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.

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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 😉

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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.

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A Pre-Clinic Ocean Breeze

by Doulia Hamad

Buenos días!

This is now day two of our trip, and things are well, although anticipation for the days to come is building and building. Because our group is a melting pot of students coming from different parts of the USA, Puerto Rico and Canada, ther is a lot to get to know about each other, a task that we are happily completing over meals, sightseeing walks, and after-dinner games.

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Yesterday, we got a small tour of Mariflores, the district of Lima where our hotel is. As we walked around, taking picture after picture of houses, streets and anything else that may seem noteworthy to a dutiful toutist, I couldn’t help but be enchanted by the friendly nature of the place. We came across a large avenue that, our MEDLIFE guide Giorgio explained, was closed every Sunday morning just to allow bikers and runners and rollerbladers to enjoy themselves. Mariflores’ beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean, as well as the food that one can enjoy while gazing into the horizon, makes it an easy place to like. Yesterday, I tasted a dish called “Causa Fashion”, which consisted of fried shrimp set daintily on top of dollops of lemon-flavoured mashed potatoes. My description may not do this dish justice, but hopefully the picture will.

Today, we are headed for a tour of Pamplona. “Be prepared to hike!” said Sunita, one of the MEDLIFE interns. After our hike, we will also find out what groups we are in for the clinics and development project. Can’t wait!

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!!!

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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.

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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.

¡High! in the Mountains of Catequilla-Chambo.

DAY 6 –  ¡High! in the Mountains of Catequilla-Chambo.

by Ji Hyun Yoon

Today the group set off to Catequilla-Chambo, a region located at the lower part of a mountain. The village was much more small in size and population compared to the ones previously visited which were located higher up in the mountains.

I worked at the dental station and assisted Tanya, the dentist, in treating over 30 people. The tasks I was responsible for included sterilizing the used tools with alcohol, handing the appropriate tools and supplies to Tanya, and comforting the patients during the treatment. It was a good opportunity for me to learn the names of the dental tools in Spanish and what they were used for. For example, carpul was used to inject the anesthetic into the gum, while gutaperchero was used to spread the cavity sealant on the tooth. Another tool named explorador was used for scraping out the plaques in between the teeth. Patients were treated with fluoride in prior to protect their teeth, where most of them were children who had rotten or wobbly tooth. For most of the times, cavity sealant was used to treat a rotten tooth but in severe cases the tooth had to be plucked out. There was one case in which an eight-year-old girl had broken roots and a few projecting tooth in wrong positions. Due to long periods of negligence the pus in her gum had decayed the gum so much that it could not absorb the anesthetic. It was tough for her to tolerate the pain of plucking the tooth out; all I could do was hold her hands. There was another woman who had dental problems that gave discomfort in everyday life that was impossible to solve since they were left that way for such a long time. Earlier treatments would not have led to such situations. Seeing those people in pain due to inaccessibility to simple treatments made my mind heavy and made me once again appreciate the benefit of the available health care that we have back home.

Taking part in MEDLIFE brigade provided me with so many valuable experiences. Being able to work right beside professional doctors and dentists and assisting them is not a common experience that one can get at our age; it is a chance for me to encounter various aspects of medicine and move one step further toward my dreams. In addition, although we are here to help these people, I feel that I am the one who is learning and gaining from them as days go on. I could sense that speaking different languages is not a problem at all in conveying feelings of gratitude and sincerity towards each other.

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