All 20 (or 32) Teeth

UPDATE: This post has been republished on the blog run by the larger MEDLIFE organization next to updates from other chapters around North America. Kudos to Sonia and Grace!

Sonia Jain and Grace Wang team up to tell and show us how the first day in the clinics went on Monday!

Today was our first day as a group working together. For some of us arriving into Ecuador at around 3 this morning, getting up to go on the bus seemed like a pretty strenuous task. However, our eyes were opened when we made our way to the rural town where we would participate in our first mobile clinic.

As we were split up in groups and set up our tents and specific areas, we couldn’t help but notice the beautiful agricultural landscape we were in. As time went by, small children with their parents started to arrive. At first, it was a bit surprising to see their faces. Most of the children had scars from heat and wind exposure, and their parents suffered from poor oral hygiene. It became evident how serious of a health problem dental hygiene was in this area, and it was up to us to help the children learn proper techniques to maintain good oral health, which they can apply in the future.

At first, it was a bit difficult to communicate with the children and elders – who spoke Spanish – when most of the MEDLIFE students could not. However, it became easier when we used simple phrases and using hand gestures to communicate tasks, to the children especially.

I think every member of MEDLIFE learned a great deal from both the children and the elders of the community today, who sacrifice a great deal to support their families through farming while also taking the time to come into the clinic for medical care.

The group that was involved in the development project also reinforced how important it was for the area to create working washrooms in order to promote better hygiene. Everyone working together and putting their efforts today went a long way. When they thanked us before leaving, we could only say thank you back; little did they know, their smiles from receiving proper treatments and toothbrushes was probably the highlight of our day and the best thanks we could have received. We can only hope that they will cherish the information we gave them in the future, and continue to work on developing the washroom in their community. Now we are off to explore more of Riobamba as a group. Ciao for now!

A Long Night’s Day

Late last night, a group of McGill students landed in Ecuador to volunteer at one of MEDLIFE’s mobile clinic sites over winter break. Before they get their hands dirty, though, they spent today recovering from their flights and exploring the city that they’ll be calling home for the next week – Riobamba! Sahil Kumar took us through their day.

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In a Town Far, Far Away…

by Danielle Bohonos

Thursday was not the most exciting day at Group 1’s clinic site. The town we visited that day was extremely far into the mountains – I swear we must have passed about 3 or 4 towns after we turned off the main highway onto the small dirt road before we finally stopped. I was scheduled to observe the pharmacy and gynecology stations, so after setting up in the school’s field, I took one of four seats set up behind a table full of medications, and waited for our first patients to wander up.

Pharmacy seemed like an easy job. However, I am sure that in my head I am simplifying the tasks way too much – I’m sure there is more to a pharmacist’s job than just reading the prescription off the paper and counting the correct amount of milligrams of medication. What I did take away from this station, in conjunction with my time spent with Omar the doctor, was a greater understanding of what certain medications achieve. After observing Omar, I had learned certain medications which were commonly prescribed for stomach pain, the neutralization of stomach acid, parasites, and general aches and pains; I could then match a symptom or problem in my mind with the correct medication in the pharmacy. While I didn’t find this station to be the most exciting, I understand the importance of having a knowledgeable person providing this service to a community.

Finally, I switched to the Gynecology station. I had been waiting for this station for the entirety of the clinic, largely because I entered the week thinking that if I were to pursue a career in medicine I might enjoy working in Obstetrics and Gynecology. At shift change, I headed to the obstetrics location only to be told there weren’t enough people at the clinic so we would be closing early. Not quite the experience that I had wanted, but it is understandable. The majority of the villagers leave their homes by 6 am to work in the fields, and as Alberto (our supervisor) explained to us, certain villages may not take advantage of the medical care the first time we come. However, next time a clinic visits the area, we hope more people in the community will recognize it and utilize this great opportunity.

