Read this first to understand this post: Packing for Panama
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This was the longest week I have ever experienced. It took us a day to get to Panama despite living in Florida. Group traveling and saving money meant taking the road that was less traveled by. I have spent a few nights and long hours in airports before, but this was by far the most uncomfortable 10 hour layover in Colombia. However, we did finally make it to Chitre, Panama.
We stayed at a beautiful house, Hostal Villa Corrales, and we had it all to ourselves. It was in a very rural area with farmland to the left and right. The community that we were serving was nearby also. The first few days were difficult because there was no running water. The sinks, showers, and toilets were not running or working, and living in the middle of a desolate area made it uneasy after a hot day and hours of volunteering. We did eventually get running water.
Sunday – Survey Assessment
On the first day of clinicals, we had local nursing students guide us in the community as we survey the families about their health, concerns, and where they seek treatment. This survey will be used for research and future projects. It was quite a humbling experience hearing the concerns of the people. Us, students complained about not having running water at our hostel. These families lived in tiny homes with no reliable water or electrical system or bathrooms. I met a tiny woman who I thought was a child was actually a mother of 4 boys all under the age of five, and she was expecting again. She never went to a hospital and didn’t know how many months pregnant she was. They lived in a tiny brick house and her kids were wearing dirty clothes.
Everyday I live my normal life, and I don’t often think about how normal life is to others.
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Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday – Children and Adult Clinicals
The clinic was a small building that is far below the advancement of many medical office and clinics seen in the U.S. I believe that any person wanting to become a health professional should have experience serving poor and under-served communities.
On these days we spent a few hours in the morning and afternoon tending to the community. The people and the families in this community do not have easy access to health care because of their location and the cost of care. On occasions, the Ministry of Health and doctors will visit the clinic to provide care for this community. The group of students I went with were made of: pharmacy, medical, physical therapy, and public health students along with professional doctors. I mainly worked on health education with the minimal Spanish I knew, and triage patients by taking height, weight, and blood pressure. All of this was free, and were to benefit the adults, families, and children who came to the clinic. We gave families medicine, multivitamins, and supplies. We brought a large check-in luggage that was devoted to medicine and multivitamins.
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Everyone in the community was overwhelmingly generous and kind. On Sunday, I thought why would anyone let strangers into their home and let us ask questions about their health. In the U.S., everyone second guesses anyone who rings the doorbell. While in the community, I never had to worry or be concerned about my safety. It was an amazing experience, and I enjoyed so much of the hands-on experience. During this trip, I questioned my desire to become a doctor. I have no plans on entering medical school, but it did and still currently peaked my interest again.
I hope to be back again next year, and be more fluent in Spanish.