Jesuit Medical Mission of Dallas absolutely brought good doctors and lots of medicine but their real focus is training the students how to be with patients.
With the whole crew and support team it was quite busy and crowded even before the first patients showed up.
Even so, I was able to get a sense of all the students. I was struck by their collegiality; how they assisted and coaxed each other and most by how serious and “on purpose” they could be when they were not otherwise horsing around.
At different times, I worked directly with Vinay Srinivasan, Sang Won Chung and Phillip Morton acting as their translator and sidewalk nurse –filling in the minimal paperwork , handing them their instruments – the BP meter and the battery operated thermometer and dousing them with hand sanitizer. And, I got to know Synyoung Li, Jimmy Nawalaniec and John Simion in bits and pieces, in between.
On the night of Day 3, we pulled into the Corazón del Bosque – so called “Heart of the Woods”.. It was more like the Corazón de la Carretera since we were right off the Pan Am Highway. Since I had promised “horrible,” I brought mints for the pillows and offered turn-down service to make up for the possibility of someone being carried away by a giant insect. But, to my delight, everybody loved the rustic ambiance.
When, at last we settled in to our bunk house, Jan admitted that she carried a hope that this trip would ignite a passion for medicine in the youngest student, Olivia.
Olivia laughed and said that was enjoying the trip entirely and would gladly be taking biology next year — since she had finished Physics and Chemistry -the prerequisits. Then, she said something I thought quite profound just before she tucked in, ” These people stand in a line all day for a few Tylenols that I can pick up anytime.”
Social Worker, Kathy Bennett told the story of how she was translating, when a woman came in with the usual symptoms back and head aches, pain all over. Kathy inquired further asking about her living situation and discovered the woman had been living in a tent with her husband and children, behind her abusive in-laws – for years, already.
Sang Won Chung was listening to this conversation and wanted to assist the woman. Kathy swore the patient to secrecy and told her they would go to the market and bring her two live chickens. The student understood the situation well enough to create a way of transforming the woman’s status in her own household. And, later , we would see the photos of this adventure over pizza at the completion dinner.
Day 4, the lines from outside moved in to fill five doctor’s rooms from 8:00 until 3:00. Dr. de Pena had come up to help and a Cuban doctor joined in. Everybody elected to skip lunch to get through the patients and give the pharmacy a chance to catch up before we headed back to Pana.
I had stayed out on the sidewalk doing intake and three adult patients in a row needed to be expedited to the Cuban doctor because of their high fevers.
Fortunately. John Simion was close by when a woman with 212/200 BP came in. He fairly danced that 80 year old to the back and got her seen – pronto, plus. I heard that the doctor immediately started her on BP medicine and wanted to send her to the hospital in Solola. She would not go. I may be wrong, but I think that that was a life and death case made more poignant since the woman had persisted after the gates had closed. She hovered until we could see her.
John figured, “She knew what she needed.”
As a treat for the visitors and an opportunity for the vendors, Santos had arranged for us to see the Nahuala weavers at work. Seeing these women on kneeling on their mats – doctor Yolanda remarked on how she had seen so many calloused knees and now understood that – entirely. Three sisters were calmly weaving while the chicks ran under their looms while we looked on and time stopped.
Vivamos Mejor hosted the completion dinner and everyone’s pictures were shown in more or less chronological order. Then Dr. Flores delivered a moving speech that Drew deftly translated and would later remark on how much he admired it.
This was one blown back blitz– despite the holdup at customs, JMM must have served at least 600 people.
I cannot sum this experience up any better than Kevin’s Mom: Mrs. Eva Garcia who said, regarding the trip, “There is giving of time and energy but, when a special kind of ‘love’-known as ‘caring – is added to the equation, it usually enriches the whole experience.”