The only thing I could see were small, mint colored dim flames surrounded by darkness as I worked on the weld. Although intimidating at first, I grew confident and got comfortable with molten metal flying about and a brightness that would permanently blind me if I took my mask off.
Over the weekend, I mingled with the other volunteers – Sofia, Harris and Danny, and climatized to the area. We had a great time, as we relaxed at the beach, played pick up football with locals and shared a large gladiator pizza in the evening. All of us were prepared and excited for the upcoming working week.
Rosa picked out questions from a bag and everyone went around to answer them. The questions were along the lines of "what is your dream" "where were you 10 years ago" "if you could have anything what could it be". Once again, I was reminded by the similarities we all share and the inherent connection we have with people all around the world.
Half an hour into it, we did an activity where we wrote on pieces of paper our fears and worries. That was where I noticed a change in the mood. As the papers were put into a box and pulled out anonymously by Katie to be written down on the white board, you could feel that each fear was resonating with the other women in the room. Fears of raising children correctly, having enough healthy food for everyone, having time to do everything and other worries of mothers I know reminded me of how connected we all are.
As I reflect on the past two weeks, I see personal growth. I see knowledge gained. I have only traveled internationally alone once before, and it was to China with a connection in Germany with a close friend waiting for me at the airport. The traveling adventures, to and from Peru, have forced me to act as an adult, fully responsible for myself. Nobody else was watching out for me.
Much of the material in the medicine class was interesting to me. Most notably, Dr. Neira reported that 34% of the children in the community the clinic serves have anemia. Contrary to popular belief, the problem in Peruvian families is not necessarily a lack of income, but a lack of wisdom on where to allocate their resources. Dr. Neira explained the difference between symptoms (described about a patient by a third party of by him or herself) and signs (a measurable result of illness). He then went through the process of a general examination with us, and taught us the main Spanish words to know when performing these. We then practiced general examinations on one another, and on one young girl from the community that had spent time with us during the class.
12:00 am: It was time for dinner: hot chocolate milk, turkey, applesauce, and fruitcake. After dinner, we opened presents. Mommy got us each a purse and earrings. The whole family, including myself, found great joy in watching Mary’s, our host sister, son open his Christmas presents. I was amazed by the thoughtful gifts exchanged between our family members.
This is where health education comes into play; it must start at the top of the ladder and trickle down. Government officials need to realize the flaw in this policy. Peruvian doctors need to understand the danger in over prescribing drugs to patients. Without understanding that bacterial strands can develop resistance to antibiotics, it seems like there would be no repercussions for giving out pills as if they were candy. Doctors also need to advocate for more restrictions on pharmaceutical distribution. Individuals need to be taught to take antibiotics seriously.
The last patient of the day was a 15-month-old boy with a 42-year-old mother. The young boy could not walk, was unresponsive to verbal cues, and had a fever of 38.6 degrees Celsius (101.5 Fahrenheit). According to medical records, he has congenital heart failure, Down syndrome, and growth stagnation.
It took coercing and candies to get many of the kids to hand over their arms, but this is important. They need to know early if they have anemia. It is worth the temporary pain of a finger prick. Peruvian medicine (and all other medicine) has to remember that preventing disease is far better than finding solutions to disease. This seems intuitive, but it is not always the applied practice.
I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to observe the obstetricians. They were great about explaining each part of the process to me as they went. They drew pictures, and answered the one million questions I asked. I am also thankful for Timothy who also answered a million questions for me and double-checked me on my initial blood pressure readings. Taking blood pressure non-electronically is harder than it seems (or at least it was for me, haha.)
After breakfast, Piero caught a taxi and took us into downtown Lima. We explored the city, walked through shops, and had a delicious lunch. By far my favorite event of the day was when we rode a bus to the top of San Cristobal. It was incredible to stand at the top of the mountain and look down on the massive, beautiful city of Lima.
I am not sure why seeing a stop in Cuba on my flight itinerary did not cause me to research the status of the airport or the requirements for being in transit in Cuba. Unfortunately, not doing proper research cost me $50 and a lot of unnecessary stress during my travels. The stress began when I was urgently removed from the airplane in FLL and called to the front desk. The plane was still being boarded when my name was called over the loudspeaker...