Final Clinic Day! – Punto Cero.
by Kate Sheridan
Today, I volunteered for the dreaded gynecology station, and I have to say, I liked it a lot more than I thought I would and I felt way less awkward than I thought I would. Essentially, students on gynecology watch as the doctor takes histories, does pap smears, and examines pregnant women.
My very favorite part of gyno was, without doubt, the pregnant women. They all looked happy and all of them were healthy, thankfully. One was even probably carrying twins! I say probably because the clinic lacks ultrasound equipment, and the twins were “diagnosed” by palpitation only. While the gynecologist was pretty sure that the woman in question was carrying twins, she admitted it can be difficult to distinguish a head from a backside or another body part entirely, so the second head she felt could be a part of one baby.
My least favorite part of gyno was pap smears. Most women seemed to be fine with one female student in the room, but I couldn’t help but think of the physical discomfort they must be in – the speculum was unwarned and unlubricated, unlike what many North American women may be used to. However, there was a significant number of women who elected against receiving a pap smear, for their own reasons, even after hearing about what it can do (For those of you who don’t know – the main thing people think of when they hear “pap smear” is cervical cancer, but there are other conditions that can be diagnosed with a pap smear.) My duty was to hand the doctor instruments and stabilize the light used. We did 5 or 6 pap smears in total, and I rotated in with 2 other girls, so I don’t know if I would have become more comfortable with the procedure and how I could have best assisted if there had been more opportunities.
Right in the middle were the histories. It was mostly the same basic questions everyone gets asked when they see a doctor, but I was particularly fascinated when the doctor asked certain questions: “cuantos hijos tiene? Muerto? Aborto?” My friend Vanessa asked a few clarifying questions after one physical and we had our translation: “How many kids do you have? How many have died? How many miscarriages?”
I thought about the stories represented by the numbers. What did these women feel when they had miscarriages? (The doctor used aborto to mean spontaneous abortions – induced abortions are illegal in Ecuador .) Were they devastated, relieved that there would not be yet another mouth to feed after all, a combination of both, or something else entirely? I suspect the base emotion must be something similar to what North American women feel when they miscarry; while there may be differences caused by what are very different circumstances, I feel like the loss is felt in similar ways too.
If this brigade taught me anything, it is both that I was incredibly privileged to be born into a North American family with access to consistent medical care and that I am not all that different from the people we see at the clinic anyways. The people we saw at the clinic worked hard, were deeply tied to a community, and experienced the same emotions. They may not have the same emotional triggers – I would never say that. But it goes back to the miscarriage thing I wrote about. Everyone feels loss, like when a woman miscarries; everyone feels joy, like when a new baby is born healthy and perfect. Doesn’t matter where it happens.
This clinic has been a wonderful experience for me overall. While I’d need to save up some airfare money, I would absolutely do it again. I can’t believe it is already over and the first of my flights to send me back to the Great White North takes off in 24 hours.
THANKS! for reading the blog from this brigade, and my tweets from the ground. (If you haven’t been, check it out: @MEDLIFEMcGill! More pictures!) I hope we’ve given a little bit of insight into what the clinics are like and the people who you might meet if you go on one!
And PLEASE! Comment and give us feedback! So we can improve the blog and give you guys everything you ask for!