Working a Medical Brigade

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I have always wanted to work a medical brigade, but as an Entrepreneurship Volunteer, I often find out about the brigades when they’re already full. I thought I would end my service without ever getting to do a brigade and, oddly, the second to the last day, an opportunity for me to do one showed up! To say I was ecstatic is an understatement. I was flying on air.

I was brought on as a medical translator with seven other volunteers to work alongside doctors and nurses from the North Parkersburg Baptist Church while they give anyone living in Rancho Grande, Matagalpa (the community where we were working) medical care. Over three days, we helped over 800 people ranging in age from 12 days old to 96 years old! This church has been coming to Nicaragua for over ten years. They partnered with the Baptist church in the community to weigh the people who wanted care. Then the patients moved forward to the open basketball arena outside the clinic to talk to a church member who could speak Spanish to tell her their three major concerns. There were two waiting places, one solely for medical concerns and the other for dental concerns. After that, they waited. While they waited, children could receive fluoride treatments.

Once inside, the patients visited one of three triage tables. We did our best to help them with their diagnoses, giving medicine and/or vitamins and getting them out of the clinic without passing them to the three doctors. (One of the doctors was Nicaraguan and volunteered to help.) If the triage women couldn’t help, the patients either went to the Lab Ladies to get a blood or urine test, the Ultrasound room to see inside their bodies or one of the three doctors. The dental room had its own waiting room and own procedures. There was also a small room for eye exams, to give out free glasses and breathing treatments.

I was a little nervous because I don’t know medical words, but I made a cheat sheet for myself and found that I knew more Spanish than I thought. This week was the biggest boost for my confidence in my Spanish. So many people said I spoke great Spanish and were amazed that I sounded like them. The first day in triage was cool. I found my way and we helped over two hundred people.

On the second day, I worked between the ultrasound room and the pharmacy to organize the crates of medicine the doctors brought with them. That was amazing! I got to tell several pregnant women the sex of their child. To know that the women could be as far along as eight months pregnant and hadn’t visited a clinic because they couldn’t afford it was distressing, but we helped them not only get pictures of their babies but let them know the sex and gave them prenatal vitamins. Seeing a baby move on an ultrasound screen is amazing! In the states, I would never have an opportunity to be that close to a stranger and be inside such a private moment. It was a blessing to see a stranger be brought to tears as I translated English to Spanish and helped her see her unborn child or gently show where cysts of the kidneys were and explain that the patient needed to visit a specialist. Plus, I LOVE organizing and organizing a pharmacy teaches you a lot about medicine. It made me feel very helpful.

The last day I spent working with the Lab Ladies and they were great. We literally worked from sun up to past sun down. Esterlin, one of the young women being groomed as a successor for the clinic, and Nancy, the church member from the states, and I were the last to leave the clinic. We had a group hug and I helped them both communicate a message of gratefulness and love to each other. They cried and we closed the door with the hopes that we would see each other again next year.

In total, we helped over 800 people! In three days, we gave over 184 lab exams, pulled 162 teeth, gave 60 glasses, performed 41 ultrasounds and assisted with about 20 breathing treatments.

God is amazing. Even though my entire body was sore from the 20-minute walk up and down hills we had to do every morning and night to get back to our dorms and even

though my brain was drained, at the end of the day, the work was so fulfilling, I would gladly do it again. I hope I see everyone I’ve met again.

P.S. I wish I’d taken more pictures but alas, I was working really hard… too hard to remember to capture all the moments with my camera.

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