By: Aaron Hochman-Zimmerman
Mexico City is huge. It is one of the largest cities in the world; but it is a city of cities. It is sectioned up so that each new neighborhood has a different character and different experiences to share. And the city, its people, do want to share. The people there were genuinely welcoming, possibly more so than any American deserves.
So where to start? With the latest trend, the traditional food, the vast pre-colonial culture, stop by the mellow cafes or crowded bars? There is a large element of finding what you are looking for. The challenge comes in making the effort to properly explore, to keep checking around corners, even if you hit dead ends.
Global Health Experience
What was I really looking for anyway? Mostly I was looking for where I fit into all of it. The stated mission was in so many words: “have a global health experience,” but we each have our own definition of global health or at least our global health priorities. Was I there to get into the details of it and pick up a few clever diagnostic tips long forgotten by hi-tech medicine? Sure. Was I there to appreciate, in broad strokes, how a low- or middle-income country manages its medical resources? Of course. Was I there to share with them what I’ve learned in the countries where I’ve visited? I probably should.
It’s difficult to answer and should take some careful consideration to process what you’re seeing and doing, but the Mexican doctors and students I met were happy to help. And that was what I finally noticed what I was meant to find. They were happy. They didn’t seem to use their frustration and exhaustion at work as a measure of their achievement the way Americans sometimes do.
One day I had to ask a neurosurgeon, who had worked in the States for several years, how surgeons in Mexico could be in such good spirits all the time. The camaraderie in the department was different than what I was used to. In the operating theater they played music, they joked and the residents felt free to ask questions without fearing reprisals.
Another of the neurosurgeons overheard our conversation and asked how it was different in the States. The first surgeon answered him by saying that the operating room in the States was “como una iglesia,” (like a church.) There is no joking, no music, always serious and stern.
“It’s just our personality,” he told me. “In Colombia and Brazil, they think Mexicans are serious,” he added.
I had witnessed some more intense moments when the chatting stopped for a moment; but they seemed to be organic to the situation at hand. In other places, maintaining the humorless mood feels like the unspoken rule of the operating room.
When I would step out for an after work refreshment with the doctors there, the demeanor was… refreshing. They work hard and long hours and still didn’t focus on the problems at work (or elsewhere, it seemed.) It was only good for the morale of the team.
In the end, I had a great time. The city itself is an exciting place to be and I did, naturally, learn a few medical tricks as well; but I saw an attitude that sometimes eludes Western medicine and shouldn’t. I’m waiting for someone to show me evidence of medical staff martyrdom improving patient outcomes. Is there any rule that says being happy is a sign of giving less than 100% or that smiling is disrespectful to the craft or the patients?
Until I’m convinced otherwise, I’m going to, as best I can, carry on in the Mexican style… work hard, respect patients and the profession; but take the chance to appreciate everything that goes right in life, rather than dwelling on what goes wrong.
Aaron Hochman-Zimmerman is a fourth-year medical student at MSIH, originally from New York. He completed his Global Health rotations in Mexico City, in 2019.