Heading into this trip, I had never been out of the country.
My parents were nervous about me getting around without any experience, but I was excited for what was in store. Anxious to get away, I rushed out of my finals week early in order to sightsee and travel other areas of Peru before my medical mission actually started. I traveled up and down the Sacred Valley, set my feet among the glorious Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, and even ate some of Cusco’s delicacies: Alpaca and Cuy (Yes, Cuy is a Guinea Pig, or in other words, a glorified way of describing a rat.) Although I really do recommend future volunteers to create extra time to go out and travel outside of your trip, my true growth came once the medical mission began in Lima.
We stayed in a hostel located in the heart of Miraflores. I couldn’t have asked for a better spot because there were so many different things to do around us. In our free time we were able to go to the beach, shop for souvenirs, and even got to experience a little bit of the nightlife that Peru had to offer. One night, the Peruvian national fútbol team had a game and it was really cool to experience the passion and intensity that was a part of their culture. We also biked up and down the coast, experienced the “Parque del Amor” in full effect, and spent valuable time at a nursing home in the city. We sure got to see a lot on this trip, but the most important things that I will be taking back are the relationships I built with my fellow team members and all of the families we were able to affect.
Our team was really able to connect with each other from day one.
A lot of this can be attributed to our beautiful coordinator, Laurita, who welcomed us all with open arms and treated us as if we were family. When I first met Laurita, she was so happy to see me. She was so genuine and I could tell that she was truly grateful for me being there to help out her community. Her excitement and love for life really was contagious and helped power our group to build a strong connection amongst ourselves. Our group was together 24/7 and I think this really helped us all get to know each other so well. Whether it was the countless hours stuck in Cesar’s van, waiting to leave a restaurant, or getting lost in Huacachina, we always made the most of our time spent together. By the end of the trip, I felt as if I had known a lot of my group for years rather than the one week that we were together.
As for the clinic days, those were all really special. I knew from day one that these were the days I was going to enjoy the most. When we first arrived at the Elementary school in Ventanilla, all of the kids came running up to us as if we were superstars. Some would hug us, some would stare, and others would try to mutter out a friendly “hello.” Regardless, you could tell that all of the kids and their family members were extremely thankful for us being there. As a volunteer, it was our job to rotate through various different stations. These stations included history & physical with a translator, vital signs, lab work, pharmacy, clinic leader, and observing the medical providers.
On the first day, I was required to work vital signs and H&P.
When my first patient walked in, everything seemed to get so real. All of my life I’ve grown up going to the doctor’s office and being amazed at how professional the process is. A PA or nurse would always see me first and record my H&P, vitals, etc. I never really thought about actually being in the shoes of the people on the other side of a typical doctor visit and that got me a little anxious! They were trusting me, the same college student that got stoked on a McDonald’s McFlurry the previous night, to act as the same medical professional that I grew up admiring. But as the day went on, I felt as if I truly became that medical professional. I’ll admit I was a little awestruck at first, feeling all fancy and cool wearing scrubs and a stethoscope around my neck. Yet, by the end of the morning, I was taking blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature as if it were second nature to me. The H&P was also one of the most beneficial experiences from the clinic days. I put myself in the medical professionals shoes and started thinking as if I were them. I would ask the patients the same questions that I had always heard growing up, “How severe is your pain on a scale from 1-10? Does it hurt at specific times during the day? How long has this been going on for?” This experience really corroborated my passion for medicine.
As I looked around the room, I noticed everyone else in our group enjoying their time as well.
The best part about these clinic days was that everyone was ALWAYS busy. I saw Pim running around trying to organize the patients into their correct order. James was sitting over in the corner laughing with a little boy as his mom was busy taking a urine test. Silvia was beautifully comforting a patient in pain. Katie, our Physical Therapist, was busy working with patients and handing out exercise routines for whatever musculoskeletal issues they were dealing with. Ivan was killingggg it at the H&P station by himself. I mean, he did speak fluent español, but watching him work with the community members was a great learning experience for me. Even Erin, our Physician Assistant, was able to work Solo as she was able to bring back the Spanish she used to know and then would take time to explain to us in English what was going on with the patient. And don’t even get me started on Sara’s use of Spanish… Muy, muy bueno! In fact, the language barrier was honestly one of the coolest parts about this trip. I came in with a very brief background of Spanish, having only taken it in high school, but I left this trip knowing a whole lot more. It also really helped me work on my non-verbal skills. Simple gesturing can go a long way in terms of getting the patients to understand what you’re trying to say.
At the end of the day, we would always reflect on what we were able to accomplish. We saw 250+ people per day and I am so proud of the hard work and effort everyone put into this. We truly became the professional medical providers that I grew up admiring, and we were able to run a fluid and well-functioning health clinic. We saw everything from worms, to parasites, to highly infected wounds, and kept a big smile while we were at it. Although it felt like it was over 100°F in some of those rooms, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Hearing that genuine “gracias” from every family and seeing them smile truly made me so happy. Many people come back from these types of volunteer abroad trips claiming that, “we are changing the world!” And I’ll be honest with you in saying that we aren’t. We’re hardly even changing the health of Lima as a city. But as for those 750+ patients that we saw, we made a difference in their lives. For that one patient who needed emergency attention, we may have saved her arm from being amputated. And although all of the vitamins and medicine that we donated will eventually run out, it makes me feel good knowing that it is being used where it truly needs to be. Perhaps, with some of the patient education, now these families will be able to make smart decisions on what to buy and when to use them. We made a difference in the lives of the people of that community in Ventanilla, and that’s what’s most important.
Not only did we help them, but they were the ones that truly made an impact on each and every one of our lives.
As I sit here, already struggling in week 2 of my Spring quarter, I think about Peru every single day. I miss Laura. I miss Sandro and Cha. I miss waking up at the Flying Dog Hostel and heading over to have my 3 pieces of toast, pineapple juice, one sunny-side up egg, and black coffee. I miss cramming into Cesar’s Van and listening to Rod Stewart and Enrique Iglesias, knowing that we’re headed out to see all of the community members in Ventanilla. And I really, really do miss my “sexellente” group members. This trip was something I will never forget, it has helped me understand what I really want to do in my life. From Rita, our local MD, all the way to Maca, el mejor hombre en Peru, thank you for everything. Thank you to Laurita, our strong, independent, older sister. Thank you to the members of Ventanilla, for allowing us to give care and get to know you. And a big thank you to all of my group members for allowing me to pick at each and every one of your brains. You all have a special place in my heart and I have learned so much from each and every one of you. I’ve been truly blessed to be a part of this program and cannot wait until my next iHelp Globally trip!
Muchos Besos y Amor,
Aspiring PT Student, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo