August 1, 2013
I left Baltimore 7:00am 7/31/13 and arrived in Fort Lauderdale 9:45am. I left Fort Lauderdale 5:40pm and got to Lima Peru around 11pm, but picked up an hour from the time difference. It was the first time I’d ever gone through customs and I was confused but figured out pretty quickly to nod, grin, and pass the passport. Once I got through customs, I grabbed my bags and went to the main center in the airport. My plan was to call Dr. Rolling, just like we talked about before I left Baltimore, and book the first flight to Iquitos that night. It didn’t work out that way but oh well.
I never told T-Mobile I was going to Peru so my phone was reduced to a contact book. I could look at contacts but calling, texting, emails, and accessing the internet in general became impossible. On top of that I had 8% battery and the only outlet I saw was being used and had a line to it. Plan 1 failed.
I had to work fast. Plan 2 became borrow some ones cell phone and call Dr. Rolling before my phone died. I asked three people before I realized no one was giving their phone to some random black guy who couldn’t explain why he needed it. Plan 2 failed.
Plan 3 was ask the information desk for help. Her English was slightly better than my Spanish, but I don’t speak Spanish at all. I could tell she wanted me to make a call on a pay phone. The pay phones took soles, the instructions were in Spanish and most of the phones didn’t work anyway. Plan 3 failed.
Planed 4 was getting to Iquitos and figuring out how to link up with Dr. Rolling from there. The lady at the information desk told me all the flights were booked and she had no clue when they would open. Plan 4 failed. Damn.
By now my phone had 3% battery and I was running out of options. I felt like I failed in Peru before the program had even started. I’m not the panicking type and I didn’t want to give up but I had no clue what my next move would be. I started pacing back and forth trying to figure something out. All I could think of was Kevin Hart and the joke in “Let me explain,” when he calls his friend to lie to his wife. “B*tch has got the drop on us, my backs against the wall, this is not a test, help, me . . .” In between my laughs I was sending silent prayers to God for help out of my situation too because I didn’t know what else to do.
Out of nowhere help came in the form of a random lady. She came up to me and said I looked lost, in English, and wanted to help. I explained what was going on and she got to work. She took me to a working payphone, showed me how to use it, and got me in touch with Dr. Rolling. Help from random lady, success!
Dr. Rolling said there was another part to the airport with stores and a Starbucks I could wait at. There was. He told me I would have to talk to Peruvian airlines or Star Peru around 4am to get a flight there and seats would be open even though the people at the information desk said they wouldn’t. They did. He said more students from the program were on their way to Lima and would arrive in a few hours. They did. He said there was an internet lounge with couches, computers, and free Wi-Fi. There wasn’t, but oh well. When I and the other interns met up they were cool and we talked the hours away till we could book our flights to Iquitos.
By the time we got to we got to Iquitos it was 10:00am 8/1/13. We were all drained when the Taxi driver took us to the Hotel. I wanted to rest but we couldn’t because we were already late for our first rounds at the hospital. We had to throw on our scrubs, no shower, and go straight to the Hospital Iquitos. Introductions were short because we had a lecture about the hospitals history to hear from one of the surgeons. By the time the day was over we had another lecture from the chief surgeon at the hospital about sutures, a microbiology lecture from Dr. Rolling, and a spinning class at the gym. I didn’t get to sleep until about 2:00am 8/2/13. It was easily the longest day of my life.
August 2, 2013
Days seem a lot longer in Peru. Breakfast started at 7am and we had to get to the Hospital by 8am. We had three translators that showed us how to work the taxies, exchange money, and show us where to get food. People constantly tried to get over on us because we were foreigners and couldn’t understand the language well but the translators looked out for us. They also explained what the doctors were saying in the lectures and patient rounds.
I took notes as doctors described what they looked for before removing an inflamed gallbladder, or how symptoms could be used to find out the cause of infection. After patient rounds we were given a lecture about the snakes we may find while hiking in the jungle. The instructor was a doctor at the hospital and a professor at a local college. He spoke only Spanish but was extremely animated so I could catch on to what he was saying even without the translators. I learned how to tell the difference between poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes and if they were attacking or retreating. He showed very graphic pictures and explained the how different venoms may have different effects in the body.
