Clinics and Colloquialisms in Quito

February 19, 2014

in Academic Year 2013-2014, Central/South America, Ecuador, Gail Gustavson

In response to the frequent question: “What are you doing???” Here’s a quick summary of my day-to-day life in my new home of Quito, Ecuador.

Every morning I wake up around 7 am and get dressed, eat the typical Ecuadorian breakfast of fruit, instant coffee (which I just can’t learn to view positively) and bread, and head off down my street to use one of the three forms of public transportation available here. I usually meet up with another person on my program, as we often shadow in pairs and all live in the same neighborhood, and we both hop on the Trole or the Metrobus, which at this time of morning are often packed shoulder to shoulder with people on their way to whatever is on their agenda for the day.

The commute takes about 45 minutes, spent swaying to the motion of the bus and watching our bags carefully, since Quito is notorious for theft. We then walk to a public hospital or clinic, unroll our white coats from our backpacks, drape the stethoscope around our neck and commence playing doctor. ‘Playing’ in my case especially, since I have no medical training and do not intend to go to medical school. Many of the people I’m with are fourth year medical students, about to begin their residencies in the fall. It’s been great for me to have a medical student at my side for any questions that arise. We are not allowed to treat or anything, but depending on which doctor we’re matched with we can assist in basic physical exams or histories.

So far I’ve been to a family clinic, the adolescent clinic, and another family clinic. Next week I’ll be in the Sala de Partos, or the maternity room where babies are born. In the adolescent clinic I learned that Ecuador has a very high rate of teenage pregnancy. The average age of the mothers was 16, and I even saw a few 13 year olds. The general reasons for such a high rate of teenage pregnancy is that Ecuador has a mostly Catholic population and lack of appropriate sexual education, as well as other factors such as cultural expectations and machismo. Birth control in many forms is actually free for anyone here, as is the entire public health care system. Of course this sounds great, but I also see how limited the resources are and how busy and crowded the hospitals can be, though not always. The government has recently been changing policies to focus on prevention, strengthening the public health system and primary care. This is interesting to me, as I’ve (somewhat recently) decided to pursue a career in Public Health. In theory, prevention should be much cheaper in the long run, instead of treating the symptoms.

In La Clinica de Adoloscentes, I had the interesting opportunity to examine the newborn babies. The doctor I shadowed saw patients in the morning and then went on rounds to check the babies. There is a very high incidence of anemia in children here, due to the typical diet of people in Quito. Almost all the children we saw were required to eat iron-rich foods and take supplements. The mothers themselves often had low iron.

Then, I take the bus back to my neighborhood, where I grab something quick to eat (aka an empanada and fruit) and rush to Spanish class for three hours. Some of us are here for intensive beginner classes, others are in the middle, and some are in the advanced class.

Finally, finally my Spanish seems to be improving! It is a great feeling to finally have something you’ve been working at just suddenly become real. We mostly learn about different dialects or colloquial phrases used in Ecuador, since the grammar points and vocab are mostly review. Then, some afternoons we take salsa classes or do something fun like exploring the city. I’ve been learning a lot about medicine and also fun Spanish phrases, like these:

Ahogarse en un vaso de agua

Literally: To drown in a glass of water

Meaning: To overreact

Tengo que consultarlo con la almohada

Literally: I have to consult it with the pillow

Meaning: What we would use for “sleep on it”, as in thinking about a decision

Hoy por hoy…

Literally: something like “today by today”

Meaning: Nowadays

Dicen las malas lenguas…

Literally: The bad tongues say

Meaning: what we use for “they say,” but in more of a gossip context

Aqui hay un gato encerrado…

Literally: Here is a caged cat

Meaning: There’s something hidden, something not out in the open

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