Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Medical Missions

            Throughout the semester, we have shared ILAC with various visitors – youth groups, retreats, weddings, etc. The most exciting of these visitors are the medical missions. These are groups that come from the U.S. to work at the clinic for a weekend, or even a week. We have been lucky to meet many of the medical groups over the course of this semester: occupational therapy, dermatology, gynecology, hernia, ENT, and orthopedics teams.
            When we first arrived at ILAC, we shared the campus with the occupational therapy group. This group was very welcoming and played a major part in out first few weeks in the DR. We did Zumba in the breezeway with Dawn and a group of OT students – sometimes a few of the women at ILAC would even join in! One of the professionals with the group, Suzanne, was especially significant. She spent a lot of time talking with us gringas (she even came to our party to learn to dance merengue and bachata with us!) and gave lots of advice on CONANI and school. This group was very meaningful those first few weeks, and set us up for a good semester to follow.          
The medical teams that come to ILAC are a great opportunity for Encuentro students to get involved. The teams really want to involve you in what they’re doing and are happy to find places for students to observe or help out. As a nursing student, I was looking forward to this part of the semester and tried to get involved with as many of the missions as possible. The days I spent in the clinic ended up being one of the best parts of the semester for me.
Over fall break, the ENT team stayed at ILAC. This was the first group I really helped with and, as I said before, these medical groups really want to help students and get them involved.  I started off shadowing consultations with a Dominican doctor. The doctor I was shadowing took the time to explain what was going on it the consultations – what he was looking for, why he asked certain questions, the criteria to qualify for surgeries, the tests he used, medications, everything! I left that day knowing more about tonsils and adenoids than I might ever need to know.
I spent one entire afternoon in the operating room, watching tonsillectomies and adenoidectomies. This was a great experience for me to ensure that I could actually stomach surgeries – I was always nervous I’d get to nursing clinicals and not be able to handle it, but after that afternoon I now know that I’ll be fine. This was also a chance to experience firsthand the atmosphere in an operating room, to learn the different roles, and to see surgeries up close. Again, as with the consultations, the team members in the operating room explained everything they were doing, why they were doing it, and told plenty of stories of their own experiences. The group made me feel so welcome, I felt like a member of the team. I even had my own role by the end of it – since I know Spanish, it was my job to go find the kids in pre-op and talk with them on the way to the OR, to make things less scary. 
The last part of the mission I spent in post-op. I helped there with whatever was needed. I helped translate for the nurses and patients, brought warm blankets, gave out Skim-Ice popsicles and juice to the patients, and made up goodie bags. There was always something to do, and it was easy to feel useful. Post-op was also a place where I could get to know the other volunteers better. I could talk with the nurses and pharmacists, the Peace Corps volunteers that were helping translate, and the Dominican nurses, Francisca and Ana. I quickly felt like I was a part of the community they formed working in post-op.  
            In early November, the hernia team came. This time, I stayed entirely in post op, because there was a shortage of translators. I was quickly adopted by the staff there, and became the sort-of mentee to one of the nurses, Bobbi. She took me under her wing, and taught me all about the machines, processes, paperwork, and more. I did my part to help by translating and helping find water, blankets, family, etc. Every minute I was in post-op, there was something for me to help with, or to learn, or advice for me to listen to.

Nurse Bobbi and me
Each of these experiences with the medical missions was invaluable to me. Helping in the clinic showed me what my potential future might look like, by allowing me experience what a day as a nurse – albeit a very atypical day – might look like. That sort of experience is hard to find in the U.S. Yes, I can shadow nurses and doctors in Omaha, but not the same way. Here I was able to be highly involved and form relationships with the other volunteers. The sort of work I was able to do in the clinic helped me affirm my vocation to be a nurse. It also confirmed for me that I need to continue to work on Spanish, because it is so important to be able to communicate with one’s patients. I was so surprised that the majority of the volunteers I helped new so little Spanish, it made me want to learn more so that I wouldn’t have to worry about that particular language barrier. Lastly, each volunteer I worked with left me with their own advice and guidance regarding my future, and I know that’s what I’ll look back on as I continue to study.

Showing off my scrubs

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