Let me begin by saying that I had absolutely no intention of traveling to Peru with TPaIDA when walking into Dr. Rolling’s lecture. I went to his presentation only because my biology professor promised extra credit for those who attended. Now I’m writing a blog about the sincere life changing, eye-opening effect that Iquitos, Peru had on me. If you’re thinking about going because you want to see Peru or because you want to get drunk and have a good time on vacation DO NOT GO. You will waste your money and Dr. Rolling’s precious time. If you’re going to learn what compassion is and how to speak without saying a single word then get ready for the longest day of your life.
How does 10 days equal 1? Well, when you barely get 4 hours of sleep every night and everyday is non-stop; by the time Saturday rolls around it feels like the longest day ever, like I used Tabasco sauce for eye drops and stuck chocolate donuts under my eyes. I woke up everyday at 5 AM; not because that’s when MY day started, but because that’s when PERU’S day started. Moto Kars, buses, horns, breaks squealing and people yelling less than 20 yards from your door tends to wake a person up. Dr. Rolling has this idea that in order for you to grasp what he is teaching you need to live like the Peruvians.
“When in Peru, do as the Peruvians do.” That statement, as trite as it is can sum up the entire experience you will have. As the days went by, I found myself thinking about all the times I have complained about basic amenities like local water, A/C not working, no cell phone reception, etc… and how selfish they are. When I saw people bathing and drinking water that the village upstream from them were using as their toilet, I realized my local water didn’t taste all that bad. When I was in the deep jungle and it felt like a wet blanket was wrapped around you constantly because there is no A/C and no walls, only screened in windows to protect against mosquitoes, I realized that A/C wasn’t the end of the world. When I saw people living where no cell phone tower could reach them I realized a dropped call isn’t really worth screaming about. Peru had a humbling effect on me. Now, before I complain about being hot, I’ll think back to babies in hospitals with no A/C in 80 degree weather with 110% humidity, open windows with broken screens so bugs and mosquitoes get in to feed on an easy meal and think, “I bet that baby is hot.”
With all the activities and learning you do in a few short days, it’s easy to confuse and forget things you saw. For example, I can’t remember exactly what we did on Wednesday. I get days and surgeries mixed up. We spent an ample amount of time in the O.R. with Dr. Rolling and his amazing colleagues: master surgeons and nurses who smile and show you how to operate in Peru. “When in Peru…” They don’t yell at you when you come from another room to watch what they are doing; instead they smile, make room for you to see and explain what they are doing. Dr. Rolling let me scrub in, and without having one single medical class, without me being accepted into any medical school, handed me the scalpel and let me make a cut. He handed me the sutures and let me throw a few. When he says “hands on learning” he means it. As wonderful as the O.R. was, it fails in comparison to my experience in the deep jungle. With all the things I can forget, I’ll never forget Mariza.
Mariza is a 5 year old girl who has an incredible story. We find out there is a person who was bitten by a snake and was waiting for us in the deep jungle about 130-150 Km down river from Iquitos (a 2.5-3 hr boat ride). We take off down the Amazon River by speed boat and arrive at a village to set up a clinic. We spent a few hours seeing and diagnosing patients, most of whom had worms. After that we made our way to the jungle lodge where we were to stay for the night. We arrived to find a 5 year old girl in one of the rooms with a snake bite on her left calf. Her leg was extremely swollen and she was in a tremendous amount of pain. Every movement she made or we made for her was met with cries and screams. She was bitten on Wednesday by a fer de lance and it was now late Friday afternoon. Her pants were covered in her own urine and feces and she had been in that state since she was bitten. So for two days she sat in her own piss and feces with severe pain. We immediately cut her clothes off (Brad did this with a pocket knife) and cleaned her up. We gave her an IV with steroids,(to reduce swelling) and antibiotics( to fight off any infection from the snakes fangs.) Anti-venom could not be administered because it’s only useful up to 5 hours after being bitten. After we stabilized her and made her more comfortable, night was setting in. The mosquito netting around her room was compromised and they were coming inside in droves. I sealed off all the entry points with towels and dirty clothes to minimize their entry. Spiders as big as my hand were all over the lodge and it rained non stop all night. The three of us in our group took turns checking her vitals every hour from 12 AM to 6 AM. finally morning came and it was time to take her back to Iquitos. Remember it’s a 3 hour boat ride. We make a makeshift hammock out of a blanket to carry her out to the boat. We’re walking on a plank about 5 feet off the ground and it gives way. Dr. Rolling, myself and a few others fell through but we didn’t drop the package. We got her to the boat and into the hospital for the poor in Iquitos. The ER decided to perform an emergency fasciotomy to relieve the pressure and tension in her leg. She had myonecrosis from 2.5 days of massive swelling. Her left leg will now be forever paralyzed. Without TPaIDA being in the right place at the right time with the right equipment, that little girl would have surely died out there; sitting in her own feces and urine with mosquitoes dining and in excruciating pain. If want to experience what I did, then you’re making one of the best decisions of your life. But be prepared for a new outlook on not only life, but how you will practice medicine and understand science. Compassion is the same in every language.