal wall together – the resident casually started to flirt with me. Oh, los Mexicanos!!

Once the incision was closed and cleaned, the resident left to chart and the nurse handed me a plastic bottle containing the 20 cm of intestine, and asked me to go prepare it in formaldehyde. I wandered into the hall, clutching my intestine bottle, and eventually found some very nice healthcare aides who took me to a jug of formaldehye sitting in the hallway and helped me syringe in enough to cover the sample. At this point, the resident had me fill out a Pathology report, then instructed me to go change. In the change room, juggling my borrowed scrubs, the Path report, the intestine, and a can of Coke the resident insisted on buying for me, I had a brief out-of-body experience and wanted to break into uncontrollable laughter.

Instead, I changed and met the resident in the ICU, where he proceeded to hand the intestine bottle to the patient’s mother, informed her that here was what had caused the problem, and pointed her to her daughter’s bed. He then turned to me and said, “Well, quieres una otra Coka?”

El tor de Chiapas

That was my first day in las Urgencias Pediatrias. And though I frantically reviewed and quizzed myself on all surgical instruments that night, I did not go back into the OR. Instead, the rest of my time in the hospital was spent finally being useful. I was comfortable enough with the layout of the hospital and in my lanugage skills to actually be able to type up patient charts, collect lab results, fill out reqs, and drop off samples at the lab, even understanding when there was an issue with one of the reqs and being able to correct it myself without having to bother an intern. The UPED staff were incredible to work with – so patient with my language skills and constantly finding things they could teach me how to do so I could do them myself. Los internos invited me to stay on for la guardia (night shift) one night, and it was very satisfying to be further included as a part of their team.

Friday was my last day in the hospital, and when one of the doctors found out, he started giving the interns a hard time, “Where’s her cake? It’s la canadiense’s last day, of course we need a cake!” I laughed it off as a joke, but sure enough, later in the day, Miguel came running in with a bakery box, and soon the entire UPED staff was gathered in the break room, toasting me as I cut the cake.

Gracias por el pastel, Dr. Keeven!

Los estimados doctores del UPED
UPED doctores

La buena gente del UPED 🙂
Internos de UPED

To make it a truly authentic Urgencias fiesta, after about 10 minutes of relaxing together, another doctor came running in, shouting, “There’s a head injury outside, the patient is seizuring!” With this, everyone shoved the last bite of cake in their mouth and bolted outside.

My time in Mexico has taught me too many things to count. But possibly the most surprising, and the most potentially life-changing, is that as much as I cannot believe I am about to admit this…

I love Peds. and I love Emerg.

And I have no idea where I will end up next!

Outside the hospital

¡Bienvenida a Chiapas!

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After 13 hours of travel, I was speechlessly excited to look out my window and finally see my final destination. My first impression of Tuxtla was intensely green… In a rainforest rambling into jungles, in the middle of rainy season, with bright hot days and warm rain every evening, Tuxtla was putting out its finest for me. I disembarked, felt my hair grow 12x larger with the humidity, and walked into the terminal to find a smiling girl and man waving a homemade sign: “Bienvenida a Chiapas, Sara!”

Bienvenida!

My host family consists of Valeria, a first year medical student from Tuxtla, her brother Diego, sister Aránzazú (Zuzu), mamá Magali, papá Ubel, and crazy baby chiahuahua Toretto. Vale and her uncle Milton drove me to my new home for the month — past palmas and taquerias, fig trees and combis screeching to a halt, roadside tamal stands and the Mexican version of Squeegee-kids (except instead of Squeegeeing your car, they carry boxes selling everything from gum to newspapers; and instead of kids, they’re very respectable adults… it’s actually quite handy, like a little supermarket that comes walking past your car at every red light).

The minute we walked in the door, Magali kissed me and proclaimed, “Bienvenida a tu casa, Sarita!” This family is the type that not only says “Make yourself at home,” but actually expects you to do so. Within the hour, Valeria, Zuzu, and I had walked to the tienda, bought 8 different bags of chips (to make sure I tried all the different flavours), and were curled up on the couch to have a movie night, while Toretto licked my toes in a hostly fashion (and later stole my sock, which we have yet to find).

view from my bedroom balcony:
Bedroom balcony

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One of my first evenings, Valeria and her best friend Valeria (convenient to only have to learn so many new names) took me to la Parque de Marimba, where every single night there are live marimba bands and dancing! Afterwards, they instructed me in the art of both drinking michelada (beer, lime juice, and piquante seasonings) and in the art of shamelessly asking waiters for the nearly-untouched tapas platters leftover on other patrons’ tables 😛

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Parque de Marimba

Michelada

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The next evening, all the other SCOPE members took me out for Zoque pizza at a beautiful pizza place on the other end of town, where we impromptly become part of the birthday party going on next to us and were given free cake, as well as a free jarra of tascalate from the restaurant owners:
SCOPE & Zoque pizza!

