Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Digital Story of Christmas

A very well done video of the Nativity 2.0. Traveling myself for the holidays, my sister's video link sharing really made me smile.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Christmas Merger

Continuing the current trend of large-scale mergers and acquisitions, it was announced today
at a press conference that Christmas and Hanukkah will merge. An industry source said that the deal had been in the works for about 1300 years.

While details were not available at press time, it is believed that the overhead cost of having twelve days of Christmas and eight days of Hanukkah was becoming prohibitive for both sides.

By combining forces, we're told the world will be able to enjoy consistently high-quality service during the Fifteen Days of Chrismukkah.

As part of the merger agreement, the letters on the dreydl, currently in Hebrew, will be replaced by Latin, thus becoming unintelligible to a wider audience.

In exchange for this concession, it is believed that Santa's vast merchandising and distribution network will be opened up for all Chrismukkah participants.

Despite strong speculation, a spokesman for Christmas, Inc., declined to say whether a takeover of Kwanzaa might also be in the works at this time.

He then closed the press conference by leading all present in a rousing rendition of "Oy Vey, All Ye Faithful."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Notes On A Hospital Visit In Cuenca

Today I went to the hospital. For fun. Yes, that actually happens.

The deal is that Cuenca's newest hospital, Hospital Universitario del Rio, generally just called Hospital del Rio, was having an open house and luncheon. It's a teaching hospital affiliated with the school where I've been teaching during the week, the University of Azuay, and it's administered by an international hospital group, American Hospital Management.

The hospital is about 18 months old, and a friend of ours who runs the Ecuador Medical Tourism Association invited us to go. All new everything and supposed to be the best in Cuenca, so I thought, why not?

It is a bit odd to be at the hospital when you don't need anything. I'm used to the dreaded scheduling, waiting, waiting, waiting process when it comes to visiting hospitals, or the quick run when you're really sick. Instead, we strolled in, sat through a little presentation, and had a very leisurely tour of the facilities.

Hospital del Rio is certainly state of the art. A group of private investors put the thing together, spending more than $42 million on the project. All brand new equipment made by GE with the goal of becoming THE best hospital in Ecuador, and this half of South America. They've got scanners and machines I'd never heard of, but they looked like stuff that would do the trick, right down to the giraffe incubators in the best NICU in the country.

The catch is that you get it all with Ecuador's brand of hospital service - nurses that don't do much and doctors who do it all. You don't have to wait in lines at private hospitals like this, you can spend 2 hours talking to one doctor, and for the private suite rooms the ratio was one nursing station per 8 rooms. Same day lab results are standard, and private specialists clinics are built into the structure.

And then there are the prices . . . this isn't a complete list, just some stuff I wrote down during the presentation and the tour. As you read these and think about your personal medical care situation, remember that flights are $580 roundtrip out of Denver through March 15th (usually $800 - $900), it's a $100 roundtrip transfer to Cuenca in country from Quito or Guayaquil, and today I am wearing a t-shirt and flip-flops. In December, in case I wasn't rubbing in the no snow situation enough.

Ahem, where was I? Right - listing the prices for state of the art medical care in Cuenca at the Hospital del Rio. Some 80% of the doctors speak English, and private translators that are available 24/7 during your stay in Cuenca can be had for around $10 per hour.
  • Appointment with a specialist: $25 - $30, depending on the specialty (they offer cardiology, oncology, dermatology, geriatrics, hematology, pediatrics, psychiatry, orthopedics, and urology on site, among others). Doctors trained in the US, Chile, Columbia, Germany, etc. The ones we met on the tour seemed very nice, as did the techs we interrupted.

  • Surgery room charge for operations: $3 per minute

  • Day rate for the hospital room: $100 for a private suite (includes sofa bed for guests and a private family lounge) off the bedroom, $70 for what US folks would call a standard private room, and they also have shared 2 and 4 bed rooms if you're "impoverished" and need cheaper options.

  • MRI: $200 - $250, depending on the part of the body you're having done. Same day results. Pretty sure a friend paid $850 for a knee view in the States, so this one impressed me the most.

  • Sonogram: $25, and they are available in 3-D and 4-D. I didn't even know they made 4-D for these things.

  • Endoscopy: $150, and they do rectal for colonoscopies as well as the ones that go down the throat. One of the retired people on the tour with us had paid $5,000 for a major endoscopy in the states, and another had paid $1200.
I can't remember the price for a CT scan - I was distracted by the tech who had a scan of somebody's heart up on their screen, working with the image. Apparently the machine makes 64 cuts (views) that are all integrated, and the Hospital del Rio is using it in heart imaging so they can avoid unnecessary catheterizations. It looked pretty darn cool.

