Hola familia y amigos!
Today is already our seventh day in Guatemala. I can't even begin to describe to you all the experiences that all of the other students, our medical professionals and I have been through. I will try to show you a piece of what we've been through. I will start with our first day in the clinic...
Since I was in middle school, I've always known I want to be a pediatric dentist. So you can imagine I was a little bummed when I found out that I wasn't going to be at the dental station until Thursday. Instead, I started in pharmacy. What I expected to be just a day learning about different drugs and filling bottles with pills turned out to be one of the best days. For the first time I am reconsidering a future in dentistry. In the pharmacy, I got to spend the whole day with Cathy. She is an amazing human being. She let me do all of the work, while shared different facts about the drugs or stories about her experiences in many years in the ER. What makes her so different is that she doesn't just worry about my learning everything there is to know about every drug; she also takes the time to get to know me better and let me learn all about her. I appreciated every single story she told me, even those about how she met Richard! Cathy is such a great person, caring for each of us and making sure we are all having a great time. While in the pharmacy, filling the prescriptions and interacting with the patients about how to take their medicines made me so happy. Words cannot describe how much I enjoyed the job - it didn't even feel like I was working!
Monday and Tuesday were spent in Antigua. We toured the city and learned about the architecture and the history. On Monday night, Lauri told us the story of the process she and her husband went through when they adopted two of the most beautiful kids from Haiti. There was not a dry eye in the room. Hearing how she just knew those kids were hers and seeing the joy and love in her face makes me hope that I can be a mother like that one day. She really has influenced me into further considering adoption, along with having my own children, in the future.
We celebrated an amazing New Year together as a group. All 12 of us, plus Katie, left the hotel together, and we all stayed together. Ringing in 2013 with such a group of friends proves to me that this year will be a great one with great friends. Experiencing New Year's Eve somewhere completely different than the USA with my parents was very interesting. We all were in the middle of the city in the square. There were two huge lighted signs, one that said “2012” and another, not yet lit, that said “2013.” We had no idea what to expect because there was no "ball" to drop. We thought there might be a countdown, but no! At about 11:55 fireworks started shooting off. The next thing we knew, Tess said, "Guys, it's already 12:03!" We completely missed midnight! At about 12:10 the 2012 sign went dark and the 2013 sign lit up. It was OFFICIALLY 2013...only ten minutes late! Oh, and according to Rabbi, CJ and Sara got married while we were there. When we returned from Antigua Tuesday afternoon, we did some shopping before dinner. I mention this because we had quite an experience watching Adrian shop. Many people walk through the streets selling their handmade goods, like scarves, bracelets, and headbands, and come up to us asking us to buy. Adrian just couldn't say, “No.” She thought they were so cute. It started out with just a few headbands and eventually turned into scarves and more. It is the running joke whenever we go out shopping!
On Wednesday, we were back in our clinic! For the morning shift, I was in charge of taking the patient's blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen level, and temperature. At first it was hard to communicate with the patients because I am not the best at Spanish. But, I quickly realized it wasn't that important. A smile is a smile in every language. When I would give a patient a smile, I could see the patient relax just a little bit more. When a smile would creep across the patient’s lips, I knew I was doing something right. All of my knowledge from Mrs. Phillips’ healthcare class was paying off! The best part of this job was taking vitals on the babies. Even though it was a challenge at times, the infants seemed so innocent. I got to hold a few children for their mothers - a miracle on its own. In the afternoon, I was in the exam room with Lauri. She is my role model. I'm pretty sure she could convince me that eating dirt was good for me. The amount of knowledge Lauri has is amazing, and the way she can calm a child and still assess him amazes me even more. As she would examine a child, she would walk Tom and me through her thinking and diagnostic process. What amazed me the most was how much she knows about every part of the body. She is a dentist, optometrist, and pediatrician all in one. She can look at a child's eye with a light and know immediately if glasses were needed. She even taught Tom and me how to look into the eyes and see the retina, which she didn't have to take the time to do at all. She can look inside a mouth and immediately see cavities, decay, and where teeth were extracted. While Tom scribed for her, I got to write all of the prescriptions out, since she knew how much I enjoyed being in pharmacy. While I was shadowing Lauri, a two-month-old baby came in with his mother and older brother. His older brother had a cold and the mother thought the baby was also sick. Lauri could have easily treated everyone with cold medicine, but instead decided to give the infant a closer look and fully determine what was wrong. Cathy took a rectal temperature for better results. This baby had a 102.5-degree fever. In the U.S., he would immediately be hospitalized for multiple tests. Lauri didn't know if the baby just had a bad cold or if it were something worse. The big problem... we aren't in the U.S. where we can get the infant to the hospital with no problem. Lauri had to make a quick medical decision. If she let this baby go with cold medicine, his condition could worsen and he could possibly die. Being the great person she is, Lauri got the people she needed and eventually figured out how to get this baby to a hospital. Whether this baby only has a cold or something worse wrong with him, Lauri made the correct decision. The next day, we got word that the baby was going to stay in the hospital for another few days. If this was only a cold or virus, the hospital would not keep him there. Lauri's medical decision may have saved this baby's life. Later that night, I got a chance to get to know some of my teammates a little better. Lauri, Adrian, Julia, and I were in a group. By looking at each of our pasts, we found similarities in our lives that led us to be the people we are now and why we are so passionate about what career we all want to pursue. This bonding continued after the reflection when Tess, Grace, CJ, Ashley, Stephanie, and I sat in the room for hours and just talked about our lives. This really brought our friendships to a whole new level instead of just a friendship that will only last for this mission trip. I have gained so much respect for the people on this trip who share their stories of struggle with me. By sharing my own, I learn so much more about myself.
