The hallways cast shadows since the only light available was from open windows and doorways. The lights are kept off to save money on the electricity bill. The rooms, borrowed rooms, did not emit any personality from the regulars who staff it on a regular basis. There were no colors on the walls, or framed pictures for us to be distracted by. There were no magazines to look at, or pens to snatch. There were no plants, or matching chairs, or paper spread over the examining tables.
By the second day of a medical mission hosted by PAMS (Peruvian American Medical Society) in Abancay, Peru, it was easy to start adapting and taking advantage of what we did have inside the hospital. I learned to reuse a brown paper bag in order to transport items the entire week. I hid my mask, hat and shoe covers whenever I needed to leave the surgery floor to be sure they were available again. The one towel in gynecology was creatively folded so that we could keep using it. (There was none to cover for privacy). By the third day, I cringed at how wasteful I was the first day. I had thrown out a rubber band that had held a stack of envelopes, a used water bottle, and worst of all: we had used two gloves instead of one. The free medical care the local Indians were receiving today was a new experience for many of the people. The director of the mission, Dr. Julio Sotelo, grew up in Abancay, Peru and graduated from San Marcos University Medical School in Lima, Peru. He trained in Minneapolis and then at Mercy Hospital in Chicago where he met his wife, Celeste, and decided to stay in the United States of America.
They moved to Teaneck, New Jersey when he joined the faculty of Columbia University as an internist. As their family grew with four children, Julio joined PAMS, giving help to a country who needed the medical help badly. PAMS is a nation-wide, non-profit organization that helps bring Peruvian and American doctors together to offer medical treatment and education to towns in Peru. Several other towns including Cusco, Lima, Huanuco and Trujillo also benefit from these medical missions. All the volunteers donate their own time and services and some expenses are tax deductible. The mission is organized for two weeks, once or twice a year. Volunteers are encouraged to stay as long as possible. Abancay is a beautiful town, 7000 feet above sea level with a population of 80,000 people.
This first week, there are 19 other people who volunteered to help those less fortunate. Many of the volunteers stayed in the same hotel together and many were paired up to have a roommate. On the first night, the mayor welcomed everyone as the high school children performed a dance of local custom. Pisco sours, a kind of tart liquors, were passed out to taste and in thanks.
Work started at 8 a.m. the next morning. The first task to accomplish was setting up a room to be used as an office and pharmacy. Everything that was donated, and that made it past customs in Lima, was set up on portable shelves that were assembled for the occasion.
Not being in the medical field, my job was to be a run-around between all the doctors. Every half hour or so, I would freely open doors and check in with them. My scrubs gave me the leeway to be able to walk anywhere in the hospital. I also realized that my blond hair and blue eyes seemed to be an enjoyment for the people waiting in the hallways on the benches. Little children either stared or reached out to touch my hair. On the days that I took out my camera, children, who are never bashful, would start jumping into the frame and end up leading an entourage of people who wanted portraits taken. The mission was able to teach so much to so many people. Not only did the local people receive the care that we could provide, but also high school students came to help us translate and medical students and residents from both countries were able to practice medicine.
The word “bittersweet” played over and over in my mind because it was the simple things that I take for granted, that I would have supplied had I realized it was special in someone else’s eyes. Pens. The stack of mismatched pens in my house. I did not know they wanted pens. People, children, nurses. Pens. Just pens. Pencils made them happy too. And sheets. And toilet paper. And soap.
Bittersweet also applies to the sweet hope that we could help, to the hope that made people come, and to the bitter feeling when we just were not able to help. Sometimes the supplies weren’t available. Sometimes it was too late to apply treatment, and sometimes it was just because, here in Peru, it just wasn’t possible.
Out of the thousand people we did see the first week, at least 100 people received surgery who never would have been able to have it otherwise. Hundreds of patients received their first toothbrush, vitamins, and deworming medicine. Some patients received reassurance that they were not sick. Hopefully some received motivation to study and become doctors. I learned that little things could help in a big way. Next year I am definitely flying down with boxes of pens and the printed pictures.
2011-02-11 10:50 编辑：kuaileyingyu