We here at GEMx have valued the development of reciprocal, supportive and enduring relationships with the students we serve well after their exchanges are behind them. We also understand that expanded perspectives and growth opportunities occur in individual daily lives as much as through international travel and exchanges, which is why we are especially honored to share an introspective account by one such student. – Carol Noel Russo, GEMx Senior Coordinator
Post by Mercedes Aguilar Soto, Medical Student at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México Facultad de Medicina (Mexico) who recently completed a GEMx Elective at PAGNY (New York)
I have lived my whole life in Mexico City, I was born here, I studied here and I will probably continue living here. I always tell people I have a love-hate relationship with this city because it has a lot of problems but at the same time it has a lot to offer to its citizens and visitors.
As I said before I studied here and I have done my medical training in hospitals in this city. Right now I am doing my intern year in a very big hospital that was founded around the 1900’s and has been working since. I am currently finishing my rotation in Emergency Medicine, which is one of the busiest areas of the hospital and I stay there for 24-hour shifts every three days.
This last September, Mexico City and other cities in Mexico experienced two devastating earthquakes, and I was in the hospital on call during both of them. The first one, on September 7th happened around midnight. Since Mexico is considered a seismic zone, alarms have been installed around the city and they are supposed to get activated as soon as there is an earthquake detected in the coast of Mexico, which gives us around 30-60 seconds to evacuate buildings.
This first earthquake was scary, but we all had enough time to leave the building and to make sure everything and everyone was OK. I called my family immediately since we live in one of the high-risk zones and was happy to hear that everybody was doing all right. Other zones of Mexico, especially Oaxaca were really affected, but Mexico City seemed to be doing fine.
I must say that earthquakes in my hospital are scary, not only for its location in a high risk zone, but because in 1985, on September 19th a huge earthquake hit Mexico City and damaged a lot of buildings including several towers in this hospital including the OB/Gyn tower, the residency and several others. I still have professors who remember friends who died during that horrible earthquake, which is why we always get an uneasy feeling whenever there is an earthquake.
The next morning, on September 8th, engineers and safety staff checked the whole hospital and told us it was suitable for working, so everything went on like nothing had happened. When I came home my mother hugged me really hard and I realized she had been very worried since she remembered the hardships the hospital went through in 1985. But luckily we were all fine. However, we did not expect another earthquake to happen so soon.
Every year on September 19th, as a way to remember the 1985 earthquake and to remind us all of the protocol to follow in case of this kind of disaster, in all schools, hospitals and offices; an evacuation drill is performed so that we are all informed on what we are supposed to do in case there is a real earthquake.
This last September around eleven in the morning, we were all requested to evacuate the building and count the number of people to see if we were all complete. After the drill everybody went back to work like nothing had happened. As usual, the ER was full of people and we were all doing our jobs as we normally do. Later on, I was running some tests on a patient when one of my colleagues told me that an earthquake was beginning. I turned around to ask her about it because I didn’t hear the alarm and I didn’t feel anything, but as soon as I turned my head I felt the floor pulling me to one side and realized it was a strong earthquake, but luckily I was close to the door so I was out of the building in ten seconds. Later on we discovered the alarm wasn’t activated before the earthquake because the epicenter was not in the coast but close to land so the usual alarms were not able to detect it.
While we waited for the earthquake to stop I saw nurses praying and a friend of mine crying because she was really scared. I grabbed her hand and told her everything would be OK, only to find myself wanting to cry too and with my hands sweating. The earthquake probably lasted a minute or so, but it felt like forever. When it was finally over, the chief of service and the safety staff started counting everybody and told us to walk calmly to another safety zone.
While all this was happening I was receiving texts from my family who were all in different places around the city. My father was walking back home from his office, when he realized there was an earthquake happening and he started running towards my house. On his way he found one of the many buildings that fell down and with his hands still shaking he took a picture of it. He continued running to my house, to find that luckily it was still in place. After telling us he was doing fine and that our house was OK he sent us the picture of the building, and then news started running in the hospital: there were a lot of buildings that had fallen down and rescuers were on their way. My boyfriend called me, almost crying, and told me that buildings had been falling down around the city. I realized that this had been a terrible earthquake.
For several minutes we didn’t know what to do, we were waiting for instructions from the engineers when we started smelling gas, which is one of the many dangers of an earthquake: the leakage of gas from cylinders and tanks that get broken during the movement. Since the source of the leakage was unknown we received orders to evacuate the building until further notice, but we needed to take the patients out. I was worried that there could be an explosion any minute, especially since all hospitals have oxygen pipes than run under the hospital, but I stayed and tried to help getting out the patients.
After an hour or so we were told that the leakage was outside the hospital and that it had been taken care of, so we were safe to go back to the building. The rest of the hospital tried to discharge all of their patients, since we didn’t know how many injured people we would get. The attending in charge came to all of the interns and told us that those of us who wanted could leave if we needed to, and if we had a night shift that day only half of us were expected to stay. I talked to my friends and we all decided to stay, even a friend whose father was in the ICU in another hospital that was rumored to be damaged and another friend who hadn’t heard from her family.
Since the number of injured people was unknown we received orders to discharge all patients that could be discharged so there could be enough space available for rescued people that might come from all over the city. However, the hospital in which I work is not specialized in trauma so all the patients were first sent to trauma hospitals.