After the snake lecture we went to the operating room. I watched a C section, appendix removal, and gallbladder removal step by step. Some students acted as aids for the doctors but there was only so much space to help. I quickly got over being a little squeamish as I watched doctors cut through the abdomen layer by layer and wipe away endless blood. I can still smell the burning flesh and see the bloody towels used to keep the area clean for the surgeon’s cuts.
Once the surgeries were finished we had a lecture from the head Anesthesiologist at the hospital. Dr. Rolling made it a point to make sure we knew we were learning from the people who “really did this stuff” and knew what they were talking about. The lecture was long and complicated. Until that lecture I wouldn’t have ever guessed so much chemistry and math went into anesthesiology.
We took a short break for food and rest, and then returned to the hospital for a shift in the ER. When we got there I saw crowds of crowds of people demanding service. There was a policeman at the door sending people back who weren’t sick or injured enough to be seen. It was hot in the Emergency suit and the doctors were visually frustrated by how busy it was that night. People who couldn’t pay for their own treatment or have some type of insurance were cleaned up but not treated or just sent away despite their injuries.
We did patient rounds with the doctors and saw bed after bed of ailing patients. The doctors showed us how to check patients with respiratory problems for fluid in their lungs. They also showed us what an abnormal heart beat and blood pressure looked like on an x-ray and sounded like through a stethoscope by letting us examine the patients.
Driving in Iquitos is primarily motorcycle and three wheel wagon. Everyone dips and dives in and out of the lanes like mad men, so I wasn’t surprised about how man accidents we saw that night. Men and women flooded in with open gashes over their knees, faces, and arms. Hysterical drunk women screamed and cried in the waiting rooms as doctors cleaned and sutured bloody wounds. It was a long night
August 3 2013
We went to sleep around 3:30am but had to get to the hospital around 8am and get downstairs for breakfast at 7am. I could skip breakfast for more sleep time but there was no telling how long we would be moving around the hospital without food if I did. When we got to the hospital we did patient rounds with the tropical disease specialist and saw countless patients. We were taught the signs to look for like chills, aches, swelling, fever, fluid in lungs, blood shot eyes, legions, bloody noses, weakness, or tumors. The two things that stood out to me the most was the process of elimination the doctors were using to pinpoint illness and the enthusiasm he had in teaching us what to look for.
After our rounds we made a return to the operating room. The doctors did there surgeries and sutures and we aided when we could. Watching the procedures I realized surgery wasn’t as complicated as most people would think. Like Canadian Chris put it, “Surgery is exactly what you think it is,” they just cut you open, take out what’s not working, and stitch you back up.
We finished off the medical portion of the day with lab work. Pediatric nurses showed us how to identify the different stages and species of malaria, leis mania, dengue and lextropita. The lab was on the third floor of a children’s hospital. Being that high, on a hot night, in a building with no air conditioner was the same as torture. We wiped sweat from our eyes and foreheads before looking at every slide.
August 4 2013
Day four was devoted to rest and relaxation. Instead of going to the hospital after breakfast we took a boat to a lounge on the Amazon River. I wasn’t expecting downtime like that during the internship, especially after the first three days, so it was a very pleasant surprise. We swam, ate, drank and talked about life. We did our Emergency rounds again that night but the point of day four was strengthening the bonds between everyone in the program and rejuvenating our bodies. I helped doctors in the emergency room stitch and clean a gash on the eye of a patient in the emergency room. It was a nerve racking experience because I couldn’t understand a word of the instructions the doctor was giving me and our translator kept forgetting I couldn’t speak Spanish but I enjoyed the experience.
August 5 2013
Day five was one of the busiest days of the internship, but it seemed to coast by in anticipation of our trip to the jungle. Breakfast at 7. Patient rounds at 8. Lunch/ buying plain tickets to Lima till four. Operations were at 4:30. We had a sanitation lecture then practiced giving patients IV’s at 6. Spinning class at the gym was at 8. We rested till the morning.
The highlight of the Day was Dr. Rolling’s foot surgery. The woman had a severely infected and swollen foot. It seemed like amputation was the only option before he started. He cut the dead/infected tissues from the layers of skin, bone and muscle. He washed the infection out with buckets of water, hydrogen peroxide, and alcohol. He cleaned the wound done to the bone with surgical cloth, dragging it in and out from one side of the foot to the other. Once he sutured and cleaned the foot it actually looked usable again. He saved the woman’s foot and only charged her three bottles of orange Fanta.
