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Llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and the Apache Mountains are
known as a few of the natural beauties of Peru. Many tourists come
from all over the world just to try a tender alpaca steak or get
their hands on the extremely fine fibers of a vicuña
sweater. However, hidden behind Mother Nature's gifts are poverty
and many Peruvians in need of medical care.
Being a recent medical school graduate, I wanted to put my 4
years of medical school to the test and do what I always dreamed
of: helping those in need. Fortunately, with the help of Medical
Ministry International, I had the opportunity to go on a 2-week
medical mission trip to Arequipa, Peru.
After 14 hours of flying and an overnight layover, I landed in
Arequipa. The moment I stepped foot out of the airport, I was
immediately taken away by the beauty of three volcanoes: Chachani,
Misti, and Pichu Pichu. Once we arrived and settled in at the
hotel, we were fortunate enough to have 2 days to rest and explore
A few days later, it was time to put my game face on and start
taking care of patients! For the first 3 days, we went to a small
village called Socabaya. We set up our temporary clinic in the
village's YMCA building. I was amazed to see at least 50 patients
waiting outside the building. They were from all age groups:
seniors, children, pregnant women, and young adults.
The next clinic site was in a small town called Pedregal, which
is located 2 hours from Arequipa. Once we arrived, the reception
that we received was breathtaking. We were greeted by a standing
ovation. This was also my favorite locationbecause it was the
busiest and a unique setting. We had at least 75 patients lined up
and waiting for the team to arrive. We were so busy that we had to
set a limit of 100 patients that day, and chose to return 2 days
later so that we could accommodate those patients we had to turn
away. The unique setting was the town's local museum-which happened
to host not only mummies but also displays of several animals
preserved by taxidermy, including foxes, squirrels, and birds-was
the only place that could accommodate the patients. It is not often
that one can say that he or she has practiced medicine alongside
mummies and preserved animals!
In the last week, we had to wake up at 3:30 a.m. to travel 4
hours to a city named Condoroma, which sits approximately 16,000 ft
(4800 m) above sea level. I remember shivering on the bus and
seeing frost forming on the window the moment we arrived. It was at
least 10 ºC! We were wearing only scrubs and light sweaters.
As a result, the thin air and cold temperature made it a tough
environment in which to work particularly as there was no heating
system in the school where we were working. One of our nurses
developed headaches, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath with
an oxygen saturation in the low 80's which we diagnosed as acute
altitude sickness. Luckily, we had an oxygen tank and enough
acetazolamide and dexamethasone and her symptoms improved with
treatment. I managed to keept warm by taking quick 5-minute
"sunbathing" breaks after every patient encounter. At least I got
my healthy dose of vitamin D! I have a tremendous amount of respect
for the local Peruvians who battle the cold temperatures and thin
air every day.
The last 2 days of our mission were spent at a small church in
the town of Ciudad Blanca. The first day ran very smoothly; we had
three doctors, one of whom brought ECG and portable ultrasound
machines. These came in very handy, as I was able to diagnose a
patient with atrial fibrillation. The ultrasound machine was useful
in ruling out serious abdominal pathology. I had many patients with
gallstones, as identified by ultrasound. Fortunately, Medical
Ministry International was running a surgery mission in the
upcoming weeks, so we were able to schedule many surgical
procedures. One of our doctors was able to diagnose abdominal
aortic aneurysm, which wouldn't have been accomplished without the
portable ultrasound machine.
The last day of the mission was the most challenging for me. One
of the doctors fell ill, so I found myself having to manage 28
patients. This was a first for me. I felt I was able to get a
glimpse of what it would be like working as a resident. Another
challenge that I had to face and overcome was working with
translators. Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in Peru,
but Quechua is also spoken in some regions. Hence, I had to work
with two translators at once, translating English to Spanish,
Spanish to Quechua, and vice versa.
One of my favorite rituals on the trip was after setting up our
equipment at each clinic site every morning, our team and patients
would sing a popular Spanish song "Alabare." The singing brought us
closer to the patients and set the tone for each day. Each clinic
site followed a similar structure for providing medical care. At
first, the patients would register and then be triaged by the
nurse. Every clinic would have at least two examination rooms, one
dental room, and one eye examination room. Once patients were
examined, they would go to the pharmacy to collect their
medications. Finally, patients would go to the integrated health
department, where they would receive donated gifts and information
on how to take their medications and attend lectures covering
common medical problems, health promotion, and prevention
Our team of health care professionals was able to provide
medical service in the following disciplines: general medicine,
obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, optometry, and dentistry. By
the end of the mission, we had seen a total of 1043 patients: 553
in general medicine, 313 in optometry, and 163 in dentistry. We
handed out 1532 prescriptions and 215 pairs of reading glasses or
sunglasses and performed 108 laboratory procedures, and 900
patients received health education.
Overall, I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity! Peru
offers diversity and endless exploration for tourists, and the
scenery is absolutely stunning. The local Peruvians are very
friendly, and their food is delicious. Being a recent medical
graduate, I had the opportunity to diagnose, manage, and treat my
own patients under the supervision of a physician. As a result, I
was able to prepare myself for residency in North America. I would
definitely go back to Peru just to relive this experience in the
School of Medicine
Class of 2014
December 2014 Issue of IMpact
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