A Travellerspoint blog

Day 6

The Adventure

... the previous day.

4 pm.

My father and I have finished surgery for the day and we are standing around our supplies.
Most of the supplies have been used throughout our 21 cases. All of the sterile gowns have been used,
most of the sterile gloves are done and the variety of visco-elastic lenses has diminished.

Both of us are quite satisfied with the work we have done, and my dad feels that we don't need
to do another day of surgery. It's at this point that we look at our options.
With four (ish) days of freedom, we have to make the most out of Ecuador. We could stay with the
team, visit Cuenca and on the last day, visit Quito. Or, we can roll the dice and make a bold attempt to
make it to the Galapagos.

So obviously we try to go to Galapagos. My father heads to the travel agency with one of our translators
to see if there are any tickets available while I pack up the surgical supplies.
We decided to donate a large portion of the remaining supplies to the military hospital.

6:30 pm.

Bad news. The travel agency couldn't find a single ticket
to Galapagos for the next 36 hours.

7 pm.

We are at dinner. One of the translators suggest we consider bribing a local pilot to take us there.
I'm seriously considering it. (It'd make one hell of a story, that's for sure)

8 pm.

There is nothing available online. In a final desperate attempt, we ask our travel agent,
Jeannie Henke, to see if she can work her magic.

10 pm.

Jeanne emails us. She has pulled together a miracle and has found a flight (From Cuenca -> Guayaquil, GuayaQuil -> Galapagos). All she needs
is some credit card information and we are good to go for 7am the next day.

10:30 pm.

Another email. While she was booking the flight from Guayaquil -> Galapagos, someone took the last two spots from Cuenca -> Guayaquil.
There are no flights. She'll keep trying but things are very grim.

11 pm.

Nothing. We decide to go to bed.

6 am.

Jeanne suggests we attempt to drive to Guayaquil and catch our flight.

7 am.

We're driving to Guayaquil in an attempt to catch our flight.
It turns out the drive was a very good decision. The drive from Cuenca to Guayaquil takes you
up through their mountain range (from 2500 m up to 3200 m) and then down to the coast. The driver, Wilson, is confident we can make it with time to spare, so we stop
twice for a quick photo shoot. The landscape is stunning.

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We also learn a little about Ecuadorian driving. You know those yellow lines that run in the middle of the road?
Yea. Those are definitely more of an optional guideline for drivers. But hey, passing large semis
on a curvy mountain road just makes a for a good story.
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Two hours later, we plunge into fog so thick we can barely see 5 meters in front of us. We crawl ahead at a snails pace
hoping to not hit anything or fall off a mountain side. However, we emerge from the fog alive and head to the coast.
Thanks to our driver, Wilson, we make it to the airport on time.

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Next stop, Galapagos.

Posted by stephenhuang1 07:16 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

Days 3,4,5

Surgery

Surgery, surgery, surgery!

My oh my has it been busy.
For that reason I've decided to lump these three days together.
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True north has organized a general routine structure each day to get things running both smooth and efficiently.
Breakfast starts at 6 am sharp and runs until 7. A general open table discussion about each day is held from approx 6:45 to 7
and all teams head to the hospital. So really, breakfast starts at 6:55 and ends at 7. (I'll have you know it's possible to
comfortably consume toast, eggs, bacon, cereal and fruit and tea in that timeframe).

After a relaxing breakfast, the group split up into their respective teams.
All orthopaedic surgeries are being conducted at the Santa Innes hospital,
a fairly modern looking hospital well equipped for the team.
This hospital has been the home for the true north mission for all previous missions (I believe 7 years in a row).

Aside: it should be noted that these hospitals aren't nearly as large as facilities back home.
These hospitals are several story buildings less than a block long. The military hospital is connected with all other buildings on that block,
with it's entrance appearing to be a large gateway cut out of the massive conglomerate of buildings.

Our surgical team consists of the ophthalmologist (my dad), the scrub nurse (myself), the circulating nurse (Kelly),
our translators (Camilla and Ian), the cleaning technician (Hector), the anesthetist (Dr fermor) and the support team (Tibor).
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Our first day in surgery was fairly hectic. Although we brought the vast majority of equipment (and supplies kindly donated by Bausch and lombe),
there were certain pieces (microscope, cautery, etc) that are just too big to bring. We had a very vague idea as to what was available,
but the folks at the Ecuadorean hospital aren't quite as proficient with this email business as one would hope.
After some scrambling, we assemble all the pieces necessary for surgery and begin.

Since the hospital does not have cutting edge technology (like in Calgary), the surgery time increases
significantly. A single case here in Ecuador takes anywhere from 25-40 minutes (plus prep time).
We manage to do 7 cases in the first day. The routine is the same for the next two days.
An early morning meeting, surgery for the large portion of the day, an hour or two break (to blog of course), a team dinner, and bed.
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A quick exploration of the city on our break exposed us to some of the interesting locals.

In total, we manage to do 21 cases.

By now we've used up a very large portion of supplies and
are satisfied with the work we have done.

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With a little bit of free time on day 5, I visit the other hospital to take some photos
Here are some portraits of the hard working team!

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Stay tune for tomorrow. We have quite the adventure ahead.

Posted by stephenhuang1 16:08 Archived in Ecuador Comments (3)

Day 2

Arriving in Cuenca

Welcome back dear reader, to our adventure through Ecuador.

