Postcard: Medical Team Arrives

Just a quick recap of the last couple days. The Project Helping Hands team was supposed to arrive on Sunday, early afternoon. The weather had other plans for them. They were within spitting distance of the Cusco landing strip when the pilot announced they were heading back to Lima. They couldn’t get on another flight until Monday late morning. That meant that it was Jeff, me, and three Bolivian dentists running the clinic on Monday. Oh, and Cooper, because we found out he had the day off of school. Interesting to say the least. We had no team leader, and no medications except for a boat load of Amoxicillin leftover from a previous team. Jeff and Cooper helped the dentists blow up a giant tooth, and then we got to work. We saw about 30 patients between us, and the dentists rocked out seeing almost 50.


The team finally arrived, around 7pm last night. We met the rest of the team, sorted medications, and planned for the next day. Unfortunately the main “clinic bag” with all of our intake and history forms, medications lists, pens and notebooks did not quite make it from Lima. Roll with it.

This morning we held clinic at a school just up the valley in a small town called Sillacancha. img_6502We divided into three rooms: dentists in one, four medical providers in another, and five medical providers in another. They divided Jeff and I up so there would be an MD in each clinic space. We had one room that was the exam room, for patients that needed more privacy. Outside there were chairs set up for education. Our education director coordinated mini-lectures on hand washing, bullying, low back pain, and other topics.

I saw about 20 patients with chief complaints ranging from “I want reading glasses” to chest pain, anxiety, ear pain, “bitter mouth” (which is how patients describe heartburn here), and a ton of low back pain. When I ask what the patients do for work, I am amazed at the answers. I talked with a zucchini farmer this morning who not only does all the farming, but then loads the produce on her back and carries it to the market to sell. She sits hunched over moving and selling her product all day, then walks all the way back up to her farm in the mountains. No wonder she has back pain. She was thrilled and grateful for 28 tablets of Ibuprofen. I wanted to take her picture because I just loved her smile so much. But I felt like it might be invading her privacy, so I didn’t. The hardest patients are the ones that I can’t offer any solution or treatment. I saw several cataract patients, and one woman who was told she has ovarian cancer and what could I do for her? Heartbreaking. My most satisfying patients today were the ones who came for reading glasses and after going through all the different strengths found the “perfect” pair. One woman in particular stands out. She tried on four different pairs of glasses and finally found the one that made her eyes light up and her smile take over her face. Perfect.

Here is the group of nurses, PAs, NPs, and interpreters at lunch. img_6507My interpreter is fantastic. She speaks Quechua, so when I have a patient who doesn’t speak Spanish she jumps right in with the native language. She also helps me with some more intricate Spanish, and sometimes just helps me understand the very choppy Spanish some of these people speak.

We go back to the same school tomorrow. There will be more kids (it was a holiday today, so no kids came to school for classes today) and probably more adults too. Word gets around.

And just in case you need any toilet paper, each kid brings their own roll. I kinda love that there is a kid named Tom Willder in the class.


5 thoughts on “Postcard: Medical Team Arrives

  1. Your postcards/word pictures are truly transporting me. I have the sense of viewing a snapshot not only of your emotions and experience, some of what your interactions stir up in you, but also a mirror into my own filters and assumptions. You are a powerful and influential storyteller and writer, Elizabeth Lahti! ❤️❤️❤️ (Just sayin’). Niki


  2. Thanks for sharing this. I was worried about what blowing up a giant tooth was until I saw the picture.


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