A team of doctors and nurses recently traveled from Augusta to a country where pickup trucks serve as ambulances and patients take their own sutures to surgery.
The culture gap between Doctors Hospital and the mountains of Bolivia was bridged, however, when Dr. Richard Cartie met his counterparts in Oruro.
“The people down there were wonderful,” Cartie said Monday. “It was good to see comparable levels of dedication even with the limited resources.”
Cartie traveled with two nurses and another physician from Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center to the South American country to monitor and assist with a large-scale emergency drill. The exercise took place at a large zinc-mining facility.
Two days of planning led to a simulated explosion at the plant, with local soldiers as the “casualties.” A fire was set in an abandoned warehouse, and the emergency siren sounded to heighten the reality of the situation. Serious burns from fire and hot metal are the speciality of medical staffers at Doctors’ Joseph M. Still Burn Center, but the team had to work with the existing resources, which was a challenge at times.
The city had just four ambulances, and one flipped during the drill. They improvised and used pickups instead. The toughest lesson involved using the limited resources on casualties more likely to survive rather than treating someone about to die.
“That’s the hard reality,” Cartie said.
For registered nurse Cynthia Marshall, the trip was an eye-opening look at another country’s approach to health care. Nurses in Bolivia are generally not assigned to a ward but follow individual patients through the totality of their care, she said.
“We have an entitlement in America to health care,” she said. “In Bolivia, it’s a privilege. You have to have money or you don’t get care.”