Teaching Toothbrushing

The sheer quantity of children in these communities astounds me everyday. Although, I shouldn’t really have expected the opposite as the parents generally spend their day working in the fields to meet the daily demands of life. Because of this, the toothbrushing station was always extremely full of kids who wanted to learn to brush their teeth and get treated with fluoride.

There were at least thirty kids running around a table in the kindergarten we’d set up our clinic in, looking for a toothbrush. Once served with toothpaste, they began to brush; when their mouths were full, they eagerly searched for the spit bucket to relieve their mouths of the toothpaste foam and began to brush again. The fluoride wasn’t the kids’ favorite, but when I looked into some of their mouths and saw the blackened and degrading teeth, it was evident to me how necessary flouride is for a child who might not have permanent access to toothbrushing supplies.

Aside from the kids and their toothbrushing, it was amazing how exciting a digital camera was to the young kids; after taking a photo the best part for them was viewing themselves on the small screen afterwards.

My second station was shadowing a doctor named Omar. He spoke very little English; fortunately for me, he was very determined in explaining each patient’s issues so that we could understand and appreciate what he was doing during the examination. I had one of the most memorable moments of my clinic experience when I was at Omar’s station. During a lull between patients, I attempted to ask Omar about his day-to-day work outside of clinics.  He responded by saying that his work and especially his interactions with his patients are incredibly beautiful. He did not simply remark upon medicine, but more so how he loved learning about his patients, their life, their family, their work; for him it is not just about money or science, but about the people he provides care for.

How to Communicate

by Tiphaine Monroe

It got off to a bumpy start, but day two was definitely my most memorable. We all clambered into the bus at 7 and were off. The driver warned us that it would be a long ride, about an hour and a half full of twists and turns up steep mountains. The terrain was so difficult that on three separate occasions, we all had to get off the bus so that the driver could maneuver out of a ditch.
Once we arrived, we were greeted by a wonderful community. All the students were gathered in a courtyard to sing us a welcome song. Then the school’s principal gave us a moving speech about how little help their community had received before MEDLIFE and how he hoped that we as students and volunteers would never forget the plight of the poor.

My station that morning was vitals. I’ll admit that I was nervous at first. Although I studied Spanish throughout high school, it had been two years since I had spoken a word and my transition back into the language was shaky at best. For good measure, I wrote down the words ‘parese’ (step over here) and ‘saquese’ (remove) on my hand in case I forgot them for the hundredth time. That’s definitely a strategy I would recommend.

Vitals turned out to be my favorite experience. Our job was to greet the patients and get their height, weight, temperature, and blood pressure so that they were prepared to see a doctor. We had to be as quick and efficient as possible while still maintaining an atmosphere of caring and warmth. I loved all the hands-on experience with patients, asking all the kids what their names were, convincing them that the thermometer should stay under their tongues, and listening to them squeal with delight when they learned how to say ‘hello’ for the first time. One of the most challenging moments we had was trying to convince an 86-year-old, partially-deaf woman who spoke only Quechua to let us put pressure cuff on her arm – no simple task.

We switched after lunch, and I was assigned to the toothbrushing station. I loved handing out the tiger-themed brushes to all the kids and struggling to explain to them what fluoride was for. Once all the serious cleaning business was over, we still had time to talk to and get to know the kids. They told me about their school and the sports they like, when their birthdays were, and how many siblings they had. They tried (unsuccessfully) to teach me how to say hello in Quechua. Most of all, they were interested in knowing when we would come again and how long we would stay

All of the kids were shy at first, but once I pulled out my notebook and asked them if they wanted to draw, all we saw were smiles. I now have several lovely pages covered in houses and llamas and flowers. My camera was also a big hit. Every time I took a portrait, they would race towards me so I could show it to them. I eventually taught a couple of the boys how to take a picture themselves and they immediately became snap-happy. They made a game out of chasing around the shy girls to get them in a picture. Before we left, the community thanked us and gave us boiled potatoes with sauces.