December 6, 2016 9:33 am

Intern Journal: Kristine Zimmerman

Written by Kristine Zimmerman

The most important questions we ask are the ones that don’t have easy answers. They are the questions that call into mind our thoughts, ideas, and behaviors. They are the questions that beg for action and for more than passive opinions. The world asks us how we value the importance of a life. Are we willing to hold hand of a man that needs assistance up the stairs and kiss the cheek of a woman in need of a proper home? Are we willing to show the world that there are things we can do to improve the lives of many by not focusing simply on our own?

          Through MEDLIFE I have been given the opportunity to hear the stories of many patients. While on a patient follow up visit with a MEDLIFE nurse, Beatriz, I met Dionicio. He had a neurological disorder that inhibited his speech and mobility. In addition, he also suffered from diabetes and hypertension, which caused him more pain and inconvenience. He was still dependent on his mother. We visited him that day to ensure his identification and insurance paperwork was in order for him to be able to see a physician.

It was quite difficult to get up Dionicio’s house from the road. Because there were no stairs or even steady footholds, I felt like I could have fallen multiple times with just a misplaced step. This presented a minor inconvenience for me, but for Dionicio, it was exponentially more difficult. Imagine living in pain from a treatable disease, unable to get the treatment you need from your local healthcare system. The unavoidable pain increases as you walk, sit, stand, lay down, and you feel restricted from leaving your own house, deterred by the thought of subjecting yourself to more discomfort.

As Beatriz talked with Dionicio and his mother about his current condition, I saw how he winced in pain with each movement of his feet. I listened to his voice break as he spoke of the pain that plagued him with simple movements. Then, while Beatriz shuffled through his patient records, Dionicio began to cry.

To share in that kind of vulnerability with a patient, to comfort them, and to offer help when it seems like they are facing the worst, this is what MEDLIFE aims to do. The MEDLIFE mission is about more than providing health care for people who have limited access to it. MEDLIFE asks the hard questions, gets to real answers that empower people to ignite sustainable change and improve the wellbeing of all who are deprived of it. Being a part of the MEDLIFE movement has challenged me to truly listen to the stories of those living in poverty, and if I can, ask myself what I can do to help. I have stopped thinking; “what is the minimum effort I need to invest to be able to sleep at night,” and instead stay up all night thinking about what more I can do.

Two years ago I came to Lima with MEDLIFE as a volunteer and I experienced what it was like to pour all of my mental, physical, and emotional effort into a movement focused so intently helping people. I saw the results of this effort and then pursued further involvement in the organization as a year-long intern. Already, I can see the positive effect this investment has had on my perspectives, thoughts, and actions. I only hope that I can help MEDLIFE continue to expand, keep asking myself those hard questions, and work for real solutions. 

November 22, 2016 9:28 am

Intern Journal: Allie Krugman

Written by Allie Krugman

529 allieFor the fourth day in a row, I opened my graduate school application portal only to reread the question - What are your reasons for interest in public health? - and minimized my browser. Although I had chosen to apply for graduate programs in public health before arriving in Peru, I was still not entirely certain this area of study was for me.  For this, I am grateful to MEDLIFE: My experiences working with this organization thus far have reinforced the importance of the public health field and my desire to influence it.

“Falta uno!” (“One more left!”) Announced Beatriz, nearly as out of breath as I was. We had one last flight of stairs to climb until we reached the fourth floor of the Maria Auxiliadora Hospital in Villa Maria del Triunfo, a smaller district on the outskirts of Lima and the third-to-last stop on the city's green line metro.  We were scaling the hospital steps to check in with Maura, one of MEDLIFE's follow-up patients who was recovering from surgery after a mototaxi accident had mangled her right leg.

After some effort, Beatriz and I finally reached Maura's room, a small four-bed space of which she occupied one corner. We had bought her a large bottle of water to replace her empty one, which I placed on her bedside table.  As Beatriz began asking Maura how she was, I watched as light emanated from this woman. Maura inexplicably answered every follow-up question with a smile and a laugh, in spite of her bedridden condition. Beatriz and I joked along with her, as if we had come to visit an old friend. When the time came for Beatriz to take a photo of Maura to document the follow-up visit, she put an arm around me and pulled me in with her.

Beatriz explained to me that Peru's patients suffer from an overburdened, underfunded health care system, similarly to the situation we face in the United States.  A lack of physicians results in brief doctor's appointments and little explanation of a patient's diagnoses or treatment options.

