The One Lost in Translation

I can almost guarantee you this situation is happening in some hospital, somewhere, with some patient: the medical team walks in, asks a few simple questions in English, and gets the correct answers. The team then proceeds to explain the entire treatment plan in English, assuming that if the patient can respond to basic questions, they must have a grasp of the entire language.

My experiences this week have made me acutely aware of how dangerous this situation can actually be. When speaking to Guatemalans, I can demonstrate a reasonable grasp of Spanish, and often receive responses that are far more complex than I can fully understand. Sometimes, I just get the general gist of things. Other times, I make incorrect assumptions and miss the point altogether. Or worse, I may not have even the slightest idea what was said, but don’t feel comfortable enough (or can’t remember the words!) to ask them to slow down. But typically, I’m only trying to buy a bus ticket or understand my host brother’s new job, so a few words lost in translation are usually not a huge deal.

But when explaining a cancer diagnosis or the risks and benefits of a surgery, losing words in translation is not an option we can afford. I have no doubt there are patients for whom English is a struggle, but they may be too embarrassed or respectful to interrupt to remind us that they can only handle the basics. No wonder patients have difficulty complying with treatments, or even articulating what exactly their medical problems are.

Though I came to Guatemala to learn Spanish via cultural immersion, this trip is also a firsthand experience confirming the importance of using interpreters, avoiding assumptions, and checking to ensure patients are understanding their providers, regardless of language.


The One with the Mayan Ruin

Yesterday, I was awake for 20 hours straight, a feat reminiscent of my surgery rotation. But at least this time, there was no pre-rounding, no vitals to be recorded, and no scrubbing into operations.

This time, I was waking up at 2:30 AM for this:DSCN1112

Even though it was cloudy (apparently normally, it’s also really foggy), there was something incredible about sitting at the top of a Mayan temple watching the sky change colors over the trees, with a chorus of colorful birds and howler monkeys around you. (Howler monkeys are unbelievably loud!!)

And thus began our trip to Tikal, an impressive Mayan ruin situated in northern Guatemala. If the above scene seems vaguely familiar, it’s because a similar shot is featured in Star Wars Episode IV… awesome!


The Temple of the Grand Jaguar (R) and the Necropolis, as viewed from atop Temple II, all within the main plaza.


Temple III, which you’re allowed to climb via steep steps that are far too high for short legs, but I climbed anyway!

Those are MY hands. Holding a tarantula. And nothing terrible happened.

Those are MY hands. Holding a tarantula. And nothing terrible happened.

These sprawling ruins are the remains of what was once the capital of a booming Mayan civilization, and features six very large temples among a collection of causeways, plazas, and the acropolis. Three restored temples may be climbed, while most other structures are closed to the public, although, shhh!: our guide let us step into one of the palaces, where we were greeted by bats!

After a long morning of exploring the ruins, we were grateful for a relaxing evening in beautiful Flores, a charming island town just an hour away from the ruins. How freaking cute is it?!

We stayed at Hotel Mirador del Lago - Viewpoint of the Lake!

We stayed at Hotel Mirador del Lago – Viewpoint of the Lake!


Parque Central de Flores


All of the buildings are so colorful!

Tonight, I take off for Guatemala City and will catch a morning bus up to Xela, where I’ll make my home for the next four weeks. I’m so excited to meet my host family, visit the medical clinic I’ll be working in, and start really learning Spanish!

Until then,


The One With the Guatemalan Paradise

I’m covered in bruises and scrapes, to the point that it even hurts to sit.

And it was SO WORTH IT. I mean, look at this place:


Semuc Champey is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever gotten to visit, and my day here was absolutely incredible.

We climbed slippery rock steps for 40 minutes to reach this viewpoint:DSCN1039

Then we jumped, swam, and slid down waterfalls in this gorgeous water:DSCN10681

We took a tour of the Kan’ba Caves, which was simultaneously awesome and terrifying. We were provided hand-held candles for lighting and climbed down a rickety ladder into the water below. At times, we were treading water with our candle hand held high, and at other times, we were clenching the candle in our teeth as we climbed a waterfall via a rope ladder. I think the most terrifying part, however, was when we had to drop into a hole with a waterfall pouring in and no view of the other side… just lower yourself, take a breath, and drop! (No pictures, because I wasn’t risking my camera in the cave, but click here to see the Google images…)

But we ended our day of adventure with the ultimate in lazy river rides, and cruised down the river in tubes.

Easily one of the most incredible days of my life. And tomorrow, it’s on to Flores so we can visit the Mayan ruins at Tikal!

