Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Art of Medicine

Where do I even begin? We arrived in the beautiful country of Guatemala a few days ago, but already my life has been changed. On our first day, we arrived in Guatemala City late so we spent the night in a hotel there. When we woke up in the morning, from our hotel room we could see a volcano billowing smoke. It was a wonderful surprise since we didn't even know it was there! That day we had a long car ride to our village. All of us were wide-eyed and excited to see Guatemala City and the country. We drove around mountain after mountain after mountain. The sights we saw were absolutely breathtaking. We arrived at our hotel which was in the middle of a marketplace. I was so surprised to see cars, motorcycles, tuk tuks (cute little glorified golf carts), stray dogs, and people all sharing one tiny cobblestone street.

After dropping our personal belongings off at the hotel, we ventured fourth to the clinic. More winding up steep roads brought us up to our workplace for the next week. I’m not sure how the clinic doesn't slide off the mountain. It’s perched upon the steepest hill I've ever seen. I don’t know how the vans made it. The view is absolutely gorgeous though! Our backdrop everyday is a massive volcano sitting behind the shining lake. The countless pictures I've taken don’t even begin to capture the essence of this place! After picking up our jaws from the ground, we began setting up for the day. My first shift was in pharmacy so I helped Nurse Cathy set up and organize all of the medications we brought. I learned to read scripts, fill prescriptions, and mix antibiotics from suspensions. It was incredibly exciting and Nurse Cathy’s stories from the Emergency Room made the day even better.

On Monday I worked with Dr. Lauri, who treated all of the kids, and Dr. Richard, who treated everyone else. Dr. Lauri was very much surprised when an entire first grade class came with their teacher. The kids were all very cute and generally healthy, but I learned the importance of having a documented medical history. Dr. Lauri did the best she could to treat whatever problems they reported, and we gave deworming medicine to all of them, but since the teacher was the only information we had, the physicals weren't as thorough as we would have liked. Knowing that I want to go into optometry, Dr. Lauri also showed me all of the tests she does on a child to detect eye complications. I was incredibly grateful for that and I could never get sick of watching her examine a child’s eyes. Lunch was prepared by women from the village and consisted of some sort of beef, tortillas (which are at every meal), guacamole, and salsa. I have to say, the salsa was the most delicious salsa I've ever tasted, and it was nice to have a homemade Guatemalan meal.

After lunch I worked with Dr. Richard (Nurse Cathy’s husband). I was very lucky to get to be with both doctors on one day! Dr. Richard was extremely thorough in explaining everything to us. I learned the proper way to write scripts and he taught us all about the importance of taking a correct blood pressure (and was very patient with teaching me as I’d never done it before!). We saw a few infections and gave a pregnancy test which were exciting! Richard also knew I wanted to go into optometry so during down time so he showed a group of us how to use an opthalmoscope and how to examine an optic nerve. I've shadowed optometrists before so I've done all of that, but that didn't stop me from shaking with excitement! Everything that I learn makes me that much more passionate about my future career.

My overall experience so far has been absolutely amazing! Everyone here is very willing to teach us and I've learned more than I ever could in a classroom. The most valuable thing I've taken away so far is the art of medicine. As Richard told me, it can be easy to take the easy way out and assume something about a patient, but doctors have to be incredibly thorough, caring, and even creative to treat a patient correctly. You have to be willing to go to a lot of lengths to look after the well-being of a patient. It’s so beautiful seeing the passion they have for medicine and for serving the people of Guatemala. It’s been a wonderfully irreplaceable experience and I feel so blessed to be part of it.

Kathy Kathmann
March 4, 2014

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