Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pop Wuj Clinic

Here I am, back from my first shift as a doctor in Guatemala!

I had a ton of fun working in the Pop Wuj Clinic. I got to do what I love -- medicine somewhere totally new. All the staff (ie- med student volunteers, a guatemalan doc and one nurse) were super friendly. I have to say, though, the gem of the experience yesterday was the patients.

These are people from a wide cross-section of guatemalan life. I had a 24 year old woman who hasn´t had a menstrual period in a year and is desperately trying to find out why however she can´t afford the neccessary lab tests.

An 11-year-old boy who looked about 8 was brought in by his school teacher for concern of malnutrition. The school was concerned and had been saving for 2 weeks to have enough money to pay the 20Q ($2.50) fee to be seen in the clinic. His family did not know the school was bringing him.

An affluent woman who refused to take the free meds from the clinic -- she said to keep them for those who need them. She would buy hers at the pharmacy if I would write down what she needed.

My favorite patient of the day was my last. At the end of the morning a single couple still sat in the waiting room -- an old woman in tradition al Mayan dress accompanied by a younger woman in a T-shirt and Jeans. It would be difficult to exemplify the changes Guatemala has undergone in just 1 generation better than these two did.

My patient was the old woman. She was weatherbeaten and deeply tanned with dry, leathery skin. Her face was beautiful -- wrinkled and wide open with bright, laughing eyes and a constant smile. As soon as I call her into the exam room, she smiles, hugs me and kisses my cheek. She is tiny -- barely 4´6" and was wearing the traditional layers upon layers of brightly colored mayan dress and her hair was in long pigtail brains with ribbons hanging down her back. She should have been on the cover of a National Geographic.

Despite the differences in their appearance, the woman and her daughter were the same. Smiley, laughing, open people with significant caring for each other and those around them. They were a pleasure to muddle though my spanish with.

Fortunately her complaints were simple -- I diagnosed her with arthritis and a corneal abrasion. Ibuprofen, eye drops and out the door. I asked her to return in 2 weeks for a check of her eye -- I look forward to seeing her again. Her memory is one of guatemala I will cherish always. My beautiful laughing mayan grandmother.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Destination: guatemala

Hi all! (or no one considering how long it has been since my last post)...

I decided that it was time to re-visit this whole blog concept. Lots of things happening in my life. Getting married, becoming a senior resident (scary!) and currently spending a month working in a clinic in beautiful Guatemala.

At the last minute in a five-week rush I managed to arrange an away elective at a medical clinic in the city of Quetzaltenango (Xela). The clinic is located at a spanish language school called Pop-Wuj. Xela is a city located in the mountains of Guatemala about 4 hours by bus from Guatemala City.

In fact, let´s start there. THE BUS. My introduction to life in Guatemala. A smoke-belching old-style greyhound. Comfortable enough to sleep on, yes? ... until you put it onto a guatemalan mountain. And give it a driver who doesn`t like to shift gears. As we went careening up sides of mountains and down into valleys around classic 180-degree turns there was no sleeping, just lots of falling over. On the few and far between straightaways rather than shift up and then down again, the drive just ploughs ahead and the whole bus shakes. Not a little tremor. You know that dance move where you shake your shoulders so your boobs fly back and forth? The boobs, they were a flyin´. Halfway through the trip I also discovered that the seat part of my seat was not attached to the back part. Added entertainment. However, we got to Xela in 3 hours instead of 4.5, so no overall complaints.

The bus ride was also amazingly beautiful - driving through little town and small cities, up into the clouds and then back out again. Women walking along the side of the road in brightly colored mayan dress. All beautiful.

Xela itself is a city known as the cultural capital of guatemala. There are literally innumerable spanish schools here as well as the two largest Guatemalan universities. Overall, the people who live here are very well off- no chickens or goats in the yard, cars, electicity, hot water, extra rooms in their houses to put up visiting spanish students such as myself. There is even a Wal Mart here in Xela (more evidence of america poisonning the world).

I am staying with a family which is... interesting. We`ll leave it at that for now. They are very nice and have been nothing but extremely hospitibal. The matriarch of this three-generation family was quietly waiting for me in the kitchen upon my arrival and promptly sat me down for a meal of rice, beans and tortialls. She also immediately noticed that I don`t like beans when I barely touched my half-plate full. Since my arrival the bean portions got smaller and smaller to the point where she doesn`t even put them on my plate anymore. Smart grandma :-). In fact, most of the time I interact with my host family is with grandma over meals in the kitchen.

Pop Wuj itself is a very interesting place. Currently it is overrun by medical students between their first and second years of medical school looking to get some clinical experience as well as improve their spanish. Other than the hired doctors (2), I am the only physician here. As a result, I was instantly asked "can you cover the clinic on Friday?" I have my army of medical students to oversee.

Pop Wuj as a school firmly believes in community service in all different forms in addition to learning spanish. In fact, all of us "newbies" have been in Cultural Competency class all week where we have been recieving lecures about guatemalan history, philosophy, mayan mysticism and traditional medicines from an AMAZING anthropology professor from one of the Universities. These are the kinds of phenomenal lecutres I wish I had in undergrad -- and they are all in spanish! With a little fuddling through and help from each other, the entire class is able to understand lecutres which jump from spirituality to quantum physics to botany all within a few minutes.

Tomorrow morning is my first shift in the clinic (as supervising physician, no less), so more on that at another time. For now, good bye!