Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Welcome!... and medical brigades

I’ve thrown around the idea of creating a blog since before I arrived in Honduras, and always opted out for whatever reason: the overly public and unrestricted nature of blogs, doubts regarding who would read it in the first place, not wanting to submit to another hipster craze, etc. Now, more than eight months into my experience here, I’ve changed my mind. For starters, I’ve found it difficult to keep my people informed about my life here to the extent that I would like & I can’t emphasize enough how important I feel that is for maintaining healthy relationships, regardless of the miles between friends & family. Also, one of Peace Corps’ three goals is to promote a better understanding of other peoples- in this case Hondurans- on the part of Americans- you, and what better way to do that than to have an ongoing narrative of my adventures (and, inevitably, misadventures) like this available for complete strangers to access? Bienvenidos, pues!

Last week, two (also Peace Corps) friends and I helped out translating with a medical brigade of Texans in a small aldea (village) of Santa Rosa called Yarushin. For those of you who’ve never heard of a medical brigade, in a nutshell, it’s a group of foreigners (usually Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Cubans; often religiously affiliated) who come and offer medical care to people in ‘developing’ countries. To date, I’ve translated in two, and continue to have extremely mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, these people are wonderful in that they’re empathetic, generous and taking the time to come down here and make a difference in peoples’ lives. But, at the same time, I have to ask myself- exactly how much of a difference are they truly making? How it works is: after seeing a nurse who takes their vitals and jots down their symptoms, the person passes through to a room where a ‘doctor’ (in this most recent brigade, the man was a vet… yes, true story) and myself are seated, he reviews their sheet, we have a (very) brief dialogue about those symptoms, and he either prescribes medicine or sends them on to see another doctor (for real this time, not a vet). Okay. So here are my quibbles with this system. First of all, how much can you really learn about a person and their medical history under such circumstances, given that you’re time crunched because you want to ‘help’ every single one of the people who walked however-many-hours from their towns and have been waiting in line since 6 AM? Is it not dangerous to prescribe medicine to people whose medical history you know absolutely nothing about? Second, in the vast majority of the cases, people aren’t actually sick in the moment the brigade comes. Rather, they’re jumping at the opportunity to see a doctor and be given medicine, in many cases, for the first time in their lives. That said, many fabricate symptoms, saying they have headaches or their ‘bones hurt’, and are given medicine regardless. The medicine itself is another issue. After the consult, they pass through to the pharmacy where they’re given all the drugs the veterinarian decided they were in need of, and are hurriedly explained how to take each one. While there are instructions written on each bottle, the vast majority of the people who came out were illiterate, so they will have to rely entirely on that initial explanation- which in most cases included medicines for an entire family (and families in the campo are big)- in order to know how to administer each one to themselves and their children. Hmmm. On top of everything, there’s a good deal that these people overlook on a cultural level considering that they’re here for a matter of days and it’s impossible to learn about peoples’ lifestyle and habits given such a time frame. One example: a mother of several small children came through with some sort of fungus in between her fingers and the doctor/vet’s words of ‘wisdom' were to apply an antifungal cream and refrain from hand-washing clothes. Right. While I am a big proponent of divvying up chores to the men of the household (that is if there are any men in the household), that’s never going to happen in a society where machismo is so present and far-reaching. Punto. At least the kids got hooked up with sweet sunglasses (yes that girl below is wearing blublockers)!!!
Reading this over, I feel like I come off as detesting the whole concept of medical brigades and that’s not what I’m trying to do, at all. I think they can be worthwhile if organized well, composed of attentive, concerned people and conceived with the right intentions. However, I can’t help but feel that a focus on preventive medicine, piloted by people who have a true understanding of how this place and these people function, would have far more sustainable, visible results. Feel me?

This entry is feeling a little somber and since it’s my first, I’ll leave you with a funny story so people actually choose to follow this blog. Also at the brigade, a woman came in with her young baby, and I asked her how old she was. She told me that she was three months old and when I asked her what her name was, she said that she didn’t have a name. I was totally taken aback and asked why not and the woman explained to me that the Registro Nacional in their town, where you have to take newborn babies to register them and receive a birth certificate, had been out of ink for several months and so they haven’t been able to register a single one. Love it. I’ll leave you with that little taste of efficiency in my neck of the jungle. Peace...