I’m sitting at terminal D5 at the Miami International Airport – we will soon return to an English speaking country. We have already cleared customs – I will admit that this always comes as a relief nowadays. I never know how to fill out the declaration forms any more. Have I been in contact with any livestock? I did ride a bus with a chicken just this morning, but I didn’t touch it, so I guess that depends on how strictly one interprets “contact.” Am I bringing any insects into the country? Well, I haven’t showered since yesterday and I stayed at the Hotel Ochotu, so I’m pretty sure that’s a yes. In the end, the customs official was in a very chipper mood and had no intention of checking me for head lice, nor did he care to confiscate any of the tampons that the team had hidden throughout my carry-on bags as a goodbye prank.
The North American half of our team enjoyed one last meal together at the airport Cuban restaurant before heading to our separate gates. We all expressed our hopes to do this again together soon – maybe even next year. Now it’s time to find some good coffee if I am to have any chance of staying awake for the drive home from O’Hare. We land around 11:15pm.
The last day in Santa Rosa is always somewhat of a blur and this one was no exception. We have a half-day in the clinic and OR before breaking everything down and loading it onto Ruben’s truck and our bus. We then been invited to a barbecue with the mayor at the local Karaoke bar/ Discotheque. Some of the team (those here for the first time) are even heading for Santa Cruz for the day (~2.5h drive) to do some touring and shopping before heading back for the dinner.
Rounds went well. Modesta looked like a million bucks (or roughly 6.91 million Bolivianos) and posed for a picture or two before heading home. We actually discharged all but one patient – he will stay through the weekend before having his drains removed and heading home, but even he looked quite well. After rounds, we had a smattering of minor cases that we had been putting off until the last day in order to make room for the more major procedures earlier in the week. There are always a few of the hospital staff who file in with lipomas or cysts to remove, and they all enjoy helping out on each other’s procedures. We even took some skin tags off the mayor (with a few of his staffers snapping selfies in the OR with him (awake) draped in the background (clearly no Bolivian equivalent to HIPPA yet), but not before he and I were interviewed for a Bolivian television spot out under the mango trees.
We managed a decent siesta during the hot afternoon – it was dry, but was probably somewhere around 90 degrees and it was nice to laze around in an air-conditioned hotel room and pack our bags – we would depart at 5:00am Saturday morning. Cleaned up with another 220 volt shower before heading over to the disco/ karaoke/ barbecue/ farewell ceremony. The mayor and other officials presented certificates of gratitude to both the MMI team and to the local hospital staff for their efforts this week, then we did some salsa dancing (I do not suggest the gringo variety) while a variety of mammals roasted on the grill.
As the evening wound down to a close, I tried to clear some space for a group photo – some of the Bolivian team was to head back to Santa Cruz that very night as they had classes the following morning. I dragged some stacks of white plastic chairs across the dance floor as people started to line up and hand all their cameras to Gladys. In the process, a chair dragged across my left big toe, slicing it open a bit. I looked in vain for something to stanch the bleeding. Every napkin I could find already had barbecue sauce on it. All the wound care supplies were already tied down under tarps in the bed of Ruben’s pickup. The bleeding continued – this was going to make for a very awkward group photo and everyone was now lined up, waiting on me. If only I could find something clean, something absorbent. I needed something, anything designed to absorb blood quickly so as to avoid awkward social situations. Someone in the crowd sensed my need and discretely handed me a small, flat pink and white wrapper. Faced with an apparent nation-wide shortage of tampons, I was given an alternative product, absorbent on one side, adhesive on the other. I wrapped it snugly around my big toe and hemostasis was instantly achieved. Clearly everything has its purpose.
We headed back to the hotel, finished packing, and said our goodbyes to the car heading back to Santa Cruz. We ourselves left on the team bus at 0500 the following morning and pulled into our driveway about 24 hours later (and 60 degrees cooler). Four hours later, two girls in their jammies pile into our bed with us and jockey for the warm spot between mom and dad. Oblique winter sun breaks the crust off our eyes. It is good to be home. Much thanks for all your thoughts and prayers this past week.