So, after a few days organizing our supplies and getting acquainted with the neighborhood, we set up our first makeshift doctor’s office at a house in the mountains of Portland. There were 2 doctors, a nurse (Mrs. Keen), and us students from the International Medical Outreach program, available to run basic check-ups, run simple tests and prescribe medicine when necessary.
Below are my notes written one evening back at the hospital where were staying, on June 27, 2000.
Okay, I am going to jump to Wednesday because I’m tired of catching up. Today we are at Fruitful Vale. It is usually packed to the brim but the word did not get out early enough and that is such a shame. There are so many sick people that are missing out on free medicine. I could kick whoever is at the top of the message that is trickled down through the healthcare system that we were coming.
However, this has been my best day yet. Today was my first day working with Mrs. Keen [Dr. Keen’s mother who is a nurse] She is phenomenal. I listened to her minister to several people. One girl was 21 and Mrs. Keen was talking to her about how she has wasted so many years since she finished high school at age 16. And how she is so bright and should be in college. And she did all of this during routine intake. We were just sitting there during intake, testing blood pressure and blood sugar, and as I was doing a patient I heard what she was talking about. Mrs. Keen got the girl’s cousin, mother and grandmother involved, telling the Mom she should push her daughter and telling the grandmother she should push her daughter to push her granddaughter. She talked about how young girls get pregnant and how she should save herself and how guys talk about girls after they’ve had them. Everything she said was so true but I never would have struck up that conversation during triage.
Another girl, age 16, Mrs. Keen asked her what she was going to do with her life. It was so wonderful to hear the girl say that she didn’t have a boyfriend because she wants to do well in school and wants to be a nurse then a doctor. It was amazing. Mrs. Keen says basic education here in Jamaica is good. People do well in the states.
This lady (she had to be like 70-80) almost passed out. I wanted to cry but couldn’t because she was right there and that would frighten everybody. It was probably her blood sugar but since our [blood sugar testings machine] strip code did not match the machine code, we had to stop blood sugar testing. That bothers me. In Columbia I know Dr. Johnson or Dr. Gallman probably have tons of supplies but they are just sitting there useless.
I ended the letter so abruptly I suspect I was exhausted from the day’s work and fell asleep. Many of these stories I did not remember until reading this journal and I’m so glad I thought to write these things down. Tomorrow I will finish the series with the vivid memories I still carry with me to this day. Some nearly brought me to tears of frustration and others still bring me to tears of joy, but they are all part of a experience that I encourage anyone interested in medicine to plan for themselves.