I am your brilliant and modest guide, Stephen. Today is day 2.

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We continue the trip in a quaint hotel in Quito, Ecuador. After a solid night's sleep,
we are awake and prepared for the day bright and early. The words "bright and early" are written with slight bitterness.
Early mornings and I go way back, but had a falling out somewhere in my teenage years. (We haven't
been on good terms since) I guess it's probably a good thing I didn't plan this trip, or else
we'd all be getting up at noon, Instagramming for an hour, eating breakfast at one, and getting ready for the day at two.
But real adults are planning this trip so breakfast starts at 8am and we are on a plane to Cuenca by 11.
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A short flight/nap later and we are shuttling off for a quick stop to our hotel, Hotel Victoria. Not only does the hotel have
a beautiful backyard filled with a garden and trees, but (more importantly)
this hotel has consistent internet (for my cpsc friends, speedtest.net says 3Mbps).
They really love their wifi symbols.

They really love their wifi symbols.

Before I can settle in on my laptop and start poking around on their internet connection, we
are off to the Santa Innes Hospital to set up for tomorrow's surgery and see our first patients.

The hospital is a short 5 minutes walk away, long enough for the group to notice the impeccably clean streets.
Each night, a large team of cleaners remove garbage and power wash the streets throughout all of
downtown. Beautiful cobblestone streets and sidewalks fill the gaps between white mortar buildings.
Although Cuenca doesn't have any high rise buildings, it's city is bustling with life.
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The Santa Innes hospital is a 6 story building just off of the small river that runs through
their downtown. Over the last couple of years, it has become a very modern medical facility.
The hospital often hosts charity missions and provides them with space to work.
For our group, they have prepared several rooms for pre-ops, several rooms for surgery
and additional rooms for recovery and supply storage. Upon arrival, the organized chaos begins.
80 patients are lined up and ready to be seen. With translators hustling throughout, the team
gets to work setting up supplies and seeing patients.
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This year, with the addition of a general surgeon (Dr. Temple) and an ophthalmologist (my dad), additional ORs were needed.
To accommodate us and our needs, our team is sent to a local military hospital down the street.
The staff is very excited to work with us and are extremely accommodating. We do what we can to set up,
but time flies as it usually does and it is time to retire for the night. After a delicious team dinner
at the hotel's very own restaurant we part ways and prepare for a full day of surgery.

Posted by stephenhuang1 16:52 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

Day 1

The Epic Journey

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Hello! And welcome to our 9 day journey through Ecuador.

If you've followed us before, my father, sister, and I started a charity called Nepal Vision back in 2012.
Nepal Vision's goal was to provide training and delivery of much needed eye surgeries to Nepalese citizens as well as
school supplies to institutions such as orphanages and school for the blind. Our trip started in
2012 and despite some interesting turn of events, was extremely successful.

This year, we decided to team up with Dr. Jim Powell's charity, True North. (We are in the process of transforming the name from Nepal Vision to International Vision Organization). Each year, they come
down to Ecuador to provide orthopaedic surgery to the local population and have done so for
eight years! It is our great pleasure to be joining them on this trip down to Ecuador
to help out.

And the journey begins..

I'm never a big fan of writing about the flight there. They are often uneventful (as most people
have flown in a plane before) and I'm pretty sure 90% of the population with iPhones have taken an Instagram photo looking outside the window (see figure 1)
But I figured i'd get you, dear reader, hyped up for this epic series of blog posts with a dramatic,
thrilling roller coaster novella of my dangerous and exciting voyage down to Ecuador. Oh the Drama!

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Figure 1. A classic window photo

Travelling as a group of 36, I anticipated heavy organization challenges. Luckily for the group, I run a tight ship
and have been planning each and every minute detail for months and months. My superior leadership skills
primed to be put to the test. For some this may the challenge of a lifetime, but for me, a walk in the park.
(Good thing I'm modest too!)

I kid (Oh the Drama!). I wasn't doing any planning. Or any organizing. In fact, I more or less just showed up
with my bag at the airport ready to follow orders from the really organized folks at True North.
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And unfortunately for you, dear reader, I did a fair amount of sleeping on the way there. Most of the
experienced drama throughout the flight came from Disney's Frozen (Now I can catch up on all of my "Let it go" memes that have been
flooding the internet). Crazy plot twists. Quick aside - Did you know United Airlines makes you pay to see the flight map
(the little map showing your airplane)? Ridiculous.

Flying from Calgary to Houston, Houston to Quito took us 14 hours. A quick pit stop in Houston had us killing time at
an airport restaurant called Papadoux's. We had a meet and greet, and tried some of their specialities, Alligator. Turns out it tastes
just like chicken. Who knew? The next thing we know we're off to Quito, the city's capital.
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We are greeted by The local doctor who has been True North's main connection in Ecuador, Dr. Mannuel (?).
Once again, I sit back and relax while the rest of the team unloads our equipment into a truck to be
driven down to Cuenca, the city where we will be doing the surgery. Transportation of equipment via truck saves us
expensive airfare. A bus picks us up and drops us off at a nearby hotel. 14 hours of travel and we are bagged and sleep. And that concludes day 1!
Pretty anticlimactic.

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Prepare for more excitement, drama, and thrills in tomorrow's next post when we travel to Cuenca, Ecuador.

Posted by stephenhuang1 17:34 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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