Sunita: Clinic with McGill!

This post for my second clinic week is over a week late, but only because it has been quite busy around here. Doulia’s blog has beautifully summed up our experiences for that week.
As an intern, my second week started before the first clinic ended. Students from the first clinic were leaving as the new students were arriving. Every time that a new group of students come in, I get a different feeling and a different first impression. We thought that the second group would be quieter but hard working nonetheless. They certainly were hard-working – as for the quiet part, I’m not so sure. Since this group was smaller than the first, they got to know each other a lot better and they formed relationships which I believe will last them a lifetime. Many students cried prior to their departure because they were not ready to leave behind both the people they had worked with all week and the relationships they formed.


On our final clinic day, the students participated in the inauguration of the staircase they helped to build. We, the interns, were chosen to break one champagne bottle over the staircase while three students broke another. There was a lot of singing, dancing, and many words of appreciation from the community members; they have continuously expressed to us that we are always welcome in their community and that we are family. The best part of the inauguration was the hail of baby powder for good luck which the community members were throwing on our heads. At our final talk following the inauguration, it was revealed that we had attended to over 800 patients. As we discussed the number of lives the group had been able to change, there were tears all around.

Saturday, the interns were able to go on a two hour boat ride to Parakas (to see sea lions, penguins, and thousands of birds), sandboarding in Ica (at the border of the Atacama Desert), and visit a traditional bodega (vineyard). It was quite the experience, one that I was so happy to share with Doulia, even though the students always wanted me to go down the sand dunes first to test the waters 😉


Final Thoughts

By Doulia Hamad

It’s Saturday. The clinics are done, the development project is finished, and we got our the final debriefing. In four days, we saw nearly 400 patients, young and old, and gave twice as many prescriptions and treatments.

Among the many striking events that coloured our week, I was particularily taken aback by the character of the people. Despite the poverty, the health problems and the harsh living conditions, bright, genuine smiles were never scarce. More than just exchanging smiles and saying “Buenos días“, I was especially pleased to be able to converse with many in my broken Spanish. I discovered that making an effort and showing a willingness to communicate in the people’s native language quickly won you encouragement and support.

My first real conversation occured on Wednesday, with an elderly lady from Ventanilla. I was assigned to the education tent, and since the day was drawing to a close and few patients were still being admitted, I had ample time to sit down and chat with the remaining patients between lessons. That day, we talked about where I was from, what I studied, and how the weather was. The topics of conversation may not have been groundbreaking, but the event felt immense to me. This woman and I had oceans between us (both figuratively and literally), yet she could understand me, and I, her!

In the subsequent day, this newfound confidence allowed me to have even more substatial conversations, comparing the Canadian and Peruvian healthcare and education systems with the OB/GYN doctor, and finding common ground with Mary Lara, the nurse in charge of educating the villagers on hygiene, disease prevention, and treatment.

With kids, there was barely any need for words. We conversed in the universal language of childhood: games and play. On Wednesday, I found a great friend in a small boy living in Ventanilla, simply by chasing around a blown-up surgical glove with him. Yesterday, I got help from a seven year old Pamplona native as I stayed behind to finish painting a MEDLIFE sign: I held the brush, and she held the pot of paint.

However, as we inaugurated the staircase we helped build in Pamplona Alta, I realized that language is a barrier only if you accept it as so – even with adults. We did not need to say a word to appreciate the artistry of the dancers who performed traditional dances honouring both earth and nature, nor did we need to understand Spanish to share the “pure joy”, as our intern Christina put it, that flooded us as we were invited to dance and laugh and dance some more. Moving to the sound of guitars and trumpets, we became a blur of pale and copper-colored skins, of long braided hairs and baseball caps, and of traditional colorful skirts and MEDLIFE t-shirts.

Giorgio, the leader of our clinic, said we should be proud of ourselves for what we did this week. I sure am. However, even if this trip will end soon, I will continue the adventure with a renewed energy. MEDLIFE advocates for sustainability in medicine, health and education: our work for these communities, both on site and from home is therefore not done yet, it is only beginning.


Sunita: First Week

After a long, crazy but fun week, I finally have a little bit of time to write for my “favoritest” (yes, I made that word up) MEDLIFE chapter in the world (McGill). My first day at el officina, I worked on drafting brochures, and writing down in detail McGill’s operations for its biggest fundraisers. I hadn’t realize how many different steps we go through to create a successful tutorials program. It wouldn’t be possible without our Tutorials team!!!


My week started with a clinic. 46 students that came from all over North America, many from West Virginia (of course, students from all the other universities have put in hard work as well). So far, we’ve toured the city (Pamplona), saw over 250 patients in four different districts, and built a beautiful brand new staircase. I’m really going to miss the students, even though I’ve only spent a week with them; I hope they find a way to keep in touch. It was a good first week. As tired as we all were, everybody was a trooper. Hopefully those students who do not have MEDLIFE chapters at their schools will be motivated, after this eye-opening week, to spread the message and start their own chapter.


I think my best moment this week was when a patient asked me what MEDLIFE stood for (which, by the way, is Medicine, Education, and Development for Low Income Families Everywhere), and I explained the acronym. The woman was so happy that we were there. She said that they did not get this kind of treatment or care from their own government, and that we should keep coming back to see them. I was touched; it drove home why we were all there – for people like her.

Punto Cero Clouds and the Final Clinic Day.

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!