Afterwards, however, the SCOPE team witnessed my most essential experience so far (/who are we kidding, most essential experience, punto.)

MIS PRIMEROS TACOS MEXICANOS.

PRIMERO TACO

Neurology knowledge will come. International trade relations will be analysed. But at least now I know I am truly in Mexico.

MIrador de Tuxtla

There’s (yet another) adventure…

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When I received the email from my exchange coordinator informing me that my accommodations had been changed from a private student apartment to living with a host family, I felt like things were finally falling into place for this trip. As evidenced by our adventures through Europe, I have found that the absolute best way to travel is to plan your travels around people, rather than places. Therefore, getting to live with a family during my time in Mexico promised to make this opportunity into something even more amazing than I had originally thought!

Happy FB news

But before getting acquainted with my new Mexican family, I first had to actually make it to Mexico… resulting, like all good trips should, in a travel adventure!

Josh and I rolled into Fargo around midnight, giving us plenty of time to hit up Buffalo Wild Wings before crashing into bed with the alarm set for 4AM in order to catch my 6AM flight out of Fargo. After an unreal goodbye with mi Josué in the airport, I was attempting to nap on the plane when I was suddenly awoken by cries of, “He’s collapsed! Somebody help! There is a medical emergency!”

An elderly gentleman had collapsed in the aisle of the plane right behind me, and the flight attendants came running with oxygen. They then made that announcement I truly thought occurred only in movies, “Is there any medical personnel aboard the aircraft?” I underwent a brief panicked ethical dilemma trying to figure out if I was responsible to try to do something if there was nobody else on board, but thankfully a very capable-looking doctor came bustling down the aisle of the plane. The attendants informed the plane that the pilot was on standby waiting for confirmation from the doctor about whether an emergency landing would be required. After a very confusing many minutes, the announcement was made that an emergency landing would not be required, but upon landing in Atlanta, paramedics still immediately boarded our plane and escorted the gentleman off.

After all that excitement, I was thankful for my long and relaxing layover in Atlanta, where I ate some very salty and fried things for breakfast before boarding my flight to Mexico City. Now, generally airports don’t fluster me, not even renowned massively huge airports like D.F. What flustered me was seeing that I had exactly one hour to both clear Customs and make my connecting flight to Tuxtla… and what panicked me was walking off the plane and into what I originally thought was the ground floor arena for a sold-out U2 concert, but was actually the “line” for Customs.

I stood in this line (read: at the back of a massive room filled with a massive amount of people, with the tiny Customs officials barely visible at the far other end) and anxiously chewed my nails to bits until finally asking the gentleman next to me if this was the only “line” to be in. I got the feeling that he had been stewing over things for awhile, because he immediately launched into a tirade against inefficient Mexican airport authorities who make tax-paying residents still stand in this line because they aren’t officially Mexican citizens, even though citizens barely ever fly so having a separate line for them is a horrific waste of resources… and then told me to try just getting into the Diplomats line. I had literally nothing to lose but a possible flight connection, so into the Diplomats line I went, behind a gaggle of Aerolíneas Mexicanas flight personnel and many dignified señoras in wheelchairs.

And I confess: upon arriving at the front of the line and being sternly confronted by the Customs official, who demanded to know what I thought I was doing in this line without proper paperwork, I shamelessly took full advantage of my confused-single-white-girl status and stammered many things about flights and information given to me and -insert pleading eyes here- … and was impatiently waved through Customs with time to spare.

(You get the idea)

Except for the small fact that my flight to Tuxtla was not listed on a single departure board. The first airport personnel I asked about my flight gave me a disgusted look and told me I was already at the gate (FYI, when I asked her this, I was definitely standing in front of a bank machine). The second person I asked pointed me towards the opposite end of the airport and said it would be posted there. Upon speed-walking the 20 minutes to the other end of the airport, the third person I asked informed me that obviously, it was Gate E2… which happened to be back where I had started from. Although, since my flight was still not on any Departures board, I consider it sheer magic that this person at least knew what I was talking about.

If at this point I wasn’t yet sufficiently aware of the fact that I was in truly in Mexico, I boarded the plane to Tuxtla only to have the man in front of me turn on his iPod speakers to blast the entire plane with marimba music. When the smiling flight attendant asked if he had headphones, he replied, “Well, I do… but then nobody else would be able to hear it!”

Bienvenidos a Mexico… the fun has just begun!

Bienvenidos a Chiapas!