Dr Inês Valdoleiros
Centro Hospitalar do Baixo Vouga, Aveiro, Portugal
Having recently finished my training in anaesthesia in Portugal, after several years of dedicated study and hard work, I still felt like there was a lot to learn. That is one of the pivotal things about being a doctor – and anaesthesia, of course, is no exception – no matter how hard you work and study, there is still a world of knowledge and experience before you. So, as much as I was feeling proud and accomplished (and shall I say, a little relieved) to finish my training, as I browsed through the ESAIC Trainee Exchange Program, I found myself eager for this new adventure.
I had never worked abroad during my training and I believed that it would be a truly eye-opening and enriching opportunity. As I browsed through the well-known excellence centres available and the various subspecialties proposed, the choice was no easy task! Eventually, I came up with a decision: to broaden my knowledge in ultrasound-guided regional anaesthesia in Cork University Hospital (CUH), which I had heard so many wonderful things about.
I was delighted to find out that I had been accepted for this exchange program and could not wait to start it! But then when the pandemic hit Europe and the numbers kept escalating, there was a lot of uncertainty and I was not sure if I would be able to actually go. Experiencing this exchange during a world pandemic was quite a challenge and at some points, I must confess I wondered whether I was making the right decision. During summer the numbers seemed favourable in my country and in my department, everything was under control, so I decided to go ahead with it. Eventually, with the crucial help of my host, Dr Gabriella Iohom, whose support I am extremely grateful to, everything went according to plan and I arrived in Cork to start my adventure for the next three months.
After a mandatory quarantine, I was ready to start my exchange! My expectations were certainly exceeded. Everyone was more than welcoming and willing to help. Most of my time in CUH was spent in the Block Room. This is a fully equipped room adjacent to two operating rooms for trauma and orthopaedic surgery. Patients undergoing surgery are admitted into this room and prepared for their surgery. But the Block Room can also be used for other procedures, such as analgesic blocks in emergency department patients (for example, patients with rib fractures). Numerous single-shot and continuous peripheral guided blocks are performed here, ultrasound-guided, of course, for anaesthetic and analgesic purposes. Venous and arterial catheterisations are also executed, as well as neuraxial anaesthesia and/or analgesia. I also had the opportunity to perform several peripheral nerve blocks in the emergency department and in patients undergoing elective surgery, such as plastic hand surgery and breast surgery.
Working abroad and outside one’s native language is always a challenge that can appear intimidating (especially with all the accents!), however, I must say I never felt uncomfortable because every staff member always made sure to make me feel part of the team. I met amazing people. I enjoyed working with all the consultants and am grateful for their availability to teach me and clarify my doubts whenever I needed it. I would also like to thank Dr Martón Deli and Dr Aogán Ó Muircheartaigh, with whom I worked closely most of my days. Thank you for all the help and the knowledge shared, but especially, thank you for the positive work environment. It was lovely working with you and Nurse Stacey Cleere. Being hosted by Dr Gabriella Iohom was a pleasure, she was always very kind, available and most helpful. I would not have been able to complete the exchange program without her support.
Social distancing played its part during all this exchange, unfortunately, but the CUH Anaesthesia Trainees group was a truly outstanding one. I could not, for the life of me, have imagined that so many social distanced initiatives could have been so much fun! There was a pumpkin carving contest, various photo contests, socially distanced runs and even a weekly pool to become “anaesthesiologist of the week”, not to mention all the homemade baking and sweets regularly available in the break room. One should not brag, but I cannot help but mention I was an anaesthesiologist of the week once. I bring with me many fond memories. Thank you all for making my stay in Cork unforgettable!
Back home in Portugal, where the third wave of the pandemic has been hitting us so brutally, hard-work and dark times are what await me every day at the hospital. With the ICUs overflowing with patients, morale is difficult to keep up. I long for the day when all these gloomy days lay behind us and we can meet properly for a “pint in a pub”! For the time being, I send you a big virtual hug and many thanks.
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