Sunday, May 10, 2009

Playing Doctor for a week

This last week I helped on my first medical mission from the states. It is customary for a Peace Corps volunteer to help translate for doctors when they come down to help sick people and then rave about how great it was on their blog. So here it is:

They came down from Boston and are associated with the Catholic Church so most of our week had a lot of call and response praying in Spanish. We went to the Sunday mass when they first arrived. At one point the congregation sang a song to the tune of The sound of silence by Simon and Garfunkle. I laughed and elbowed my friend because I figured that the Catholic Church ripped off a 70’s folk song, to my dismay, I was informed by my friend Dave that Simon and Garfunkle had actually ripped the song off of an old Spanish folk song called The Condor Passes, or something like that. I trusted Dave’s explanation because his last name is Garfunkle and he looks like Paul Simon (which makes him an expert on 70’s folk and other music that puts me to sleep). After the mass we met all the doctors and went to check out Constanza’s hospital and the clinic that that they were setting up for long term patients.

The doctors quickly got the idea about how the medical system works down here when we took a tour of the hospital and saw that it was pretty much a bunch of empty rooms. There wasn’t really equipment to treat anything. They also got to see the degree of racism between Haitians and Dominicans when we saw a Haitian man who had been hit between the eyes with a machete in the middle of the night by a Dominican neighbor who didn’t want him in the neighborhood. The man had a 3-inch gash coming vertically down his scalp to his forehead. We also went to the prenatal room where there was still blood on the floor from the recent births, so that gave them an idea about the level of hygiene in the hospitals.

We ate most of our meals at the nun’s house, she was a pretty good cook and she had a pretty solid team of nun sidekicks who knew how to make all kinds of juice. I think I gained some weight this week with all the food. We stayed at a hotel outside of town that was quite nice. Joel, Dave, Cecilia, Lobo (yeah, they even let him stay with us!) and I had a hotel suite to ourselves that had a balcony and wi-fi, it was close to living the live of a millionaire.

During the week the group would set up a clinic at elementary schools in the area and people would come by the hundreds to be helped. There were three teams of general practice doctors, a dentist and a gynecologist. I spent a couple days translating for the dentist. It was a good time and I didn’t have to worry about translating too much because you only had to know two phrases “This is going to hurt a little bit” and “It’s ok, we are almost done.” There was a lot of pulling teeth; I think we did 8 on the first day and 6 on the second. I figured out why people say “its like pulling teeth” when something is difficult. The dentist became a good friend of mine and Joel’s as we did the translating/calming of crying children for her throughout the week. I was traded about midweek with Joel and I started doing the general practice stuff while he was on dental. It was fun; I felt like a doctor, people have already started stopping by my house when they have headaches, back pains or diarrhea. It was a lot calmer than pulling teeth.

The week flew by and we were all sad to say our goodbyes as the doctors and nurses left yesterday. Between the good feelings of helping people, the boston accents and all the fun after the long day of hard work I would say this week was one of my more enjoyable experiences in the Peace Corps thus far.

Here is a link to their blog of the trip if you anyone wants a little more detail about what actually happened, I think they have a picture page on there too:

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