I have been in Bolivia now for over 2 weeks and it feels like I have lived here for months. It’s incredible how the body and mind adapt so quickly to different surroundings. Learning about Bolivia’s culture and worldview from our experiences in the hospital and traveling on the weekends has been a priceless experience that I know will enrich my life for many years to come.
This past weekend Rachel, Nitin and I went to Salar de Uyuni. Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat amid the Andes in southwest Bolivia. It’s the legacy of a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving behind a desertlike, nearly 11,000-sq.-km. landscape of bright-salt formations. It was an incredible place and I felt like we were on the edge of the world.
Next, we visited Isla Incahuasi which is an island of cacti in the middle of the salt flats. These beautiful plants grow 1 cm per year and many are over 2,000 years old. It was such an amazing feeling to be on an island that is the top of the remains of an ancient volcano, which was submerged when the area was part of a giant prehistoric lake, roughly 40,000 years ago.
The rest of the trip was full of the most incredible lagoons, geysers and a volcano at around 4800 meters. We ended our dusty trek with a a dip in the Chalviri Hot Springs which was a rejuvenating finale to our incredible trip!
This week Rachel, Nitin and I are fortunate to be working in the Oncology/Hematology and Neonatology wards. The contrast between the two wards is emotionally difficult. The oncology/hematology ward is filled with children who have rare leukemias, lymphomas and cancers and with children who have debilitating hematological illnesses. I was struck by many patients who have Hemophilia. In the US the treatment is with factor VIII, which is not available in Bolivia. So many of these children can only be treated when they are suffering a crisis with cryoprecipitate. A disease that could be most simply managed in the US is a chronic debilitating life sentence for these children.The neonatology ward in contrast is a much brighter and more hopeful ward even in the midst of severely fragile babies fighting for their lives. We met one patient who had been abandoned in the street and was brought to the hospital for malnutrition and dehydration. Caring for this precious life filled me with so much awareness of the fragility of life. A humbling reminder of the importance of family which I have seen in Bolivia is the strength of the community.