Enter MEDLIFE's nurses: armed with a lot of knowledge and even more compassion, Beatriz, Carmen, Ruth, and Janet fill in the gaps left by the system, providing a vital service to disadvantaged patients. Maura had suffered more than most could ever imagine: following her tragic accident in 2011, she underwent a botched surgery, battled infection, and endured many years of painful recovery. She struggled to obtain insurance that would cover her multiple operations and maintain financial resources as a disabled, single mother unable to work. MEDLIFE was able to pay for the final operation she needed, relieving some of the burden that she faced. Our organization also built a staircase near her home in the rocky hills of Villa Maria to prevent further accidents while recovering. During our patient follow-up visit, I saw the world of difference that MEDLIFE and its nurses made; in spite of her suffering and the poor infrastructure in place to address it, Maura had a source of infallible support. The light within her had not dimmed - the nurses would never have allowed it.

In one of our staff trainings, MEDLIFE's founder Nick Ellis gave a word of advice to those interested in entering the field of public health following the internship: ‘when writing public health policy, write it with the poorest people in mind.' These are the stakeholders that will fall through the cracks; the people that will bear the worst of a faulty healthcare system and unsafe infrastructure. People like Maura, who brighten the day of all who have the chance to meet them, who deserve the utmost support while they wrestle with the multitude hardships associated with poverty. Maura deserves to live in a society in which not only health is prioritized, but access to healthcare as well. She deserves to have not only her physical health in mind, but her wellbeing, protected by healthcare workers such as Beatriz.  When I am hopefully writing and influencing healthcare policy one day, I will do so with Maura in mind.

 

November 15, 2016 2:54 pm

Intern Journal: Brittany Cook

Written by Brittany Cook

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The morning meeting came to an end when I learned about the four follow-up patients Beatriz was scheduled to see for the day. Beatriz is one of the four exceptional nurses that works for MEDLIFE in Lima and I was able to go with her to see how she completes the MEDLIFE mission in her daily work. We set out towards Maria Auxiliadora Hospital in San Juan de Miraflores to help the first patient during a doctor's appointment. As we walked through the metal entrance gate, an energetic young teen ran towards us and hugged Beatriz. It was Gaby (*name changed), a patient of another MEDLIFE nurse who had a dental abscess and an external fistula. Beatriz asked her how she was doing and, after a short chat, said goodbye to continue our journey to meet with our first patient of the day. 

We made our way through the long, white hallway, down the winding staircase, and back into the corner designated for surgical and specialty consultations. The waiting space was buzzing with activity. Every seat was filled and the walkways were like the streets of Lima during rush hour. We took two laps through the waiting area but we could not find the first patient. As if she read our minds, Gaby and her family popped up behind us and Beatriz solicited her help in finding our elusive patient. With only a description of the patient, Gaby returned within five minutes with a location! While she was away, her mother expressed concern to Beatriz that Gaby would not get a much needed consultation because she had misplaced her DNI (National Identity Document-similar to a social security card in the United States).

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After Beatriz had worked with the first patient to figure out the next step in her treatment, she set out to help Gaby. Gaby needs jaw surgery soon so it was imperative that she had a consultation within the week. Without the DNI, the hospital was unable to make the appointment for her but Beatriz found another way. She went to a doctor that she had previously worked with and asked if he had any availability. He had an opening for later that day but he first needed her patient history. Beatriz went to the registrar to obtain the history but she was unable to access it without Gaby's DNI. After zig zagging her way around the hospital and filling out various forms, Beatriz found a way to get Gaby a temporary hospital DNI that expired at the end of the day. She went back to the doctor who was then able to access Gaby's medical history and fill out the paperwork necessary to schedule the appointment, much to Gaby's mother's relief. Gaby had the consultation and is now scheduled for her operation next week!

As I watched this all unfold, I realized two things. First, our nurses are dedicated to their patients and the MEDLIFE mission:

Our mission is to help families achieve greater freedom from the constraints of poverty, empowering them to live healthier lives. Our patients did not choose to be poor, but they have chosen to strive toward a better life; MEDLIFE stands beside them in this pursuit.

Beatriz already had a full schedule for the day but when a patient of another nurse came to her for help, she made the time to get her what she needed. Beatriz stood beside Gaby (when she was not busy running around the hospital) to get her the appointment that would enable Gaby to lead a healthier life.

