Wednesday, January 7, 2015


We always hear in the United States about how far a smile will go. It can say a thousand words, but what words are these smiles trying to convey? Back home, and even at Xavier, smiles can come off as forced, fake, or even devious at times. Smiles are something taken for granted, and the emotional significance behind them has been in decline as I have aged in the USA.

I never noticed a smile during our journey throughout the Cincinnati or Atlanta airports. I'm positive that people were smiling genuinely there, I just never noticed that happening during my time there. Every person was just another face, and they faded out of my memory as quickly as they entered. This all changed during the flight down to Guatemala City, when a young boy of no more than three, most likely a privileged Guatemalan, started to make faces at me, the tall American boy seated across the aisle. For the duration of our descent into Guatemala City, we had the most intense staring contest I have ever competed in, but finally he cracked. I had won, but more than the trivial contest on an airplane. When that boy blinked and lost focus on me, he giggled and his mouth beamed into the purest smile I had ever seen. Just the genuine joy and excitement behind that smile motivated me for the rest of this journey.

My arrival into our remote mountain clinic came with much suspense and nervousness. I was signed up to do triage the first day, with our amazing nurse Stephanie Ibemere. Spanish is not my greatest intellectual gift, and I was terrified to be the person to greet patients and take their vital signs prior to seeing either Dr. Walter or Dr. Pramuk. The first patients were terrifying to be honest, and the uncomfortableness of the situation would have been quite evident if observed. Yet, once there was a break in the tidal wave of initial patients, there were no patients to be seen in triage. Patients were in the waiting room, and a majority of them were children. To pass the time, we went over and began to play with them; blowing bubbles, playing soccer, or just coloring. And the smiles lit up our little dark corridor that welcomed the patients to their visits. That first day was filled with smiles I will never forget, as people were so grateful and appreciative of even the vital signs that were being taken by the triage team. It was so moving for me to experience those smiles first hand, and I'm positive that other people experienced the same feelings that I did as well during that first day.

The main reason that I decided to write a blog about smiles was because of an experience I had while shadowing Dr. Walter both yesterday and today. To abbreviate the story, an older asthmatic patient required a new medicine to control her breathing. I had taken that medicine before, and was able to show her how to use it herself. It was extremely gratifying, but pales in comparison to when I walked into the exam room for the patient's return visit today. When I walked in, I received such a beautiful smile from the woman, as if all of her symptoms she presented with yesterday were alleviated. Exams would show that her lung functioning had improved, and the woman was so thrilled that she was breathing and could sleep consistently throughout the night. That smile will be ingrained in my memory forever, as it was one of thankfulness, blissful joy, and love that I rarely noticed back home. Our patient's smile reminded me why I want to pursue a career in medicine. The power behind that smile was surrounded with humility and gratitude. It showed how impactful the relationship is between practitioner and patient, and it just reiterated the human aspect behind medicine. Our little mountain clinic hopefully made that woman's life just a little better. Little does she understand the impact that her smile made on me.

Cooper Quartermaine

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