Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Hospital

The ongoing story of our visit to Basque Country.

Finally, Thursday of our memorable week with our Basque friends, we went to Alberto's workplace (also Gonzalo's)--the hospital in Donostia (San Sebastian).

As Amaia would say, with some difficulty, when asked about her father's occupation: "He is a neurologist."

This is one time Alberto walked in as a tour guide, not wearing his white doctor's coat.

Dane (on left) and Dr. Alberto Bergaretxe 
Laurie was taking pictures. Right inside the main door to the right was a convenience store. And that was her last photo before a security guard came and said, "Prohibido."

Family friend, Gonzalo (who, by the way, loaned us a vehicle for the week we were there!) works in the same hospital as a radiologist. We found his area and saw him looking very professional.

Dane was especially interested in visiting the cardiac unit as he is Coordinator for Inpatient Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Services at Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie. In his words:
"I had the opportunity to spend nearly 30 minutes with Dr.'Sanvi' [the friends' nickname for him] who was in charge of the outpatient cardiac rehab program in Donosti. He spoke with nearly perfect English as he described his program and the patients he treats. Initially I was surprised that his program was so small but he reminded me that in the Basque Country heart disease is not as wide-spread as it is in America and therefore there hasn’t been a need for this kind of program. We both laughed.

Dr. Sanvi was a very wise man. He had been involved in several research projects. One had studied the effects of the “Mediterranean Diet” on lowering risk factors for heart disease. He was relating to me the complexity of getting this study published due to the difficulty of finding a suitable control group in Donosti—“everyone eats the Mediterranean diet”, he said, with a bit of sarcasm.

Dr. Sanvi was kind enough to let me tour his cardiac rehab facility which was one room with several exercise machines, a nurses area with a heart monitor to assess patients’ heart rates and rhythms, some chairs and a table where patients could get evaluated in case they were having trouble. The staff that consisted of the doctor, a nurse and physical therapist was very polite and always smiling. They seemed to be very professional yet down to earth and working well with the patients.

There were about six patients being treated when I visited and the scene looked very familiar with our typical classes at our hospital—working hard, smiling and being monitored by the staff. One gentleman was having slight chest pain so he was receiving special attention on the examining table. As I stated before, because the Basque people don’t have a high incidence of heart disease there has not been a need for this kind of clinical program until recently. As I was allowed to interact with Dr. Sanvi I could tell that his knowledge of heart disease and cardiac rehab was quite high but their facilities and the equipment they were using seemed to be 20-30 years behind what we have in America today. It was, literally, like going back into one of my old text books and seeing the pictures come alive of how it must have been when our programs were just starting to get off the ground in America.

I was so thankful to have this experience with Dr. Sanvi in Donosti. I wish I could invite him to come and visit our program here at Ball so we could exchange more ideas and meet some of our staff and patients!"
 I remember listening attentively to that conversation, admiring the doctor's English and knowledge. I was especially interested in the study mentioned above. Eating a prescribed number of nuts daily (3 almonds, 8 walnuts, and ... peanuts?)+ olive oil, resulted in healthier hearts. Obviously I cannot remember the specifics of this study, however since then I always count out three almonds each time. I like to have almonds around for snacking, and always have a bag in the car.

We were very impressed with the hospital. It is also a research and teaching institution. The doctors take turns teaching seminars and travel abroad to present their scholarly findings.
We have appreciated Alberto's clear and caring responses to our questions about the rare diseases that some of our friends have faced. He is able to bring the scholarly down to our level.


  1. How does one stop with only three almonds?! :) Can I have 11 almonds and skip the walnuts?

    {I like all nuts, but some more than others.}

    The tour sounds so interesting. I could relate to the facilities and equipment being 20-30 years behind what the U.S. has, only I think some of the clinicas here are even farther behind. The old metal hospital beds from the 40s and 50s are still being used here, peeling paint, rusty spots and all.

  2. Did not mean to imply the whole hospital was some years behind. That is NOT the case, only no need for the same cardiac care.


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