Saturday, January 21, 2012

Medical Mission

I spent the first couple of weeks of the new year out in the mountains (in the province of Santiago) on a Medican Mission. There is a group from the University of Southern Maine (students, teachers, and local doctors and nurses) who come in twice a year to run clinics for several small towns, and they ask PC to send volunteers to translate. Medical Missions are always popular with PCVs, so I was glad I got the chance to go on this one. I wasn't disappointed.
 Everyone kept telling me how beautiful it is out in the Cibao (the central region of the DR). There really was some spectacular scenery, although the rainy/foggy ('Bellingham') weather often obscured the view. In a typical day, the ~80 of us would split into two groups and each group would visit a different community. Patients would line up and be shown in whenever a medical provider was ready. The providers were usually med students under the guidance of an experienced nurse, and whenever possible we (the interpreters) would stay with the same student all day. The patients tell us their problems, we relay it to the student, the RN guides them along if they have any questions, and they check with a Physician to be sure of the diagnosis and medications.
A typical setup, this time in a church. We also set up in schools.
There was also a team of Athletic Trainers (and one Occupational Therapist) to help people with some aches and pains. They were notoriously difficult to interpret for, because they would describe obscure motions and excersizes and talk about ligaments and strange muscle groups. But they (along with everyone else in the group) were fun people to work with, so we could forgive their complicated language.

I've never done any interpreting before, and I really enjoyed it, although there were some difficulties. Obviously, there was complications whenever a patient used a word I didn't know ('gallbladder' wasn't a vocab word in my high school Spanish class). Also, we were supposed to use 'first person' interpreting, which means when a patient says, "me duele la pierna," should say "my leg hurts," instead of "she says her leg hurts." That style of interpreting allows the interpreter to fade into the background a bit more, but it was really difficult to get used to. Especially when I was helping a female patient with a yeast infection, and I had to tell the provider about my itchy vagina.

Besides translating for patients, I often helped run the program for kids. I opened with a short song, and then I translated while someone gave a quick lesson on nutrician and dental hygiene. We usually also painted their teeth with flouride and the doctors checked their hearts and lungs, but that was really just for fun, because if they actually had any problems or complaints they would have a full checkup along with their parents.
Kids gathered around for the nutrition lesson.
Our felt display, with some fruits and veggies in the 'good' category.
The first group I worked with, just before our song.
Your truly painting flouride on a girl's teeth. It apparently tasted pretty bad, because they'd stay still until we finished, and then run off spitting.
There were also small groups (couple of students, a doctor, an Athletic Trainer, and an interpreter) who would go out on home visits. Patients who could leave their house could receive in-home care. In one home visit, I saw a family with a formerly alcoholic father, a currently alcoholic son, a severely schizophrenic son, and a daughter with Down's Syndrome who has refused to leave her bed for eight months (and believe it or not, the mom has high blood pressure). We were able to supply some medications for the schizophrenic man and his mom, but there wasn't a lot we could do for the others. On another home visit, we checked up on a man who had recently started chemotherapy. He already had the meds he needed, and his family was taking good care of him. My favorite home visit, though, was this couple:

He's 89 and after multiple strokes is very limited in mobility. His 78 year old wife is amazing. She helps him move around, prepares the few foods for which he has any appetite, keeps track of all his medications, and still manages the housework. Her only complaint was occasional back pain after chopping firewood(!). She said they'd been together since she was 13 and had 11 children together (many of whom are around and helping out), and "either he'll take me to the grave, or I'll take him to the grave." The world needs more people and more marriages like this one (actually, better that they start a little later than 13 year old, but besides that).

The place we stayed was also really neat. It's a Claretian retreat center, and it had a wonderful serious of trails through the woods with signs displaying the Stations of the Cross. There was also a nice little chapel hidden back in the woods. The accomodations were fairly comfortable (at least by Peace Corps standards), we had hot meals prepared for us, and there was a group of women who did laundry every day. We Peace Corps Volunteers didn't get paid, but we also didn't have to pay anything to be very well taken care of for two weeks.
This guy was staying at the center with us.
This was definitely an experience I want to repeat in the future. I got to see old PC friends (and make some new ones), to meet some quality people coming in to run medical clinics, to help out a bunch of Dominicans who don't likely have any other medical care, to see another region of the DR, and to try my hand at semi-official interpreting. And I got to speak English and eat PB&J, and no PCV can refuse that!