5 Harsh Truths You Learn as a Doctor in the Third World

The following was constructed from an interview conducted by Cracked.com.

I trained as a doctor in Caracas, Venezuela, the third most violent city in the world, just behind Deadwood and Rage Virus London. I worked every day to stem the tide of murder and suffering. So the next time you get miffed at the wait time and the weird stains on the chairs in the free clinic, spare a passing thought for us Third World doctors, who deal with stuff like ...

#5. Intense On-the-Job Training

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In an ideal situation, doctors go through years and years of training before they ever touch a person's insides. If you're learning to be a surgeon in Venezuela, for example, it's not until your fifth year that you're allowed to scrub down and be present for a surgery. At least ... that's what it says on paper. The first time I operated, I was a third-year and had stepped into the operating room to tell my colleagues that dinner was ready.

Robert Kindermann
In hindsight, pasticcio was an awful choice.

Before I could run down the specials, the attending physician screamed, "Why aren't you scrubbed in?" and pulled me into the room. In an instant, I was washed down, dressed in surgical garb, and operating on a gunshot victim. They literally threw me some of his intestines, saying, "Hold this." Eventually, the actual doctors in the room realized that none of them recognized me, and I explained that I was just some third-year, and by the way, dinner is ready.

I want to be clear and say that it's not because these guys are shitty doctors and don't care -- we're just so understaffed and overworked that they needed help wherever they could get it.

monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images
"I'm not just the janitor. I'm also chief of radiology."

During that same year, another student and I found ourselves in charge of the entire minor surgery wing, all by ourselves. We weren't qualified or prepared, but we knew enough to get through the night, and we did our best to save some lives. Imagine an internship where all of the employees walk out on the first day and they name you manager for the next 24 hours. Now imagine that internship is at a nuclear power plant. It was a bit like that.

#4. Supplies Are in Short ... Supply

JanPietruszka/iStock/Getty Images

People go to the hospital because trained doctors have the expertise that your average citizen doesn't, but you can't underestimate how much doctors rely on their supplies. Even the best doctor in the world couldn't stitch a wound with nothing but dental floss and really sharp fingernails. Since Venezuela's economy is sort of in the shitter, it's getting tougher to import the supplies we need to keep people alive.

KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images
Criminals no longer deal cocaine -- they sell antibiotics and insulin.

But necessity breeds MacGyverism: One time a guy walked in with gunshot wounds to the head, arm, and leg, and he was literally holding his brains in with one good hand while his other limbs just ... well, if this were a video game, he would've been on his last hit point. We didn't have any of the dozens of supplies we needed to fix that, so we took some cardboard and packing tape, put the pieces of his limbs roughly where they were supposed to be, and did our best to get this bleeding man-package to another hospital.

When I arrived, the doctors at the new hospital asked me where I was coming from. When I told them, they said, "Oh, you come from hell." That's how I found out the hospital where I worked was known as "hell." Did I mention this was my first day on the job?

monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images
"That's why all of our wings are shaped like circles."

Another time, two guys came in after they both somehow managed to lose a machete fight against one another. The doctor on call had to keep them together while waiting for the ambulance to show up and take them to another hospital, because, again, we were out of supplies. He used the stapler from his desk.

Another, more pressing problem is electricity: Sometimes we don't have it.


"Shit, the battery is dying. Get the candles."

This picture is the J.M. de los Rios hospital, a national reference center for children. These noble doctors are doing rounds with flashlights. Do you think hospitals should have backup generators? Ha! The joke's on you! It's also on the children, and the punchline is that they don't receive medical care.

It's ... not exactly a knee slapper.

#3. Sometimes You Have to Hide a Corpse

Kimberly White/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Hospitals all around the world regularly interact with police and firefighters, obviously, since they're the ones most likely to be delivering us our clients. But in Venezuela, they're just as overworked as we are, so we don't generally see each other at our best -- I mean, I wouldn't go so far as to call the firemen my adversaries, but I was a bit peeved when they dropped off a corpse without so much as a "How do you do, here's a dead dude."

Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images
It's like whoa, where's the fi- oh, wait.

I stepped out into the garage where the firemen park, just in time to see them flop a body onto our one and only gurney, then take off. I spent a good portion of the night calling the police, hoping they'd swing by for some pickup, until finally I had to admit that we had living people to deal with, and like it or not, we had to sort this problem out ourselves. Even Frankenstein needed electricity to bring the dead back to life, so that was out of the question.

What else could we do? Some of my colleagues and I hid the corpse in a closet and went about our evening as best we could.

Hemera /Photos.com/Getty
It looked like this supply closet, except without the supplies. And with a dead guy.

It was awful that we didn't have the means or the time to pay the body the utmost respect, but the choice was between that and clearing up a gurney and saving a few more lives that night. All I can do is hope that if I could have a beer with the deceased right now, he'd agree that I made the right call.

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