February 23, 2011
Hotel Bosque Las Nubes, Nicaragua
You know those rare moments in life, that at their core, thrust you into a heightened sense of awareness of the world and force you to question your ideologies, and at their most cliché, are oftentimes given the title of “life-changing”? Welcome to one of those moments.
These past few days marked the genesis of the medical work in the clinics, starting with a tiny church, in the town of Dulce Nombre, no bigger than a master bedroom and barren except for a covey of mosquitoes that had taken up residence in the dusty corners. On Tuesday, in the light of the early morning, Augie students in scrubs of bright hues raced around with bins of medical equipment and faded plastic folding chairs setting up the makeshift clinic. Meanwhile outside, throngs of Nicaraguans stood drenched in the morning heat, dust billowing around them, as they patiently waited. At long last, the doors of the church opened and the first patient stepped timidly across the threshold, a young girl trailing along behind. The day had officially begun.
Throughout the next few hours, a steady stream of locals poured into the clinic, taking their place in a semi-circle of folding chairs and doctors. In any other circumstance, it might appear as though it was an impromptu gathering of picnickers. Looks of apprehension mingled with sweat beads on the faces of the Augie students as the morning snapped into afternoon and the adrenaline of their first day as “doctors” set in. Many students seemed worried at the prospect of being suddenly launched into their chosen career path – after all, it is certainly one thing to read about procedures and diagnoses in textbooks and quite another to suddenly be faced with the health outcome of the person sitting across from you. However, with the aid of the team of medical doctors, the students took the challenge in strides and by the time lunch was called for, they were too busy swapping stories of their first day to pay much attention to their plates.
The daunting height of the language barrier was another initial source of apprehension amongst the students. After all, at this point, few can do more than string a handful of Spanish sentences together, only some of which are even applicable (Andrew has taken it upon himself to shout “give me your tears, gypsy!” in spanish at random intervals, although he has yet to discover an appropriate time to use such a phrase in clinic…).
Despite the obvious, the very nature of this makeshift Nicaraguan clinic is drastically different from American ones. Here, gaggles of families arrive in clusters, sometimes acting simply as a wall of support for a single patient. Hours fly by with little knowledge of when their turn will be and yet they continue to patiently wait. Some rest the back of their head on the nearest wall, which is speckled with torn paint chips; others simply stare straight ahead, with little hint of irritation or impatience. Even when the student doctors stole away 30 minutes to break for lunch, the patients watched on from their seats with an air of calm – certainly a response that few patients in America would embrace after waiting for anything more than 20 minutes.
For us in America, medical aid is simply expected – it is an inconvenience amidst our daily hustle of life and something that we treat as we do the line at a fast food drive-through – get in, get diagnosed, get the quick-fix medication, get out. And add a side of fries to that order.
So next time your dinner takes a little bit longer than usual, maybe pause to think about these people who wait patiently, sometimes for the better half of an entire day, just to obtain a basic necessity which we so readily take for granted.