Thursday we were in the clinic again! This time I was with Richard in the morning. We have decided that Richard is like Winnie the Pooh. He is one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met. He has a desire to help people that not many doctors show these days. One of the most important things I learned from Richard is the importance of accuracy and getting all of the needed information to properly diagnose a patient instead of giving up and going with an option that you guess is right at first glance. For example, a woman who had a history of high blood pressure and high glucose came into the exam room. Richard showed us her past charts that said about a year ago she was placed on medicines to lower her blood pressure and lower her glucose. When her vitals were taken prior to coming into the exam room, both levels were normal. As she is on medicines that would seem right...or so we thought. Richard asked her about what medications she was on, and she admitted she had stopped her medications...one just last week. She said that she had had diarrhea for the past year, but it stopped about a week ago. Ok, so maybe the medicine is causing the diarrhea. Richard could have just put her back on the medicines since they seemed to help last time, but instead he took a step back and reassessed the situation. If she was off the drugs shouldn't her blood pressure and heart rate be back up? If they stay at a normal number without medication, we shouldn't put her on any drugs that are unnecessary. Richard told her to come back to the clinic in a few weeks and have her vitals taken again to see if they change. If they went back up, they would put her on a lower dosage of the drugs to hopefully avoid the diarrhea. Richard didn't take the easy way out by just looking at her history and refilling a prescription just to get to the next patient. He may have wanted to get to see all the patients waiting for him, but he taught me speed is not what medicine is about. If you miss something and give the wrong drug to a patient, they might get sicker, or in the worst case, die. The need for patience and detective-like skills, as Richard says, is so important in the medical field.
In the afternoon, I was in dental and I couldn't have been more excited. I brought children into the extra bathroom and let them pick out a toothbrush and then put toothpaste on the brush for them. I expected they all would brush their own teeth, with maybe a little assistance from me. The first patient did it all herself as I told her to make circular motions and to make sure to get the back teeth and the tongue. However, as I went to hand the toothbrush to the next little boy, he left his arms by his side and opened his mouth, showing me all of his teeth. Brushing his teeth, while telling him what I was doing, was such a great time! I have never actually brushed someone's teeth for them, but as weird as this sounds, I loved it! I love working with children's teeth because most of them do not have as much decay, they are baby teeth so they are in the process of losing them, and you can work on prevention with them. This solidified even more the fact that I want to go into pediatric dentistry.
As I type, I am sitting next to Cathy on our packed van on our way back from San Marcos. We left this morning at 7 am and took the four-hour journey to the city that experienced a 7.5 earthquake just a few weeks ago. The second we got there, we all went full force into helping the people of this community. Within minutes, the pharmacy was set up and I found myself working with Cathy, Julia, and Malia. What a great team! Julia would get the prescription and record it, I would make the suspension or count the pills, and Malia would make the labels and give them to the patients. Cathy's nursing skills were needed all over the clinic, so she was in and out. Tess, Ian, and Grace took vitals and were on a roll! I walked over at one point and they all looked the professionals! And the smiles on their faces as they helped these people were so inspiring to look at. Especially Tess. I watched her as she took blood pressures, and her body language communicated her passion for what she was doing. CJ and Sara worked with eyeglasses, and the rest of the students were with Lauri and Richard. Lauri and Richard did such an amazing job today. In three hours we got through more than 40 patients - amazing. At the very end of our time there, we handed teddy bears to all of the children. This was such an exciting experience to be able to give something that is so common in our lives to children who probably don't have stuffed animals to play with and sleep with every night. Last night we did a reflection where one person pretended to be a child from Guatemala and another person was themselves. In this part of the reflection I had to be myself. We were asked what our favorite possession was. Right away, I answered, “Fluffard.” Fluffard is my stuffed dog that I have had since I was born. He is at college with me and Tess even talked me into bringing him here with me, so he is currently in my hotel room! As I handed the teddy bear to the children, I just knew that this would be a favorite possession to at least one of those children.
Enjoying dentistry so much and having it be my passion for the past 8 or so years and loving working in the pharmacy has me so confused right now. I never thought that something would ever make me think about another career, but for some reason working in the pharmacy is so enjoyable. Maybe it is also because I am a chemistry nerd and the pharmacy deals with so much chemistry. I can just imagine my mom at her computer reading this, her elbow on the table, her hand in a fist under her chin, shaking her head with a smile on her face. She's probably thinking to herself, "Really, Kiersten? After taking the DAT and preparing to apply to dental school this summer, you’re just now rethinking this decision?" Haha, we'll talk about this when I get home, mom!
As for sicknesses, only a few of us have gotten a little sick. We all pretty much recovered in about 24 hours, which is great! We all are enjoying this trip so much and learning so much about Guatemala, the people of Guatemala, and ourselves. We realize how fortunate we are and how we need to help those not as fortunate as we are. Thank you to everyone who has made this trip possible!
Malia says, "I love you all so much and I miss you."
Lauri says hello to all her familia!
Rabbi says, "The opportunity to serve to people impacted by the earthquake in San Marcos was one I will treasure forever. As one of our students Sara said: this puts a face to the word earthquake."
Ian says that he loves his parents, he's having a great time and he will call you when he gets home because he needs his stuff! He got his brother's email and he will still not see the Great Gatsby with him.
Julia says hello and how's it going!
Katie says hello to her awesome roommates and the best family ever!!
Fieger fam - Sara talks about you a lot! She misses you!!
Steph says Mom, Dad, and Anthony hello!!
Richard and Cathy say hello to Josh, Erica, Michael, Lily, and Nicole!
The perfect child says hello to her family and Tony!
Tess says to tell her mom that she cannot wait to tell her all about her experience!!
Mom and dad- I want to go out to eat when I get home to tell you everything! Love you mom, dad, Ty, and my amazing friends!!