Sunday, August 13, 2006

Barcelona Briefing--July 24th-25th 2006

I had no idea what my work setting would be like. What should I pack? Nobody seemed to know. I packed mostly books and chargers for my various gadgets: ipod charger, laptop charger, cell phone charger, camera charger, digital card reader. I also brought a personal pharmacy of bare essentials: Trimethiprim (Bactrim) and Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) for bacterial infection, Metronidazole (Flagyl) to treat Entamoebia Histolytica, Diphenhydramine for allergies and/or sleep, Ibuprofen and Acetaminaphen for aches and pains, Imodium and Bismuth for diarrhea, caffeine tabs for coffee withdrawl (god-forbid), Albendazole for Ascaris Lumbricoides and/or Strongyloidiasis, Chloroquine in case of malaria (no resistant Flaciparum in Guatemala), as well as my regular-old psychiatric medicines.

I left New York for Barcelona on July 23rd. I did not weigh my duffel bag, but it felt like more than 20 kg. I could barely lift it. (I am trying to lug my big fat bag to a cab the am of departure in pic above right.) The overnight flight via Frankfurt was uneventful. I took a cab from the Barcelona airport to the Hostel Opera just off the Rambles in central Barcelona (pic at right). Soon after I checked in, I got a call from Carmen in the MSF office. She told me to come to the office by 4pm to start my briefing (pic of MSF-Espana office above left).

As I feared, my entire Barcelona briefing was in Spanish. The strange Catalunyan accent and the red-eye/jet lag fatigue on top of my baseline Spanish deficiency left little hope for decent communication.

I spoke to Dolors first. Dolors is the Field Coordinator for our project in Puerto Barrios. She was originally trained as a nurse, but has been working in the field for MSF in various capacities for years (about 7 missions worth of experience). Doloros happened to be passing through Barcelona on her way home for vacation. This was a fortunate, as she was the first person who was able to tell me about the actual project. I was alarmed to learn that the doctor who I am replacing left more than a month ago. Who would train me? To make matters worse, Doloros, my direct supervisor, would be on vacation for more than a month. On top of that, Regina, the medical coordinator in Guatemala City (my back-up for technical questions), would also be on vacation for a month. Who would tell me what to do?

Doloros assured me that Conrado, a Nurse from Colombia, was in charge as the Acting Field Coordinator for the month. He will show me around and tell me what to do. Also, I would start by working along side of Henry, the Guatemalan doctor on our team. I was nervous.

I want back to the MSF-España Headquarters on July 25th. Click here to go to the MSF-Spain Website. I was scheduled to meet with Carmen (HR Assistant), Monica (Human Resources Officer), Sylvia (Medical Operations), and Paul (Epidemiologist). Monica is Kath’s equivalent in the MSF-Spain office. She discussed more or less the same topics that Kath had already told me, except all in Spanish: benefits, MSF hierarchy, the importance of security, cultural sensitivity, evacuation in case of emergency etc.

Sylvia’s formal title is TESACO, which must stand for something. She is in charge of medical operations for cell #2 of MSF-Espana. Each cell runs missions in different countries. Cell #2 runs projects in Guatemala, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Congo, and a few other countries. Sylvia did not get into much detail about the project. She told me that all the projects in Guatemala are winding down, nearing the “transpaso,” which means handover stage. This means that MSF is preparing to pass the work over to the local practitioners and health system (more on this later).

On my way out, Carmen gave me my plane ticket for departure to Guatemala City via Paris and Miami on July 27th. Somebody would meet me at the airport, she said. I was issued copies of MSF “Clinical Guidelines, Diagnosis and Treatment Manual” and MSF “Essential Drugs,” manuals. On the way out I stopped by the “Punto de Salida” to pick-up mail for delivery to staff in Guatemala.

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