My family thinks I spend each day in Costa Rica in a jungle; however, in reality it’s been a lot of work (and not in the jungle, might I add)! It has only been 12 days since the start of the GMI program in Costa Rica and it feels like months have gone by already!! During this time, it has been a blend of hospital visits, short courses, and a little bit of exploring Costa Rican culture. And I must say- these past 10 days have been the most productive and fully-immersed days of my life!
Since we have arrived, our schedule hasn’t been exactly routine… My days begin around 5:30 am and can end anytime from 3pm to 10pm- but that’s what’s made it an adventure and every minute has been used to its fullest potential. Working in a new country has taught me how cultural differences (such as the Pura Vida way of life) are integrated into how schedules function; something that would be difficult to notice when you simply play tourist in a new place. Additionally, our diets the first week had mostly consisted of Subway and Chinese food as we resorted to convenience over experience due to our back to backs agendas- hey, now we have the weekly Sub of the Day menu memorized! And when we are finally off of work or classes, we fill our time with games like Catch Phrase, What Do you Meme, and Resistance.
The little bits of Costa Rican culture that we’ve managed to squeeze in took place this last week! On Thursday night we spontaneously decided to go to the futbol game of Costa Rica vs. Panama – thanks to Dr. Richardson and Dr. Wettergreen for finding us tickets! After a muddy walk over, we made it to our seats only 6 rows from the field and learned a plethora of new words and chants from passionate fans (haha). The game dramatically ended in a tie, even after three minute overtime.
On Sunday we took advantage of a full day off and ventured out to La Paz and the surrounding area of Poas Volcano. During our hike we soaked in the beautiful greenery and misty tropical air of Costa Rica, while bouncing through the waterfall garden. We all got to play with hummingbirds, butterflies, and toucans in this surreal environment. We ended the day with picking up some of Poas’ specialties- volcanic strawberries and cheese (my favorite!!).
Now, back to the business side-
On our first day full day in Costa Rica we began a short course with Master students from TEC taught by Paul Fearis, a lecturer at John Hopkins University. He fully prepared us for the hospital observations we were going to undertake the next morning- merely 12 hours from the time we finished the first day of class. Each of us from the GMI program were split up and grouped with 3 other Masters students from Costa Rica in order to diversify and expand the observations at 8 different hospitals! My group was assigned to the Hematology and blood bank department in Hospital Heredia. The doctor we met with explained to us (in Spanish) their system and issues they wish to improve on- with our help hopefully! This type of interaction reinforced what I loved about this program- the close collaboration with physicians and working on projects that could make an immediate impact. The following day after we had the opportunity to record and organize our insights at the hospitals, Mr. Fearis delved into the analysis of these observations and the process leading up to a project. He emphasized that from the start to the end of this short course, our lives would be forever changed in the way we thought… and he was right!
The next portion consisted of more hospital observations back at Hospital Heredia and Hospital Mexico- where we observed bronchoscopy procedures, bone marrow aspirations, and a pacemaker implantations. The pacemaker implantation was incredible! I had never been in a cath lab before, where an entire operation was done using a catheter through a vein and visualized with fluoroscopy. Meanwhile, the surgeon was very calm and composed as he explained each and every step, with Reggae music playing in the background. We concluded our visits by gathering all the “needs” we collected thus far as a group and narrowed it down to 8 (one for each of us in the GMI program) that we would present in our next course beginning on Wednesday!
Which brings me to the final section of this past week and a half- the short four day Medical Device Innovation course taught by Dr. Richardson and Dr. Wettergreen (he joined us this week from Rice University) to a class of mostly undergraduate Costa Rican engineering students. Each of us from the GMI program would be taking the course, in addition to mentoring and working with the other engineering students on the projects we chose. This course was so unbelievably fast paced yet still very thorough! I was impressed! It allowed us to be creative, hands-on,
and make our ideas real through prototyping (at a low fidelity level). It also gave me opportunity to effectively facilitate my team through the various stages, despite the fact that it was all new information to me. Even with our different educational backgrounds and our language barrier, I believe we were successful in integrating our strengths into the project. Our project was based on Chandler’s hospital visit with a physician who was concerned with the levels of pollution in the Central Valley of Costa Rica and its effect on children with asthma. We created a device called Teddy Air, which worked as a portable air filter for children embedded in a stuffed teddy bear. This concept was centered on reducing the amount of pollution around the child while not requiring the immediate use of face mask. It was a lot of fun transforming this stuffed animal into a representative solution to our problem all with the use of A LOT of pipe cleaners, plastic screenings, Legos, yarn, and fabric mesh! Oh and guess what?! My team won first place in the design competition 🙂 we were ecstatic as it was a tough competition with everyone else’s projects!
Thanks for reading about my journey so far! Stay posted for Part 2 in Guanacaste, next week on GMI!