The second thing I realized is that the MEDLIFE mission would be incredibly difficult to fulfill without the knowledge the nurses bring to the team. The medical system in Peru is difficult to maneuver which is why so many people are wary of seeking medical attention. The nurses are talented at getting our patients government aided health insurance, helping them work within the system during the treatment, and keeping the process moving when roadblocks arise. Without the nurses' abilities to work within the system to keep everything moving smoothly, many patients would not be able to get the care that they need.

The best part is, the nurses are motivated to do this work due to their own dedication and joy. Many of the patients live far away from our office in San Borja but there is no distance Beatriz and the other nurses are not willing to cover to bring the patients the aid they need to live healthier lives. Every day I come to work, I am surrounded by an incredibly selfless and dedicated group of people from different places and backgrounds. We have Beatriz, our nurse from Lima; Renato who lived in Honduras most of his life and studies International Business while working in Administration; Sarah from Britain who studies foreign language and European studies and works in communications; and me and my 10 fellow Volunteer Affairs interns who hail from eight different states in America and have varying educational backgrounds. Seeing first-hand the lengths Beatriz was willing to go to in order to help a patient was a great reminder of how fortunate I am to be a part of the MEDLIFE team during my internship.

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October 20, 2016 10:00 am

Intern Journal: Sarah Bridge

Written by Sarah Bridge

         Last weekend, we held two volunteer days to help get materials up the 150 steps that lead to the site where we are building a two story home for MEDLIFE patient Soledad and her son José.  A signup sheet was sent around the office and put on Facebook to register for the volunteer days.  As I was looking at the sign up sheet, a friend of mine who has worked here for a year and a half now told me “these volunteer days are really fun, you should definitely sign up for both!  I loved it last year.”  So I trustingly put my name down to work at 8am on both Saturday and Sunday, only to find out later that my so called ‘friend' was actually away the entire weekend.

         That is how I found myself regretting all my life decisions as I hit snooze on my alarm for the fifth time at 7:15am on Saturday morning.  Eventually I managed to drag myself out of bed and head to the bus station to begin the first days work.  To my surprise and delight when I arrived at the meeting point there were over 30 keen volunteers ready in MEDLIFE t- shirts to start the day ahead.  In my time with MEDLIFE, I have ‘subired' a fair number of materials up hills but I can safely say, Saturday is the fastest I have ever seen it done.  It was some kind of superhuman effort, we got 500 bricks to the top in less than an hour and at one point I had five men passing me each holding a 50kg bag of cement on their backs.  By midday we had finished and were all sitting around drinking Inka Cola and laughing about possible future careers in construction.

 

14231323 1178251912213849 692982551812709733 oThe MEDLIFE chain passing materials up to Soledad's house.

Following Saturday's success, Sunday morning seemed full of optimism.  As my alarm chirped it's happy little tune, I sprung out of bed, eager to begin the day ahead! (Some artistic license may be being used… after all it was still 7:15am on a Sunday).  However, my optimistic mood came crashing down somewhat when I reached the meeting point that morning and realised there was a grand total of around 10 volunteers… and 1,000 bricks.  I somewhat begrudgingly climbed into the bus, my friends words “you should definitely sign up for both!” ringing hauntingly in my ears.  

And so we set off again, the empty bus rattling around and echoing eerily from the dramatic lack of people (again, artistic license may be being used). However, before reaching the project, this time we made a detour to the site of another MEDLIFE project.  The bus stopped where Carlos Benavides, director of MED Programs Peru, was waiting for us.  We all got off the bus and he took us to the site of the project.

Quick context note:  I had visited this site a few weeks before.  It was a staircase we were hoping to build for a patient who had suffered an accident which hindered his ability to walk.  However, due to the nature of the community, Carlos was struggling to get enough man power together to build the staircase.  

 

2016 10 18The people of Laderas building a staircase for MEDLIFE patient Pompinchu.

Therefore, it came as a huge surprise to me when I rounded the corner to see around 50 people stood up and down the staircase mixing cement, pouring it into the frame and shouting to pass up more buckets.  I turned to Carlos and asked him how he had managed to convince the community to help.  He told me he didn't.  “None of these people are from this community,” he explained. “They are all from Laderas, the community where we were building a staircase a few weeks ago.” I was amazed to realise he was right.  Laderas is about a twenty minute drive from where this project was taking place and yet all these people were the same faces we had been working with just a few weeks earlier.  

