written by: Lisandro Torre
posted in: 2011, Colombia

July 12, 2011

On the way to the office on our first day in Bogota, the operations manager was telling me how excited she was because the Comfort was coming.  She spoke softly and I didn’t catch it all, but I knew that it was a big deal.  It wasn’t mentioned again so I forgot about it until I got to Tumaco. Here, the office was getting ready for the Comfort and they knew something was going to happen, but they didn’t know how IRD was going to be involved. People thought that we were going to go to the ship, maybe help unload medical supplies (the IRD supplies were actually airlifted by helicopter and delivered by truck to their storage facility).  Then, last week, there were a lot of emails back and forth between a nurse on the Comfort and the office in Bogota, with me being copied because I speak English and would serve as a translator. As I wrote last week, the emails asked us to organize a group of midwives for training. We asked about covering transportation costs for the midwives, but we never heard back.  I got a final email last Friday asking me to forward the list of midwives to another person on the boat, which I did.  Then I waited.  Monday was a holiday, Tuesday we did distributions.  I had heard a rumor that we were going to the boat on Thursday, but Wednesday passed and we heard nothing.All this time, the medics and nurses from the Comfort had taken over a school and were providing medical care for people here in Tumaco.  There Navy doctors and nurses provide medical care for difficult cases and surgeries. The school has military security all around it and dozens of people waiting outside the door hoping for the promise of American medical attention.   I guess I don’t like the idea that this boat shows up for a few weeks, does a few surgeries and takes off leaving everyone wondering why they were left out and not really knowing what goes on behind those walls (admittedly, I don’t know what’s going on back there either – it’s all rumors and people think that the miracle they need is just on the other side of that wall).  I guess it is good publicity for the US (which is needed here) with them swooping in, saving some people and leaving with the promise of coming back (there is a billboard in front of the school that says “Comfort and Colombia, a promise kept” with a picture of a Navy officer, a Colombian army person and a Colombian in a hat).  I wonder what kind of work they are really doing and (now I’m not a doctor) how they follow up with patients when they are only here a couple of weeks, especially when they deal with difficult cases.  I guess that I’m more comfortable with work that is built up more slowly and has a chance to continue making an impact afterwards.  But then again, these Navy doctors are doing work that can’t be done locally and they are saving lives and that is good also – another one of those situations that is difficult to really come down on one side or the other.

On Thursday we went on a field visit to Ricaurte and around 3 pm I got a call from the office telling me that the Comfort called and on Friday I was supposed to meet the midwives at 7am for a training at 8.  I had to be at the school and ask for a nurse and if I couldn’t find her, ask for another guy.  I didn’t have their last names, it was disorganized and felt rushed and all I could say was “sure.” I read the email that the nurse sent and she went on and on about how this training was essential and would save lives and how excited she was.

On Friday morning I took a motorcycle to the school. I got there and met the midwives and we were sent to the training entrance and the whole thing went surprisingly smoothly.  It was decided that the Comfort people would pay for the midwives transportation, but they only had dollars and were going to give all the women a dollar bill.  I thought that was silly, so I collected the 35 dollars and went to get it exchanged to pesos.
The training was about what to do when a baby wasn’t breathing and it was okay, but the nurses were training very qualified midwives (8 of the 20 women had delivered over 4000 babies) and asking them to use a hand respirator called an ambu.  None of the women had one of these and in the end the nurses gave away a few, but the ambu was the most important part of their training. Another nurse told the midwives that when a baby dies the mother should hold the dead baby because, in America, studies show that it is better for the mother.  She went on to explain that in other countries sometimes they did not let the mother hold the baby because it is taboo and how that was bad.  I’m not a big fan of telling people that their culture and traditions are bad and I wanted to say that, but it wasn’t my place.  In the end I talked to a few of the midwives and they told me that they learned some things, so it wasn’t all bad.


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