Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Nicaragua - Day 3

I'm back in Nicaragua this summer! As I did last year, I'm working as the instructor for the Engineering World Health Summer Institute. The program brings about 25 students from the US, Canada, and other locations and trains them can Spanish and medical instrumentation for one month. At the end of that month, they move to local regional hospitals in various towns and villages around the country, and spend a month preparing whatever medical equipment they can and otherwise trying to be useful in the hospital. As we discovered last year, the students' primary asset might be their ability to speak English, since things like instruction manuals and on-screen instructions might be in English. Many hospitals around here already have a good engineering staff that handle many of these issues, but there are also a lot of smaller regional hospitals that could really use the help.

The toaster oven plug! The plastic at the base of the right-most
 prong is pretty melted. The plug was super hot whenever I
went to unplug it!
My job is a bit of a challenge, because I have to get students to actually be useful in a hospital. Theoretical knowledge will only get you so far. At the end of the day, it's your ability to roll up your sleeves, think creatively, and troubleshoot that will lead to success. Four days a week, my students get a lecture, followed by a hands-on lab. The lectures are designed to expose students to the fundamentals of operation of a variety of types of medical equipment which they are likely to encounter in the developing world. This means that we spend a lot of time on relatively humble pieces of equipment like oxygen concentrators and suction pumps, and zero time on things like MRI's and CT scans. So far, I'm two lectures in. The first lecture was about the basics of circuit theory and signal processing. The second lecture covered electrical safety and ground loops. Today's lecture will cover power supplies and batteries. Yesterday, I told a fun anecdote about how at my home stay in Nicaragua last year, I discovered that the plug for the toaster oven in the kitchen had a short circuit that was making the plug get so hot that the plastic was melting! This happened because people kept on unplugging the toaster oven by yanking on the cord, and not by pulling from the actual plug, which is what you're supposed to do. All that yanking on the cable eventually led to the wires coming loose inside the plug and starting to short. I'm guessing eventually it would have started a fire! Luckily it was an easy fix.

I'm pretty excited because tomorrow is the first of our weekly hospital trips. We take our students to a hospital every week where they get some hands-on experience taking apart, cleaning, repairing, and putting back together various pieces of hospital equipment with me there to supervise and help. Last year, the experience was really valuable for me as well as the students. The hospital I'll be going to tomorrow is actually more of a centralized facility in Managua where they collect broken equipment from across the country, repair whatever they can, and then return it to service. I'm looking forward to seeing how all that works.


  1. You'd think that by now someone would have invented an electrical cord that was designed to be unplugged by yanking on the cord instead of the plug...

    1. The plug looks as if it has been replaced before. Normally there is a bracket inside the plug which clamps down on the cord for strain release.

      Dr. Obeid, this seems like an awesome program! Thanks for sharing it.