First visit to a hospital in Nicaragua (as an engineer)

The Engineering World Health 2015 Summer Institute has begun!

After hanging out with a fellow participant’s family friends for a while while waiting to be picked up from the airport, around half of the 24 of us in total boarded our old US school bus and made our way from Managua to Granada (more touristy and safer), listening to two from the Spanish school’s tips on life around here. Ladies, don’t buy the cut-up mangoes in Parque Central, and men, don’t follow sexy ladies who invite you down to a particular area of town because you’re gonna have a bad time. Don’t bother avoiding ice in drinks etc, you’re going to get sick (he said it also happens when he goes back to the US after a while here. Interesting.). Already happy to have come here because of the opportunity it’s given me to reflect on how I might have changed since leaving Australia 3 years ago. For example, this is the first (and possibly last) time I’ve ever been the lightest packer…

Feliz cumple Santi

Feliz cumple Santi

The house (for my roommate and I) is wonderfully modest, as anticipated, but luxurious compared to my time in Zambia. Personally I’m happy to be forced to sit and read or whatever instead of wasting nights on the internet. I’ve met 10 people at the house so far, including baby Santiago who celebrated his 1st birthday this evening, my host mother Irene, and a volunteer from Denmark Louise who told her tales of public transport dramas on the way back from Ometepe island that weekend.


Our street

I showed them my catalan book in an attempt to at least have them understand why I am not understandable sometimes when I think I’m speaking spanish..  I didn’t completely bomb the placement test for spanish classes so my attempts to switch from catalan to spanish before arriving haven’t completely failed, but they must have found it strange to mark the test of someone who can manage past perfect tense but not the numbers… Here’s hoping my spanish improvements don’t come at too much of a cost.. One of my goals is to one day be able to speak multiple foreign languages at the *same* time, without them interfering with/overwriting each other, as catalan did for french, and probably now spanish for catalan. Hopefully one day I’ll manage – and then the other latin-based languages will be low-hanging fruit.

Classes this week included how to not kill someone with electric shock from one of our repaired devices; how to engineer makeshift battery substitutes, and hands-on practice with soldering and making our own extension cords. Our host families bring us a hot lunch each day, and we’ve found some good places for after-class drinks. Other examples of how we’ve been keeping busy in the evenings include pub trivia, gelato, bananagrams, walks to the lake, homework, movies or sports on tv in Spanish, and a beach night club.

At the end of each week while we’re in Granada for the first month we’re going to be spending a day at different hospitals so we’re not just thrown into the deep end when we do this fulltime next month. Since the group in total is so large we split up into two for alternating days. The split is based on our spanish classes to give the teachers days off – level 4 went with level 1, which meant for at least part of the day it was me and another level 4 as translators (we split in half again at the hospital so we weren’t 15 following one technician). This in itself was worth the trip for me because I got to gauge how my conversion to Spanish-speaking is going. My listening level seems to be about the same as it ever was in Catalan, so I could follow and translate what the technician was saying alright, but speaking could definitely use some work.

I got a glimpse into how different the vocabulary is in a hospital and how you will have a hard time trying to explain anything technical without words like valve, leak, pressure, unplug, etc, which you’re not really going to come across in class typically. This was relevant at least for the context that we were dealing with, which was fixing a leak from the pressurised water container on a dentist chair. First thing we realised was that the dentist’s office is the place to be because for some reason they’ve got aircon on, patients or not. Then the technician went to grab a spare pressure release valve because that’s where the leaking water was coming from. Why is there a spare, though? Because the bottle on the other chair had broken from pressure one day, thought it’s not exactly clear why – the dentist said that she always presses the pressure release valve until there’s no more sound before she opens the bottle, but the technician on the other hand said it happened while no one was around… All we knew at that point was that it maybe wasn’t a good idea to put the valve from the system that broke into the one that was leaking, in case a faulty valve was the problem. Maybe they didn’t unplug the air compressor, or something else was a possibility that we didn’t realise, because the technician seemed pretty convinced the valve was fine. In the end, the leak was caused by a crack in the flexible tube the water travels through which just happened to be leaking onto the valve, so that’ll be the first thing I check from now on, but it was interesting to see how complicated the process can get by he said-she said situations, of which there are sure to be many more..

Fixing a leak 'with the valve'

Fixing a leak ‘with the valve’…

Other things we worked on for the day include an electrocautery unit in the morning which was getting stuck at particular power levels, but the behaviour couldn’t be reproduced in the lab nor operating room so we gave it back to the doctor (before a hard-earned ‘pausa’). After a super long lunch break (including the mysterious calala juice) we headed to the paediatrics unit to grab some neublisers (which deliver medicine through inhaled steam if I understood) that needed servicing. This hospital is quite special in that it has a very proficient staff base who regularly service equipment on a schedule. Two of the three nebulisers weren’t working, so we busted out the toolkits and hoped for the best. In the end, it turns out that this equipment fixing thing is not necessarily super complicated, and that one was just clogged and the other had a loose connection that needed resoldering of one of its components that was buried under some shrink wrap. As a result I don’t think I’ll be so concerned about having a crack at fixing things any more (provided I don’t suspect exploding springs or collapsable gearboxes).

The week finished up with me feeding a monkey trapped on an island in Las Isletas, and hanging out by a volcanic crater lagoon.

Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo


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