The Hospital del Rio also has an Intensive Care Unit. The bed is $120 a day, and the cost of all the other nursing and support can run as high as $1,000 per day depending on what you're hooked to at the time (and the guide, who is the director, is quick to point out here "You get a lot for that price. It's expensive, but you get ventilation, dialysis, heart monitors, all your nursing, you know, those things. So even though it's a high, it's good.") And so I went to the web to look up some US comparables, and found a study from 2005 on average ICU costs in America that gave the average cost figures as $2,192 per day, and some ICU numbers from 1996 that gave the average as $2,000 - $3,000 per day.

The hospital was quick to emphasize their cleanliness, too. Since they're new, they have advantages in that they don't have decades of built up in-house strains of staph like some places in the States and around the world. They also sterilize all the rooms between guests, and contagious/contaminated rooms have a 24 hour quarantine. UV light checks are used to ensure cleanliness, and the rooms have views of the mountains and the river from which the hospital gets its name.

So . . . kind of a long post about a hospital tour, but it ended up being interesting to me so I thought I'd share. Readers, what were your last hospital experiences like, and what did you have to pay for your stuff?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What Volcano?

Lately I've gotten a bunch of pings about the volcano that's erupting. Truthfully, it hadn't even crossed my radar - which should let you know that no, I'm not affected and really, neither is Cuenca. If it was a big deal, I'd have heard.

On the other hand, what's the deal with Ecuador and volcanoes anyway? Here's the insider's scoop:


Ecuador is a mountainous country (thanks to the Andes) and we've still got active volcanoes doing their thing. They are clustered around the capital, Quito (10 - 12 hours overland from me), but there are a few eruptions further south. The locals don't always like it - ash clouds are bad for the tourist business.

The volcano erupting now is Tungurahua, whose name means "Throat of Fire" in Quichua, the indigenous language of Ecuador. It's 150 miles north of Cuenca, so we haven't noticed a thing about it. It's actually the third time this year that Tungurahua has erupted . . . so I guess people are kind of used to it? Do you get used to that kind of thing?

It's not really much of a lava spewer, but it does a lot of fancy things with ash. In 1999, when the volcano "woke up" after being asleep for decades, it did more. Now it just looks like this:


It will really only affect Cuenca if the ash cloud gets blown toward us, which might cause some flight path changes and probably make the satellite Internet system struggle. Other than that. . . not much. Enjoy the photos and don't worry, I'm fine!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

4 Ways Grading Makes Me Feel Evil

This Friday, I will administer my first full scale exam to the students at my university class. We've covered five sections of International Relations, including measuring national power, human rights issues around the world, and the merits of global security.

When the exam is done, I will see just how much of the debate between communitarianism and individualism sunk in, or whether or not anyone truly read the section on weaknesses in the UN Peacekeeping Force. (Darling readers, can YOU tell me three things that are wrong with international security protocols as exemplified by UN Peacekeepers?)

And as I grade, I will start to feel like the Wicked Witch of the West(ern Hemisphere).
  1. Grading exams makes you doubt the intelligence of humanity. This has been true of every class I've ever taught. Like the kid in my Saturday class who would have passed had he not skipped three test sections, exams are full of little errors that will make the teacher crabby.

  2. Crabby teachers should not grade essay questions. My inner grammar girl jumps to the forefront, channeling my 4th grade teacher with her box where we could turn in our fellow student's grammar errors for more points. It's like my eyes open to see every last comma error and bit of awkward phrasing, to the point that I find it hard to focus on the actual test response. This makes it take a long time, and I get more crabby, and the essay pages start to drip with red ink and comments.

  3. Someone will ask me for a bit of extra "help". I will shoot them down. This will make me feel mean, even though it's only being fair to everyone not to give extra help, answers, or points to one student.

  4. I will hand out an F. At least one. Some will not care because they knew it was coming. Some will cry. Some will be in big trouble at home. In Ecuador, some will take the class again (and they charge you extra tuition your second time through, a nice incentive to study). Someone's life will be thrown off course, made more stressful, or flat out ruined because of my big, red F. I will feel bad about this.
Still, despite all the reasons that grading makes me feel evil, it's still what I will be doing with at least part of my Saturday. Nebraska doesn't play anymore football until the end of the month, so there will be no afternoon game to save me . . . or my students . . . from quality time with the red pen.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Preparing For Christmas In Ecuador

As I'm typing this at Cafecito, the wait staff are putting up the Christmas decorations. Support pillars are already wrapped in tinsel, and the man cursing out the tangled strings of lights makes me feel right at home.

The Christmas star in the mango tree? Not so much.

This holiday season is creeping up on me in the oddest way. I spent my Thanksgiving with my sister at the spa at Piedra de Agua, doing full body mud masks and picking up a sunburn by the thermal pool. It's currently about 76 degrees, and I'm regretting wearing a long sleeve shirt to teach today. Even though I know Christmas is coming, it's hard to wrap my mind around it.

Still, I will be having Christmas in the traditional style, despite having missed Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and all the snow and crowds that went with both. I've got a ticket back to Nebraska for Christmas in the snow. I can't seem to wrap my mind around that level of cold, either, so I'm just focusing on how nice it will be to be home for the holidays!