Surgeries & Stilettos

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A group of 15 UW-Stevens Point speech-language pathology graduate students are on a 12-day trip to the Center for Cleft Lip and Palate Care (CAIF) in Curitiba, Brazil.

By Pam Terrell, Ph.D.

I thought I would begin by describing our typical daily schedule here at CAIF. Everyone is up between 6-6:30 a.m. for breakfast and we leave for the hospital at 7:15. We walk about three blocks to the bus stop and then take the city bus to CAIF. Curitiba is a model set copied the world over by urban planners because it has one of the best public transportation systems in the world, along with citywide recycling and the most green space per capita for a large city. The bus we take is a long articulated bus with four doors. All buses drive on special streets parallel to cars, so they can go very fast. It takes us about 10-15 minutes and 11 stops to get to CAIF and Hospital do Trabalhador (Workmen’s Hospital). Once at CAIF the students are divided into 3 groups of five and rotate through the various scheduled disciplines throughout the morning. We all get back together for lunch in the hospital cafeteria. It is typical cafeteria type of food with a Brazilian twist, such as mystery meat, polenta, salad, okra, and the ubiquitous rice and beans, always with juice to drink.

After lunch, the three groups rotate again through other disciplines. At 4:30 p.m. each day we meet in the auditorium for a huge spread of snacks, soft drinks, juices, and the wonderful thick and sweet Brazilian coffee. After this break, we have two lectures from professionals each evening. Tonight we had a craniofacial surgery lecture and a cleft lip and palate surgery lecture. We leave the clinic at around 7 p.m. each evening, after putting in an 11-hour day.

On the bus ride back to the hotel, the students are bursting with stories to share with each other since they all saw and did different things throughout the day. A lot of what they do is observation, but they get some hands-on experiences too, like feeling the weak, ineffective suck of a five-day infant with Pierre Robin Sequence who had a feeding evaluation and looking in the ears of a child with a repaired perforation of the eardrum. I pop into each group throughout the day to take photos of the students, to ask them questions to make sure they are learning, and to answer question they may have since sometimes things get a little lost in translation.

In the evening, we go out to dinner by walking, as we are in a nice and safe part of town and there are many, many restaurants in a four-block radius, as well as two malls with restaurants and food courts. The students have really enjoyed all of the food and there have been no picky eaters in the group. I have also been impressed by how much Portuguese they are learning. They are starting to comprehend a lot of it and they are getting more brave in their attempts to speak to patients, workers at CAIF, and store owners. We are obvious non-Brazilians though and draw a lot of staring wherever we go! Nothing like a troop of 16 women all wearing backpacks and walking with purpose while speaking English to attract some attention. The workers at the bus station know us well and laugh whenever we show up to take the bus.

Tonight after we got back from CAIF, we headed to one of the larger malls to buy two great Brazilian products, that all Brazilian wear: scarves and stiletto shoes! I can’t even begin to tell you how many pairs of shoes our group tried on tonight, but almost everyone will be coming back with at least one new pair of shoes. Tomorrow we will stop at a grocery store for coffee and hopefully another store for T-shirts and soccer jerseys.

Everyone’s doing well, having fun, and learning a lot.