Until then,


The One with the Last Minute Lesson

“It’s your last day, right?” Dr. Family asked as we entered her office to start our lunch break. “I think it’s time to teach you how to balance work with real life. Come on.”

I tossed my stethoscope aside and scurried to catch up with her as she wordlessly exited her office and led me to her car. As she placed the keys into the ignition, the chorus of Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” blasted through the car, and I stifled a giggle at the thought of my attending jamming out on her way to work.

“Are you up for ice cream for lunch? We can eat it on the beach…”

Ice cream? Beach? Now this is my kind of lesson.

And for thirty lovely, relaxing minutes on the sunny, warm waterfront, we indulged in peanut butter fudge ice cream. 

Lesson learned.


For my new visitors (and old friends!), thanks for stopping by! I’m K, a fourth year medical student in the US who realized I recently had my 22nd and final first day of school EVER! Please take a look around (and maybe even subscribe or follow me on FB/Twitter), or hop on over to visit our lovely hostesses Emma and Jane to peruse some other fantastic medical blogs.

The One With the Appropriate Gift

During my first year of medical school, a textbook author named Barbara Fadem played a huge role in my education. An expert on behavioral health, Barbara guided us in how to address defense mechanisms, recognize substance abuse, and approach complex ethical issues.

For whatever reason, one particular line from her textbook has always stood out in my mind:

From Fadem, Barbara. Behavioral Science in Medicine. 2007: 26: 493.

From Fadem, Barbara. Behavioral Science in Medicine. 2007: 26: 493.

This concept has always made me chuckle at its seeming absurdity, because who in an urban environment even raises chickens, let alone thinks to package their eggs up for their doctor’s appointment?

But this week, my jaw dropped as I walked into a patient room.

Because there, on the counter, with “Mindy’s Farm” scribbled on top, was this:

“Mindy,” I began, giggling. “You have no idea how appropriate this gift is.”


Also, I’m taking this opportunity to wish a very happy Father’s Day to the man who always read me countless stories and taught me to ride my bike and to drive, who still washes my car and changes my oil, answers my frantic 6 AM phone calls when my car door freezes shut, and supports me no matter what. Love you, Dad!

The One Where Fourth Year is Like Preschool

Today, I donned my bright blue raincoat and red rain boots and trekked out into a downpour on what would be my very last first-day of school. After 22 years of first-day jitters and picking out new outfits, my formal education is just one year away from its end, and I can’t even begin to believe it.

But this year, my fourth year of medical school seems to bear more resemblance to my first year of school, in preschool, than my most recent year of school, my third year, and here’s some examples of how:

Pre-school/Fourth Year:
Teacher / Clerkship Director: So I know that sitting still all morning is really tiring, so instead of going to noon conference, why don’t you play outside in the sun or take a nap for an hour?
Third Year:
Clerkship Director: All noon conferences are 100% mandatory, and we may or may not be taking attendance… you’ll never know.
Allows you a leisurely wake-up at 8 AM, and maybe even a mid-day nap.
Demands that you’re up before the crack of dawn and fully alert by 5 AM, and you sure as hell won’t be sleeping again until at minimum 10 PM.
Who doesn’t love snack time?!
Hmm… did you even eat lunch today?
No exams, just simple projects to fill the time and allow you to fully explore your creativity.
Oh yes, and on top of working 5 AM – 9 PM, we’d like you to study for an incredibly nit-picky 100 question national exam every 6 weeks. You’re welcome!
Plenty of time to get to know your classmates, visit with family, and enjoy yourself with friends.
What’s a friend?
Happy Medical Mondays and happy June!

For my new visitors, I’m K, a brand-spanking-new fourth year medical student in the US, fresh out of my Step 2 boards-studying cave and still growing accustomed to the bright lights and free time on this side of third year. I’ve got plenty of new blog ideas and, now that Step 2’s over, plenty of time to put them together, so stay tuned. For now, take a look around (and maybe even subscribe or follow me on FB/Twitter), or hop on over to visit our lovely hostesses Emma and Jane to peruse some other fantastic medical blogs.

Have a Good One!

This morning, an elderly couple approached me in the hallway.

“Honey, can you help us find this?” the woman inquired, reaching out a tremulous hand with her instructions for reporting to her endoscopy appointment.

I smiled and waved them on, taking a few steps down the hall to point them to the Endoscopy suite.

“Thank you so much,” she nodded, retrieving her paper from my hand.

“Anytime,” I responded. “Have a good one!”

…it took me an entire flight of stairs to realize what I’d just said.


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