During the first week of our 10 week summer program in my home country we dedicated most of our time to needs finding and exploration in the various levels of the Costa Rican healthcare system. We traveled to six of the seven provinces that comprise the small Central American nation in just a few days; needless is it to say we learnt just as much as we enjoyed the brief overview of the country.
After getting settled at the hotel (temporarily while our condos are vacated), we explored the surrounding neighborhood of Cariari, in the Heredia province. I heard the rest of the team went on even further as I headed home to bring over my belongings. I must say it is quite confortable to stay in a familiar area that is only a 15 min drive away from where I grew up. However, this was only the first day of what was to become a week of full-fledged tour guide mode.
The first week officially began on Monday when we got to visit Hospital Mexico, one of the three main hospitals of the CCSS – the Costa Rican Social Security System. We met with Dr. Sandra Vargas, the head of OBGYN to discuss the advancements of a few projects that were developed by students at Rice through her insight and feedback. We briefly scouted the first floor of the hospital but we left the intensive “needs finding” for the next day.
On Tuesday morning we returned to Hospital Mexico (after experiencing the delightful wonders of Costa Rican rush hour traffic) to observe cardiac interventions at the state-of-the-art catheter labs. I must add, I was not familiar with this part of the hospital nor was I acquainted with Dr. Mauricio Obon. Even though our focus was meant to be the various procedures Dr. Obon was performing, I was mesmerized by the many monitors and gadgets in the control room – after all, my current degree in “electromedicina” deals with all these devices. Still, I was fascinated by how adept Dr. Obon was with the procedures, albeit the shocking revelation that it was all done while the patient was awake. After a stent, two diagnostics and part of a pacemaker procedure, we had to rush out after almost 5 hours of needs finding in order to make it to our appointment in Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste.
The drive to Guanacaste from La Uruca – the district of San Jose where Hospital Mexico is located – took close to four hours. Since I have done the drive myself a few times, I knew what was awaiting us. My team came up with a few road games I was not familiar with, but it surely helped us kill time while we traversed part of the Puntarenas province all the way to the beach. We arrived at around five thirty, to catch the last glimpses of sunlight at the beach. It had rained in the past few hours before we arrived, which is somewhat of an uncommon sight in the normally dry Guanacaste. The weather, however, did not lessen Dr. Ana Cecilia Rodriguez’s hospitality in her beautiful condo. We were also greeted by Silvia Jimenez, a fellow of Dr. Rodriguez, who accompanied us throughout the meeting. Once we got down to business we discussed Dr. Rodriguez’s research on HPV and Cervical Cancer. I must say, it was an enlightening presentation as I was highly unaware of the issues she explained. After a delicious meal from a local pizzeria, we headed back to the hotel in Liberia, the provincial capital of Guanacaste.
The following day we met up with Dr. Rodriguez at Liberia’s Enrique Baltodano Briceño Hospital, where we were introduced to Dr. Emmanuel Gonzalez, the chief of Pathology. Dr. Gonzalez showed us around the well-equipped pathology lab for more needs finding. We were “fortunate” enough to see the autopsy room in use; soon afterwards we enjoyed a delicious typical breakfast (not in the autopsy room of course!) We paid a short visit to Dr. Marta Avellan at the Nephrology department where we learnt about the growing concerns on Chronic Kidney Failure cases. I learnt much from a hospital that I had definitely never visited before even if I had been to Liberia many times on our way to the beautiful Guanacaste beaches. On our way back to Cariari, we stopped at Hacienda La Pacifica for some lunch as well as at Cañas’ CAIS and EBAIS, the main clinics in this small town. We met with Dr. Diego Cassanova from OBGYN to follow-up on our meeting with Dr. Vargas earlier in the week. A long journey back to Cariari ensued as we encountered some rush hour traffic in the last few miles to the hotel.
Thursday was a slightly complicated day as my teammate Michael and I had a scheduled meeting in Boston Scientific where we will start our internship the following week (I will leave the details to future blog entries). However, the rest of the team headed up to Cartago, about 1h15 (depending on traffic) east from Cariari. Lucky for us, driving to TEC (the Costa Rican Institute of Technology) is no problem for me as I have done it in the past so Michael and I met up with them after our meeting. We had lunch with a few of the students at TEC, then Jorge and Giselle, whom I had met in the GMI short course last summer, were kind enough to take us to the Mirador de Orosi (a lookout overseeing the Orosi Valley) and the Basilica de Los Angeles, dedicated to Virgin Mary of the Angels, Matron of Costa Rica. We headed back to Cariari soon afterwards for a small taste of afternoon rain and traffic.
Finally, on Friday we visited another of the main hospitals of the CCSS, the Calderon Guardia Hospital in the northern part of Central San Jose. We met once more with Dr. Rodriguez and she introduced us to Dr. Percy Guzman. We did some needs finding in the oncology department. After a few hours, the weekend officially began with a short visit to the National Theater where we had lunch. We managed to run a last minute errand just as the afternoon rains kicked in as usual.
It was a very intense first week back here in Costa Rica; I feel like even though this is my home country, I had never explored many of the facets that we got to see this week and more so in such a small amount of time. I am glad my teammates got to know so much of my country already. I am hoping for the best for next week, when we start our internships and get to move in to the condos.