I believe every student that this program leaves with a different experience that impacts them. For some in my group, it was being in the room while watching mothers give natural-born births, assisting in and/or viewing some remarkable surgeries, walking through the dismal, disgusting streets of Belin or hiking through the jungles of the Amazon to deliver medicine and gifts to tribes, but for me, it was something completely different.
Before I arrived in Iquitos, I promised myself not to expect anything but just to take everything in an appreciate it. The city was very poor but it wasn’t completely unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I grew up with an extended family that lived in somewhat of similar conditions. They lived in trailers that should have been considered condemned, had very poor hygiene, to the extent my infant cousin’s teeth were rotting out of her mouth, and they never took care of their ailments. As a result, they had very serious medical issues that could have been prevented. The people and patients of Iquitos reminded me of them, but instead of being secluded to an area of town, like my family and those like them were, this whole city was comprised of them.
The hospital in which we were seeing these patients at was unlike anything I have seen. The hospital rooms and patients were exposed to the outdoors, it lacked air-conditiong, their medical manuals were years out of date, the bathrooms didn’t have toilet paper, let alone running water to flush the toilets and we reused our “sterile” gowns and masks in the operating room due to a lack of supplies. Given all of this, it is easy to say this hospital did not have very advanced equipment. If a patient needed serious medical treatment, they had to find a way to pay for a flight and treatment in Lima, Peru. Even with these disadvantages, the doctors in this hospital would utilize what little resources they had to create the best possible outcome.
One surgery I was able to witness was a skin graft performed by Dr. Rolling. A gentleman had let an infection on his ankle progress until it had penetrated the bone before he sought out medical attention. Dr. Rolling had informed us before his presence in Iquitos, they would have amputated this man’s foot due to the severity. Instead, Dr. Rolling removed the infected tissue, chiseled away the infected bone, reallocated the surrounding subcutaneous tissue and taking skin from the man’s abdomen, performed a skin graft so this man can keep his foot. Living in a country where labor is a main source of income, saving this man’s foot could have meant the difference in feeding his family or them starving.
When working/shadowing in the hospital, we were assigned to work in groups and every night it was a different group’s responsibility to work in the Emergency Room. The night it was my groups turn, I had that moment that will stay with me forever. That night while waiting outside the hospital, a middle-aged woman walked up to me and started asking me questions in Spanish. My Spanish isn’t the greatest so I asked my interpreter to interpret. She told me that the woman was asking if I could help her mother, who wasn’t present. I replied that there was nothing I could do to help her because I and my colleagues are only students. The look of hopelessness immediately came over her. She said thank you and turned and walked away. The interpreter then told me the complete story. Earlier that day, the hospital was administering free eye exams and the woman had brought her mother. The doctors examined her and told her that her eyes had no hope for recovery for she was almost blind. This woman, upon seeing a group of Americans in scrubs, thought we were doctors and had hope that we might be able to give her mother a better prognosis. While she was walking away, she didn’t make a sound but I can see her try to discretely wipe away a tear. From where I was standing, I was able to notice her destination; she was returning to work. She worked for the hospital… Once I realized this, I felt utterly hopeless knowing she possibly has exhausted all resources Iquitos has and if she had the ability to utilize the knowledge and training of an American doctor, her mother’s outcome might be different.
That moment gave me a well-defined reason of why I want to become a doctor and made me realize how important the work is that Dr. Rolling does. With that one surgery he performed, he drastically changed the life of that one man and that of his family. This experience made me recognize that I want to follow in his footsteps and pursue my passion to practice medicine. I want to be able to help those who have family members who are ill; I want to help improve a person’s quality of life so they can enjoy time with the people they love and the life that they’ve worked so hard to create. When I returned from this internship, I knew one thing; I never want to have that feeling of helplessness again. I want to become capable and know that I have done everything I am capable of to help the women and men, like those in encountered in Iquitos, and all others that are in need. This program truly inspired me to continue going forward towards my goal without any type of hesitation.