Madeleine Harper - Medicine & Healthcare, Medicine & Spanish in Argentina
I cannot express just how amazing this experience was for me, I learnt so much and enjoyed myself immensely!
Arriving in Argentina
The fun started in Buenos Aires airport where myself, and the other volunteers, got caught in a crowd of footballers on tour; they were being cheered with air horns, champagne, drums and singing! It was a bit of a shock as I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much of a welcome before!
When we arrived in Cordoba, we were met by a Projects Abroad staff member who took us in taxis to our host families. This is where I met Betty, my host mum, her daughter and her granddaughter. Betty surprised me by pulling me into a huge hug and kissed me on the cheek - this I later learnt is customary in Argentina. I also met my two ‘sisters’, Callie and Valeria who made me laugh from the moment I met them. Sharing the house with other volunteers really made the experience more enjoyable. We got along really well, despite being from different corners of the world. We sat down for dinner where Betty served us Milanesa, and oh my goodness, it’s amazing! We were so lucky that Betty is an amazing chef.
Monday morning we awoke nice and early, and our coordinator took us to the Projects Abroad offices where we met the other volunteers and learnt about Argentina. After lunch, we were taken on a bus tour of Cordoba, and then we returned to our host family for dinner. That evening back at the house, we spoke about politics, life in Argentina and much more.
My Medicine placement
The next morning all of us were awake at 6:30am, all scrubbed-up and excited to go! Our coordinator took us to the hospital placement, where we were put in the general ward. We split up so that we were on our own but our coordinator came to check on us often. I was shadowing a doctor who was attending to three patients: one with liver failure, another who had a stroke and a patient who had had a heart attack. She spoke to them about how they were feeling, examined them and then provided her diagnosis. This was all in Spanish, so I didn’t pick up all of it, however my coordinator helped me translate when I needed it.
On Wednesday we had a medicine workshop with the head paediatric surgeon at another hospital, where we practiced sutures on a banana - it was great! He spoke to us about diabetes prevention and we were taught how to identify it because later in the week we were going to create our own prevention campaign.
On Thursday we were taken to a third hospital where I was shadowing junior doctors who were lovely to me. I saw people being prepped for surgery and did the rounds with the doctors, which was very interesting.
Friday came and we were able to see a surgery! It was absolutely astonishing; we were taken into theatre where we observed a cranial surgery. The atmosphere in the theatre was so unexpected – everything was calm and relaxed with music playing. The surgeons even took the time to explain to us what was happening.
The next week I saw the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen – a caesarean section! I was in the theatre as the surgeons were cutting into the amniotic sac and they then pulled the baby boy from the mother – it was extraordinary.
We also went to the anatomy museum where we were allowed to see and touch a cadaver! It was awesome, if slightly unnerving.
My Spanish lessons
Every day after lunch we had Spanish classes at the Projects Abroad offices where we learnt about Che Guevara and about the Argentinian culture, including aspects like football teams. One day we were given the task of going to the shops to fill out some worksheets, but most lessons were focused on us practicing our speaking skills.
Every other day we had evening activities, such as Salsa. I have so many memories from this. Another volunteer and I tried to dance but we were terrible! The whole group was laughing and having fun; it was such a nice atmosphere. Another day we had a football game which involved us running around like mad people and some of the volunteers got way too competitive. We took part in karaoke, tango lessons, and we had a dinner with our host family at their favourite restaurant. Our coordinator was the best and took us out bowling; he also took all of us out when we asked him to, just to relax.
At the weekend we went to Che Guevara's house and trekking in Santa Rosa. It was really lovely to see pieces of history and the scenery surrounding the busy city.
In summary, my two weeks in Argentina were the most wonderful and marvellous weeks ever! We had long days and short nights, but we made every minute count. The city is beautiful and the people I met have become friends for life. If I could do it all again, I would do it in a heartbeat.