Sweating through the Holidays

14 12 2011

It’s strange for the Christmas season to approach and the temperature to be climbing and not falling. Though still tolerable, the heat has started here in Rosario. We are spoiled to be in an apartment with air conditioning in the living room, a luxury most cannot afford here, so I have no room to complain. Plus, the heat also gives us plenty excuses to go to the beaches in the city that line the Parana river.

A beautiful Saturday afternoon at el baneario (the swimming area)

In regards to the research, the last month has been full of victories and frustrations.  Because my study of anemia and iron supplementation adherence is nested into a multinational study run by Yale University, there are extra issues in addition to normal clinical study problems. Videos from research assistants have to be sent to Turkey and the US to get clearance that proper training has been complete. This involves IT people to upload videos, translators in the other countries to understand the videos, multiple teleconferences, multiple email chains, etc. With the frustration mounting, we received permission to begin recruiting a pilot cohort. We were excited to get into the centros de salud and start the data collection.

As luck would have it, this has not been as smooth as planned either. One RA had a baby who unfortunately was born with severe Tetralogy Of Fallot. When I asked if this was seen prenatally, I was told that ultrasounds do not routinely include the heart, if for no other reason that there are not enough trained personnel to interpret the results. The mother has been crushed and the baby is still intubated. This has been hard for our whole research team. Another research assistant’s husband had to go into emergent surgery, and the problems were mounting. On top of the personnel issues, we were having unexpected problems at the centros de salud, with the major one being FERIADOS. Feriados, or holidays, are VERY common here. While this initially sounds fantastic, it also slows the process of everything as things take longer to get done. I mean it’s hard to get too much done during a 3-day work week. Plus, there are random days such as Public Worker holiday, where all health centers close down. Additionally, we were excited to get our first patient, only to have the Hemoglobin meter break and we couldn’t complete the data! That was a sad day.

I do not wish to complain but merely explain some of the nuances that have led to the delays in data collection. I feel like all clinical trials have issues due to human variability, which is why so many of my classmates chose basic science research which tends to be more predictable. But listening to a 15 year-old new mother discuss obstacles in her life that could affect her child’s development and her ability to comply with medication supplementation reminds me why I love the unpredictable people-side of medicine. Combine this with a new city and I have had a lot to learn the last 6 weeks.

Despite all obstacles, though, things are moving forward! People are more than willing to talk to us about their children and the people at the centros de salud are more than willing to help us find patients to talk to. We have collected data and I am excited about what we can find with the results in a few months. I am humbled by the people here, especially with those with whom I work as they work tirelessly to improve the health of this beautiful city. I am also humbled each day as I get to go and speak with mothers about their children and their lives and wish I could do more to ease the suffering with which many of them live on a daily basis.

On a side note, I love the food of Argentina! Empanadas and fresh fruit make a delicious meal:

To end the post on a happy note, I am including a blog post my wife recently wrote from our personal blog (lcchristensen.blogspot.com) about some of the more humorous nuances of living here. If interested, the blog also has an entry about a recent trip we took to the city of Cordoba, where we enjoyed the fresh mountain air with a paragliding experience.

As you may have guessed, living in Argentina has been a little bit of an adjustment. With the first month under our belts, Logan and I have had our fair share of embarrassing moments as well as moments of triumph. We’ve stumbled upon some gems and had the time to stop and appreciate the extraordinarily ordinary of our everyday lives in Rosario.

Here is my top 10 ordinary moments in our Barrio:

1. Our apartment came complete with a jukebox/radio. It’s the focal point of our living room and an excellent conversation starter. Just the other day, some repairmen came to fix our cable. They wasted no time in asking “what in the world is that?” What’s that you say? A real live radio with CD player that sometimes turns on for no reason?! Why can’t everyone have one of those!

2. Riding on our elevator. We live on the 4th floor of our building, so we enjoy the casual ride in the elevator. It’s equipped with “push it yourself” sliding door, and moves quickly. So quickly, in fact, that Logan and I have learned to descend in it with our knees bent to avoid whiplash. Stairs are for wimps.

3. After doing our first load of laundry in the sink here, I convinced Logan that we NEED to pay the 15 pesos to wash and dry our clothes. Apparently my summer in India was my limit to hand-washing clothes with nothing but a bar of laundry detergent. We now enjoy getting our clothes back clean, fragrant, and folded. Even our underwear comes neatly stacked. 

4. Lighting the gas oven was a new experience for me. Who would have thought I’d get so handy with a lighter by crouching next to the oven, turning the dial to “big flame” and reaching, lighter in hand, underneath the oven to ignite the source? Using it involves a shrinking sequence of squares and scale of 1-10. With it, I’ve managed to make cookies, empanadas, pizza, and a turkey. Not too shabby.

5. How could you not love living somewhere that gives you your eggs wrapped in newspaper? I just love that kind of thing.

6. Last week, our internet went out unexpectedly. The power was still on and everything else was working fine, everything but the elevator, but that happens some times. After a brief chat with our energy supplier’s customer service, I managed to slip in that, yes, the ascensor was out of commission at the moment. “Well that’s why!” She exclaimed [in Spanish]. Apparently I didn’t get the memo that the internet and elevator frequently come bundled together – obviously!

7. We use the bus daily to get around – and it works pretty well. The one thing that surprised me when I first got here was how friendly the drivers (chofers) are. They always seem to pick up or pass by someone they know, waving out the window or having an animated conversation with someone standing next to them while they drive. For the most part, they are all pretty happy-looking guys.

8. Our key to our apartment looks like something out of a Disney movie. That, plus the fact that our lock doubles as a peep hole makes this apartment feel both secure and quaint.

9. This city is surprisingly clean. Despite the little mounds of dog poop that accumulate by the end of the day, the sidewalks aren’t as bad as I was expecting, based on my previous traveling experience… Plus, every morning the residents get a bucket of soapy water and wash down their portion of the sidewalk – nice!

10. The siesta is alive and kicking down here. Most stores close down between 1-5pm, making that my least productive time of the day. I blame it on the heat… or the fact that people don’t go to dinner until 8:30pm at the earliest. Either way, it makes for late nights and sleepy afternoons.




One response

15 12 2011

Great post, Logan!

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