In my third week at Karapitiya Hospital I was introduced to Dr. Kumara, senior lecturer in Surgery. Participating in various surgical cases was what I was most looking forward to on my rotation in Sri Lanka. Walking into the OT I noticed it was quite a different set up from the operating rooms back in the states. Patients were lined up on a bench right outside of the open theater doors with their medical chart in hand.
After a long journey to the other side of the globe, I was finally in Sri Lanka. It was 1:00 am when I landed then I arrived at my lodging at 4:00am. I had 4 hours to sleep and be ready to work! When I woke up to monkeys howling and playing in the trees 20 feet away, I knew I would like this place.
I had plenty of time to contemplate all that I had seen during 12 hours of travel back home from a medical mission trip to Georgetown, Guyana. I had just spent three weeks working in the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department at Georgetown Public Hospital and using my training as an Emergency Medicine resident in the United States to help teach new ER doctors core material such as EKG reading, airway management, and the approach to shortness of breath and chest pain. I had not realized when I arrived how much of my time would be dedicated to sitting in the metaphorical trenches and caring directly for patients coming to the A&E. I was prepared for a foreign experience in a distant land, but instead I found myself right in my element.
As I was packing for my first international medical trip to Guyana, South America, my wandering mind conjured image after image of third-world medicine based on popular notions and dramatic stories I have heard over the years. I imagined a row of soiled cots where emaciated children without IV access spent their final hours. I pictured a sweltering tent full of tuberculosis patients collectively coughing up blood; or a bathroom-sized emergency department packed with fever-stricken, jaundiced, indigenous peoples dying of AIDS, malaria, and other ailments while overwhelmed healthcare workers looked the other way out of emotional self-preservation because they had nothing to offer. As described to me by some physicians who had been there in recent years, some of these were features specific to the hospital I was heading to in the capital city of Georgetown.

I am delighted to tell you how antiquated and cynical my preconceived notions had been.
H. would probably be at the top of her class no matter where she went to medical school. Like most of the Ecuadorian medical students I have had the privilege of working with she is curious, dedicated, and focused. She attends a prestigious medical school and has had the opportunity to complete clinical rotations at some of the largest hospitals in Cuenca and Quito. Her dream is to study internal medicine.

Valantina is the granddaughter of my host family in Riobamaba.  The family is middle class and well educated, both parents having attended university.  As is common in Ecuador, Valantina’s parents started having children very young and continue living with their parents.  Before the recent death of my host mother’s mother, four generations had lived in the house.  Valantina is 9 months old and the delight of the entire family.  As you will note in the pictures she is generally healthy and adorable.  There are some things that her family does that help her grow and stay healthy.  Though her mother is in college full time, Valantina has never received formula.  Her mother frequently breastfeeds at the table or in public places.  This is common practice in this provincial capital and during the Easter parade, there were women openly feeding their children as they marched through downtown, an unlikely sight in the U.S.  After I moved to Cuenca I noticed that more babies were drinking formula from bottles.  Multiple people explained that this as a consequence of wealth.  Cuenca is more affluent then Riobamba and formula is considered proof of economic security, an unhealthy trend.  I was fascinated by these changes because they seemed opposite to what I have observed in the U.S. where it is often well educated, more privileged women who tend to have the control over their lives that allows them to breastfeed. 

The hospital has a well respected neonatal intensive care unit as well at both inpatient and outpatient services for women and children. One case in particular stuck with me. A woman came in after a failed home delivery. She had delivered her first 6 children at home but subsequently lost 2 of them to respiratory illness within the first 2 months of life. She had been laboring since the day before and kept saying, ‘I can’t, I can’t’. She knew something was wrong and that this did not feel like her other deliveries.
I spent one week at a Sub-Centro de Salud (public health clinic) in the town of E. Valle, about a 30 minute bus ride from Cuenca. The town is quite small but the catchment area includes a large number of families working small plots of land on steep slopes. The clinic itself is new and clean. It houses three general practitioners, one dentist, a pharmacy, a pediatrician, psychologist, vaccination center, and room for x-rays and ultrasound. In an office there is a map of all the households, their inhabitants and risk factors.
I was privileged to work in many different settings during my time in Ecuador giving me a wide range of exposures. First of all, there is private versus public medical care. The perception among those that seek care in the private hospitals is that they are receiving a superior service in exchange for paying for services that are free elsewhere. In some ways this is true. However, in the public hospitals international standards of care were followed.

Sadly, I am leaving this wonderful island tonight. I cannot imagine how the time has flown by so fast. The last week was intense; activities included inputting and analyzing the data we collected, preparing for the presentation, organizing the workshop for stress management, and saying goodbye to my dear friends on the island. 

After learning about the culture and lifestyle on this south pacific island by interviewing people, we started to actually collect data with the tailored survey that would give us ideas about the stress status of the people in American Samoa. This survey was designed analyze from multiple angles the stress status of the people, including stress level, stress symptoms, access to releasing stress, risk factors, and effective coping techniques. Also, it emphasizes the fa’alavelave which means funerals, weddings, and other gatherings in which people have to donate money due to social reputation and expectation.

The target population of this research was on students and teachers at American Samoa Community College. We collected a good amount of surveys back and then analyzed the data with statistical software. Although the most common statistical software in the USA may not be available here, we finally achieved preliminary findings. My preliminary findings were presented to the land grant staff, American Samoan Community College faculties, and the people I interviewed previously. I am glad that this research provided the American Samoans a new way to look at themselves.

Although some of the college students did not feel stress from fa’alavelave personally, they did put fa’alavelave as the answer for the question, “what is the most common stressful thing the Samoan people may have?” A possible reason for this is that the all the college students’ funds come from their family; however, their families may suffer from stress of Fa’alavelave. In American Samoan society, the family will support the children economically while they are still in school. Although the economy on the island is not well developed, people donate a large portion of money for fa’alavelave, which creates tremendous stress for them.

In my stress management workshop, I demonstrated some coping techniques such as music therapy, meditation, humor therapy, and other methods to the audience. The stress management workshop provided fresh ideas for the locals and opened a window for them to explore the opportunities to manage their stress in the future. In addition, I designed some programs for the wellness center which will open later this year. The wellness center will be the first integrated place that aims to support the public health for the islanders.

Coming to the island alone is definitely not a lonely journey. I am blessed to have the chance to embrace the culture and diversity. It is a blessing to come to this exotic place and meet friendly people, to experience a different culture and gain working experience, while at the same time contributing my skills to the community. I found myself falling in love with this island, even though my contribution may only make a small difference for the islanders. This experience made me aware of how often I take for granted the ease of access to expertise in the USA. Because the island is so resource-limited, each visiting field has only one expert, one dietitian, one psychiatrist, one entomologist, or no expertise at all in many fields. My preceptor commented on my study, saying it was a unique and promising study, and he would like to continue it as a long term program for the American Samoa population. I am glad to see what I accomplished here, and hopefully I will come back some day.

 

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