Incredibly, there were so many people from the Laderas community working on this project that Carlos was able to solicit about twenty of them to help us with the materials for Soledad's house.  So we all piled back onto the bus, which this time round was packed full, and headed to the site of Soledad's house.  With the help of the reinforcements, we once again managed to pass the bricks up in record timing, forming an efficient chain and getting everything up the hill by lunchtime.  I asked one of the community members why it was that they were so readily keen to help with this project and the staircase they were building, neither of which would affect their community.  He told me “whenever we have come to Carlos with a problem, he has found a way to solve it for us.  It seems only fair that that works both ways.”

 

IMG 9109The MEDLIFE team working in Laderas.

I have been working with MEDLIFE for nearly five months now and in my time here, the importance of our relationships with the people we work with is the thing that has stood out the most for me.  We invest so much in individuals and communities to make sure that they can trust us and they know they can rely on us.  However, it never occurred to me that they are doing the exact same thing.

Working with MEDLIFE, I have got to know the bravest, strongest and most impressive people I have ever met.  This story of the people of the Laderas community is just one example of that.  These people often have so little and yet will give us so much, not because they want to assure we help them but because they want to assure we have a real relationship with them.  That for me is the most amazing and single most important thing about the work MEDLIFE does and is the reason that I would say to anyone thinking to volunteer next time: “these volunteer days are really fun, you should definitely sign up for both!  I loved it last year.”       

October 18, 2016 11:18 am

Intern Journal: Marissa Reinhart

Written by Marissa Reinhart

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          What is your initial thought when you look at this picture? It's okay if it is negative. If I looked at this picture from an outside perspective, my initial thought would probably be critical. There is something that creates a negative reaction about this white, privileged girl posing with a child she probably knows nothing about. Something that makes people think this girl was feeling the “savior complex,” rescuing a child of color from their plight. Or, maybe you had a positive thought about how cute that baby is and how beautiful her mother in the background is. Nonetheless, I want to take this opportunity of writing this blog to talk about perspective, MEDLIFE and my experiences.

          So, as you may know, the privileged white girl in this photo is me, Marissa, and some of those criticisms are probably true about this photo and similar photos you've encountered of friends and family who have gone on service trips abroad. Luckily, the organization I chose to commit to, without doing a lot of research, has a mission far removed from the ideas behind the “savior complex.” To me, this photo represents my discovery of this mission in action during the mobile clinic week in Moshi, Tanzania that would change my life in more ways than I ever could have imagined.

         For those of you non-Ohioans, I should explain that the Ohio State Buckeyes are a huge part of the Ohioan culture, especially in my family. I was born and raised to be a buckeye fan, going to “The Shoe” at a young age to watch the cheerleaders of course. With that being said, seeing this precious child with an Ohio State outfit on 8,000 miles away from home evoked many thoughts and emotions within me that I wanted to capture in order to remember and look back on.

       First was the excitement and disbelief that we just so happened to wear Ohio State gear on the same day. Did the mother know Ohio State students would be at this clinic or was it just a complete coincidence? Then, I felt an immense sense of humanity. Knowing that when her mother dressed her in this outfit on that hot Tanzanian summer morning, she looked into her daughter's eyes with the same love and hope for her future as when my mother dressed me in the same outfit as a child. Although this child and I may have been born into completely different environments with different access and opportunity, our parents both wanted a fulfilled and healthy future for us.

        I see this in the communities we work with here in Lima. Almost every time community members propose a new project, they mention wanting it to improve the health, safety and environment of the community for their children. When I listen to these community members, I hear and see the same hope for a better future as the parents of the child in Tanzania had and that my parents have for me. These experiences have helped me realize that we are all just humans trying to survive and thrive in our lifetimes in order to better the world for future generations.

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          This is why I believe in a better future for the pueblos jovenes surrounding Lima and communities experiencing poverty throughout the world. With the commitment of these communities and NGOs like MEDLIFE who are committed to working WITH those experiencing poverty rather than FOR them we can improve overall quality of life. I believe that the individuals living in these situations did not choose to be there, but rather were placed there through a complex system that we have created over thousands of years. Although this may seem like an impossible circumstance to reverse, through generations of people aiming to improve the quality of life for the following generation we can make a change. Mano a mano (hand in hand), poco a poco (little by little) we can transform the world and if enough people believe in this transformation it will become a reality. I would like to end this brief excerpt by urging you to join the MEDLIFE Movement in whatever way you see fit in order to play your role in global development.

 

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