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Jae Goes to Bolivia: Chagas [Part 4]

Posted by on Saturday, June 21, 2014 in Blog, Health Care, Student Life, Study Abroad, Summer.

Soon, it was time to get started with the program. I had missed my first two days due to the flight issues but I was all ready to get started. My first week began at “La Plataforma de Chagas” (Chagas Platform?)

The morning of my first day of work, I put on my new, fancy white lab coat and headed out to the plataforma. Karina, my program coordinator, didn’t really tell me exactly how to get there. She had marked a place on my map and told me to get on a bus to get there. Very vague, especially since it was my second day in the city. I managed to find the “bus” which was just a big sketchy van with the number 6 in the dashboard.

Using my extraordinary navigation skills, I found the Plataforma and was pleased to find out that Gaby (the other student) was on the same rotation with me at the Plataforma. Using my limited Spanish, I was able to understand what the Plataforma de Chagas was about. This place was a small clinic where doctors would see patients in their offices, however, the clinic only saw patients who had Chagas Disease and helped them with diagnosis and treatment.

I learned all there is to know about the Disease through the magic of Wikipedia. The doctors realized I didn’t speak Spanish and so printed me out a Wikipedia article about Chagas in English.

So, in short, Chagas is a parasitic disease where the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi spreads in its victims. The most common way of transmission is through insect bite by a bug called the “vinchuca.” These bugs are found in Central and South America and the disease itself affects around 9 million people. The disease exists in two different phases. The first phase is the Acute phase that lasts for the first 12 weeks wherein victims will experience mild symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue and swelling. After these 12 weeks, the disease will enter the Chronic phase. In the Chronic phase, only 30% of victims will have more severe symptoms that do not become present until 10-30 years after infection. These serious symptoms involve heart troubles, an enlarged esophagus or an enlarged colon.

Most of the patients who came in were the 30% of victims who were going through these more severe symptoms. The doctors would have blood drawn and analyzed in the laboratory within the plataforma to see if they had Chagas. If the tests came back positive, the treatment necessary involved an extremely limited diet paired with medication in efforts to complete remove the parasite.

It was very interesting watching the interaction between the patient and the doctor. I only understood so much between them but I would pretend to understand by nodding my head and acknowledging whatever the doctor was saying. In fact, I got really good at nonverbal communication in Bolivia. I found the importance of listening to the tone when someone was talking and the inflection in their sentences so that I would know how to respond and so I wouldn’t end up saying “Si” if someone asked me a ‘non yes/no question.’

That night, I found out my homestay family had Wifi which was great because I definitely thought that I was going to be living in a mud hut with no electricity. But no, I was lying in my bed with wifi watching Titanic in Spanish on TV. Basically, I was living the life.

You probably thought I was kidding about Titanic. Nope
You probably thought I was kidding about Titanic. Nope

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