Wednesday, July 24, 2013


The last few weeks have been jam packed with work, fun, and travel. I've really gotten to feel at home - or as much as is possible considering that my stay has an expiration date - mostly thanks to making some more friends in Quito and getting busy with work. 

One particularly exciting thing is that I've been able to pick up a lot of skills simply by watching Dave and others in the lab. Much of the credit goes to Dave, who is a fantastic teacher - super encouraging, and he doesn't dumb things down for me just because I'm not a master in the field. I'm not sure I've ever met someone who can be so much fun and so goofy and yet still get things done extremely well and efficiently. 

So, this is to say that it was really cool when Dave told me to get a trans-tibial (below knee) prosthesis ready for a patient and I was able to complete all the steps: filling the mold, pulling the plastic, cutting and grinding the plastic, and putting the leg and foot together. And what's better -- I got to help deliver the prosthesis to the patient - a guy named Marco - and watch him test it out. 

A little about Marco:
Some years ago he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that is typically found in the legs and often requires amputation. After the operation, Marco decided he wanted to study medicine and work with cancer patients. Right now he's in the middle of his studies -- the tragic thing is that doctors have found osteosarcoma tumors in his lungs. This diagnosis is pretty bleak, meaning Marco will likely die before he can become a doctor. Despite all of this (or perhaps because of it), Marco was absolutely beside himself with the new leg. In 15 minutes he was jumping around and kicking me a soccer ball that we have in the kids toy box in the fitting room. Just this week he invited Dave to a potato-picking party at his family's house as thanks. 

With this situation, it's hard to forget that Marco is dying. When he left Proteus, I didn't know what to say, really. I said something like, "It's my pleasure. Good luck with everything!" I think Dave did it better, saying "See you next time." I suppose it's a reminder that you can have a success story hand in hand with sadness. It's an amazing thing to be able to give someone their mobility back, but it doesn't beat having an actual limb or not having cancer. 


Part of the reality of being here is that there are a lot of people passing through my life. Growing up, you get accustomed to people being permanent fixtures your day-to-day. And then, you go off to college and some of those fixtures change and now you have some new permanent people. But as a traveler, friendships can be 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 days. It feels easy to open up, often, because fellow travelers are like unlikely comets crashing into each other and then going on their merry way -- the probability that you met this person, here, is so preposterous that you might as well just be yourself. 

In many ways, I'm also passing through the lives of the patients I work with. I'm getting a little glimpse into their world and then sending them off with some pretty cool new hardware. I wonder what that means to them, or if they'll remember the blue-eyed American volunteer that spoke broken Spanish to them and handed them their new leg. Just some thoughts and questions I guess... not as many answers, but that's ok. 

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