Alison Blazer is an International Ambassador for the International Degree and Education Abroad office. Alison is studying Speech Communication and Spanish. During fall 2012, Alison studied abroad at Universidad de Bío Bío in Chillán, Chile through OSU.
Last fall term, I studied abroad in Chillán, Chile for four months. This program is OSU specific and gives Oregon State students the opportunity to travel with fellow Beavers and complete the entire second year of Spanish language courses in just 3 months. I had an incredible experience living in a new country, immersing myself in a new language and culture, bonding with my host family and classmates, and learning about myself. Throughout my time in Chile, there were several unforgettable adventures, but the most memorable of all was my emergency surgery.
A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I was experiencing a lot of stomach pain. The pain became so bad that I could do very little other than sit in bed, so I talked to my program director, my mom and host mom- all of whom thought it was probably appendicitis, but hoped it was something different. When I finally conceded that I had to go to the doctor, my program director immediately put a plan into action.
Less than an hour later, I was in the clinic with my Chilean grandma and a close friend of my program director. My program director was unfortunately in Santiago (about 4 hours north) for the weekend and feeling just about as helpless as my mom back in California. There was an hour and a half wait at the clinic, but luckily a surgeon friend of the program director met us outside and saw me immediately.
I saw the doctor at 5 p.m. and was scheduled to have surgery at 6:30 p.m. The next hour was filled with me frantically trying to get a hold of my parents in the states and figuring out what the nurses were asking me in Spanish. My dad had taken off for a fishing excursion in Shasta before knowing about my operation, so my mom and younger sister were left alone to worry. Thank God for Skype!
A few of my closest friends in my program came to the clinic as soon as they heard the news, and my host parents rushed back to Chillán from a neighboring town where they had been at a barbeque. Luckily everyone got there before I had to go into surgery. They were so incredible; helping to connect with my family back home, distracting me while the nurse put my IV in, and asked me what I needed from my house.
A little after 6:30, I was wheeled into the operating room with my Chilean host parents saying that they’d wait there for me and not to worry. In the operating room, I was moved to the operating table and then came the worst part…..spinal anesthesia. I’ve been under anesthesia before- once for an eye surgery when I was nine years old and again briefly for my wisdom teeth removal, but never in a million years did I think that I would be receiving spinal anesthesia. So picture this: I’m sitting in the OR with a team of about 10 people (surgeons, surgical nurses, the anesthesiologist etc.) all of whom are speaking Spanish and I get told that they’re going to stick a needle in my spine with no prior wooziness or drugs coming my way. Safe to say it was one of the scariest moments of my life. They kept telling me not to worry. I tried to explain in Spanish that I wasn’t worried about the surgery. It would be a piece of cake. My problem was the fact that they were about to stick a needle into my spine. But hey, what can you do? After the piercing pain of the injection, my feet immediately got super-hot and went numb and that sensation continued up my legs until I couldn’t feel anything below my chest. The nurses put a curtain up separating my head from the rest of my body and I was immediately concerned that they weren’t going to put me to sleep.
About an hour later, I woke up in the recovery room, unable to move my legs and extremely woozy. I was filled with relief- I had made it through surgery in South America, thank God! Not being able to move my legs was an unpleasant experience, but my nurses in recovery were so nice and asked me how I was doing each time I managed to wake up for a few moments before falling back asleep. This went on for about two more hours until I was finally taken back up to my room and immediately greeted by my Chilean parents.
After that, I spent a couple nights in the clinic to be monitored and get medicated via an IV. My host parents, my program director and my friends all sat by my bedside in shifts over the next few days until I was released and able to go home. The main priority at the time was just to fully recover—I was planning on traveling to Peru to see Machu Picchu one month after surgery. If that goal was to be reached, I would really need to lay low and recover at my own pace.
It’s safe to say that I never thought I would have surgery without my parents present, let alone in a different country. I owe so much to my program director, my amazing classmates and my fantastic host family who were all there for me 100% of the way. They pulled strings to get me to see a doctor quickly, sat by my bed before and after surgery, and told me not to worry. It’s fascinating to me that even when sleeping alone in a Chilean hospital, I felt comfortable and sure that I was receiving the best care possible.
I truly believe that there is no better way to learn about oneself and your own strengths and abilities than traveling abroad. Any experience abroad is bound to provide students with a new global perspective and the ability to grow and learn at a new rate by constantly challenging oneself. Personally, I am so grateful for the opportunity to have gone to Chile in the first place and now each and every day I think about my experience, my health and the amazing support system I have here as well as below the equator.