Saturday, November 29, 2014

War Against Disease

While seven hours of training and thorough lectures regarding common diseases and illnesses theoretically prepared us to work with local patients, reality did not fully hit our group of 24 students the next morning until we marched up and down winding dirt roads in our newly donned medical scrubs. Our volunteer site was a local primary school neatly decorated with mini Nicaraguan flags as banners. As children played in the soccer field across the road and ran through the school, we quickly entered the school to set up our pseudo clinic by bringing school chairs out to the front of the school into intimate consulting circles of 4-5 chairs. We continued our preparation by arming ourselves with stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, thermometers, and patient intake forms. Finally, we were ready to go into battle – a war against disease. We divided ourselves into teams of 2-3 students aided by a local interpreter and slowly a certain kind of nervousness and anticipation set in as we patiently waited for our first patient to sit down. One team member tackled the job of measuring the patient’s vital signs while the other team member worked with the interpreter to fully understand the patient’s primary health concern. Once the patient intake form was completed with questions regarding past medical conditions and current health concerns, the Nicaraguan doctors volunteering with us would rotate through groups in order to attend each patient in a timely manner. Through trial and error, we learned how to most effectively speak with each patient particularly when older patients had difficulty understanding the objective of a question. And like most tasks, we occasionally faced a random challenge. For example, my partner and I would take turns entertaining the patient’s children while the other continued with the regular routine. Above all, we strove to keep calm and cheerful attitudes with the patients as they clearly respected us as medical professionals and thus deserved equal respect back.

By the end of our first volunteer day, we had seen a wide range of cases varying from common colds to fungal skin infections. With a single day of volunteering, the volunteer doctors quickly shaped us into inquisitive disease seeking investigators. It was amazing to realize how attune we became to looking for specific symptoms and warning signs of particular diseases. On the first day alone we attended about 100 patients in about 5 hours. While this figure was rewarding to hear, it was important to also place the situation in perspective. These individuals were traveling long distances on foot or bicycle in order to receive the “basic” ibuprofen or vitamin prescription at no cost to them. It is truly amazing how easy it is to take for granted the ability to purchase these goods so effortlessly off the shelves of a store in the United States. It is these kinds of revelations that are not truly understood and appreciated until one is face to face with the true-life situation. But these revelations further fuel the necessity of continuing the aid we provided this community. As we headed back to our homes for the night, we mentally prepared ourselves to continue our war against disease for the next two days. This time, excitement for a new battle filled our spirit to replace our initial nervousness. ​


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