Well, it’s over. Five weeks have passed faster than I ever imagined, especially in this final week. It’s been a struggle to come up with words for a final post, because many of the feelings I have are indescribable. I will try my best to compile some of my final thoughts.
This last week has included working in the parish clinic operating room. We had the task of operating on inguinal hernias, and with a team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses, we successfully finished 36 patients. I was able to place IVs and care for patients in their pre and post-operative states. We were all thrilled to be able to maintain a nurse-patient relationship all the way through surgery.
For two days of the week, I was able to be interpreter for American family practice doctors in the village open clinics. It was similar to a triage setting, where the patient comes in with their chief complaint, is seen by the doctor, is prescribed medications, and given them in a matter of an hour. It’s marvelous to see the amount of difference a medical team can make in a population group that is ridden with parasites, urinary tract infections, rashes, and flu. It’s been a challenge to come up with simple ways to explain a medical issue, and in Spanish. However, the people are understanding and patient. The week ended with a feeling of accomplishment for everyone on the team.
It’s still surreal to me that I’m here, let alone leaving this afternoon. Course evaluations were due to Dr. Belknap today, and I laughed a little at the thought that this was for a grade and credit. That thought hasn’t crossed my mind once while here. Nevertheless, I was happy to fill out the evaluation. One of the questions was: name one thing you have learned while on this trip. Of course, I could’ve written a million different things.
Simplistically, there is much to learn here, and none of it comes from a textbook or a professor. My lessons have resulted from the culmination of thousands of conversations I’ve had and relationships with people I’ve met here. I have identified three specific lessons that exemplify this trip: empathy, humility, and vulnerability.
Empathy is simply part of the Peruvian culture. It is defined as “the intellectual identfication with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another”. Basically, feeling what another person feels. Most Peruvians have the same struggles from day to day, and they are each other’s support system in a poverty-stricken life with limited education and health care. I have experienced this through almost everyone I have met, especially patients. Although I cannot even wrap my head around the pain some of them may be experiencing, it is always helpful for them to have someone present through their times of hardship. It is fascinating to me that the Spanish phrase for “I’m sorry”, lo siento, directly translates to “I feel it”. I feel for you. While this may not be literal, it is a personal, empathetic connection with someone that may be more meaningful than just saying sorry.
I think that the feelings of empathy and vulnerability go hand in hand, because these people are some of the most vulnerable in the world, and they connect to each other through this hardship. There were times on this trip where I have never felt so vulnerable in my life, such as standing on the top of a mountain overlooking a world wonder, realizing that the world is so much bigger than I ever imagined. Or, in the hospice, helping a son prepare to bury his beloved father. It was these times that my feelings of vulnerability allowed me to truly feel for that person in need, and to know that sometimes, simply being with someone is the best comfort for sadness. To quote our professor, Dr Belknap, you can’t connect with a person who is suffering unless you become vulnerable yourself.
Lastly, humility was present everywhere I went here, with every person I met. I found it to be especially there on home visits, where simply washing someone’s feet welcomed a wave of gratitude. It’s also humbling to witness those at the hospice go through painful, daily wound dressing changes and still have the ability to smile. It’s a beautiful thing, and ironic that such poverty and hardship can create this sense of humility. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “The poor give us much more than we give them. They’re such strong people, living day to day with no food. And they never curse, never complain. We don’t have to give them pity or sympathy. We have so much to learn from them”. From what I’ve seen in Peru, they accept their daily struggles with grace, perseverance, and of course, humility. I’ve only been back in the US a few hours, and seeing the cultural differences is a shock. While this is hard, I know that I will always look back at this trip and think of the wonderful people who make so much out of so little. Thank you to everyone for reading and I hope the rest of the summer goes well!