The jungle was a different world. The experience there can’t be compared to anything in America or even Iquitos. We spent a day and a half there but its time I hopefully won’t ever forget.
The boat ride from Iquitos to the amazon was serene and beautiful. The views looked like they were taken straight from the discovery channel. At points over the horizon the sky touched the water and the clouds felt like they were in reach.
When we got to the island the slow pace set by the boat trip flowed into the Yagua greeting center. We learned some of their history, were taught to shoot their blow guns, and did one of their traditional dances. After buying a few souvenirs and passing out candy to the village children we were on our way back to the camp site, feeling refreshed.
At the site we ate fish, rice, beans, and sweet bananas. The food was incredible, but looking back now I should have eaten a lot less. With full stomachs, we set off through the amazon jungle behind Ashuncto, our highly skilled, military trained, jungle translator. He would randomly break from the path to cut the leaves or bark from some random tree, bring it back and explain its properties to us. The hike through the jungle leads us to a small village of about 200 people. We sat with the villagers and asked them a bunch of questions. We asked them what medicines they were in need of, asked how many people lived there, the average number of children the women would give birth to, asked who was the oldest person in the village, what where their religious beliefs, how their educational system worked, questions that helped us understand the type of they were and also told us what we needed to bring back to help the next time we came.
Once the question and answer session had ended me and the other interns devised games to give out toys and candy to the children of the village. We had the boys and girls get into separate age groups and run a series of races. The children all ran to us and the winners got toys, while everyone else got candy. Smiling children ran into our arms and jumped for joy while we handed them presents. The warmth from the those moments was a feeling we all shared and talked about once it was over.
After saying our goodbyes the entire feelings of the day changed. Dr. Rolling told Ashuncto to pick the pace up to “Military Speed”, so Ashuncto took off. He started running with his machete up a hill through some random jungle path and we all had to chase after him. Misplaced branches, prickly leaves, spider webs, all smacked the brim of my hat and my face as we chased behind Ashuncto for an hour through the jungle. Tired and hot, we arrived at a tributary of the Amazon River that blocked the path. There was only one way across, we had to swim.
Everyone striped down to their underwear and hastily crossed the river after Ashuncto. The girls in the group, and Dr. Rolling, kept complaining and trying to find a way to avoid swimming across, but once it was clear that was our only option they got over it. On the other side we had to maneuver up a muddy slope and thousands of fire ants. By the time we got dressed and finally made it back to the site everyone except Ashuncto was exhausted and ready for a shower.
Once we got cleaned up and ready for our next meal Dr. Rolling told us we had all made it. We passed the program. He said we had made it through the hardest part of the jungle and tomorrow would be an easy stroll compared to the jungle jog we just had. He lied, but oh well.
The next day in the Jungle was far worse. We crossed the amazon and went to the other, older, side of the jungle. Ashuncto took us through a thin swampy path that dissolved as we struggled deeper into the jungle. The terrain was tougher because it was swampier and had deep mud puddles everywhere. We had to jump around on tree roots to maintain our footing. The pace was consistently quicker, the humidity was thicker, and the hike was longer. We didn’t slow down until we reached a huge tree with hollow roots and vines thick enough to swing by. There we sat, and recuperated. A couple of us even climbed the tree and swung on the vines like Tarzan. On the hike back to the boat we maintained a rough silence and desperately tried to keep up with Ashuncto. When we finally reached the boat I was so sweaty and hot I couldn’t drink my water, I just dumped it over my head.
After the real jungle hike, we returned to the slow relaxed pace from the previous day. We traveled to a placed called monkey Island and took photos with the animals there. Monkeys, toucans, anacondas, ant eaters, parrots, they were all there roaming the island. After we took as many pictures as possible we decided to cool down with a swim in the Amazon River. The swim was like the culmination of my entire experience in Peru. It was tough, but I enjoyed myself. The water was cold and deep, the mud was thick and mucky, and my stomach hadn’t been right since the first meal in the jungle, and I loved every second of it.